Repairing and refurbishing tired wheels is an easy, inexpensive way to up the eyeball of your classic car
NOTHING complements the appearance of your ride quite like a nice set of alloy or steel wheels. But when they’re not at their best, the first thing to understand about wheel repair is what you can’t do. If your wheel is an oval or severely cracked, hand it over to a specialist. Cosmetic issues, on the other hand, can be tackled at home.
With the wheels off and tires and weights removed, scrub them using a mild degreasing soap. For steel or alloy wheels, if all you want to do is repaint them, remember that sanding by hand is doable but time consuming. Harbor Freight sells inexpensive blasting cabinets, or you can have them sandblasted or bead blasted professionally. It saves time but adds to the cost.
Minor scuffs and divots in steel and alloy can be filled with All-Metal filler or epoxy before sanding them out. If you’re just dealing with curb rash on the lip, hit raised burrs with a hand file, then use progressively higher-grit sandpaper. If alloy, finish with a buffing pad and polish.
Corrosion on many factory wheels typically begins beneath the clearcoat, where brake heat causes bubbling and flaking. Chemical strippers are inexpensive and do a very good job of removing the old clearcoat. From there, simply sand and polish, then re-coat, either by powdercoating or with a lacquerstyle rattle-can application in several light coats.
Generally, steel wheels require less finesse than alloys. But how bent is too bent? With lips, you can generally heat them with a torch and bend or beat them out with a hammer and dolly. If material is missing, build it up using a MIG or TIG weld. Cracks are best left to a professional.
With cast alloys, exercise caution when moving metal. Minor repair is essentially the same, and you’re OK to heat a small area, but alloy is more brittle than steel, so proceed with caution.
After repairs, simply prime and shoot them with a basecoat and clearcoat at home, one thin coat at a time. Single-stage enamels are also effective, or you can pay to have them powdercoated. Note that powdercoat shops are also often welding shops, so it's possible some structural repairs can be handled there as well.
Beyond the tires you ride on, the wheels to which they are mounted are one of the most important safety items on a car. Anyone can strip, sand and paint, and the more attention to detail you give it, the better the result. But if you have any questions or concerns at all about repairing or refurbishing your wheels, consult an expert.