Repairing Curb-Damaged Alloy Wheels

It’s time to turn in your leased car. All is fine, until the lease agent does his checklist walkaround. A couple of stone chips in your otherwise pristine paint are no big deal–but the divots from curbs on the alloy wheels rate a couple of check marks. Expensive check marks, too—he wants to replace both passenger-side wheels and refinish the other two, and that’s all going to add over a thousand dollars to the cost of leasing your next ride. Ouch! Apparently, the customary damage done by valet parking attendants in Big Cities isn’t considered “normal wear and tear” throughout the land.

There are services that will refinish wheels, and they often can repair damaged wheels. In fact, some even offer previously-damaged-and-repaired wheels in exchange for yours,and will even send a technician to your home or business to install them in the driveway. While that’s cheaper than paying full-skid at the dealership for new, unused wheels for someone else to enjoy, it still costs money. And that’s not what Saturday Mechanic isn’t about.

For ten bucks in materials, most lightly-damaged wheels can be repaired and refinished at home. Here’s how:

(Click on any image for the slideshow)

We used several products for this, all of which we picked up from the local auto parts store. You’ll need:

•Sandpaper; 150 dry, and 220- and 400-grit wet-or-dry. One sheet each ought to be enough for one wheel that’s bad, or several more minor dings. Also, some fine Scotch-Brite.

Solvent for cleaning up, either proprietary pre-cleaner, some mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, rubbing alcohol or even cheap vodka. Lacquer thinner or mineral spirits will also work pretty well for cleaning up any minor overspray

Clean rags, masking tape. Get fresh masking tape.

A rattle-can of sandable automotive primer, preferably in gray instead of the neon orange we used for the photography.

A can each of wheel paint (match your wheels, but most all of them are the same “argent”, and clear coat. You can sometimes lame out and skip the clear, but it’ll be difficult to blend in the repairs. DO NOT substitute any old clear coat, it needs to be an automotive finish. I used products from Dupli-color, but there are others. Choose products from the same company to be sure they’re compatible.

Some rubbing compound, useful for buffing up dull areas and cleaning up really nasty wheels.

You can buy a blister-pack kit with small quantities of most of this stuff: it’s the Permatex 09142 Wheel Restoration Kit. It’s perfect for small dings, but a major restoration will need more materials. And I’d add a can of clear coat.

A brief word of caution

If you’re near to swapping tires for fresh ones, do this before any repairs. In spite of your beseeching, most tire technicians will damage any rim they mount. It’s possible for a good tech, with a proper mounting machine, to install new tires without even touching the rims. Don’t count on it. Get the new rubber installed, and then do the repairs.

 

And thanks to Leslie for volunteering her seriously bad wheels to the effort.

10 Responses to Repairing Curb-Damaged Alloy Wheels

  1. Hi Mike,
    I would like to thank you for this helpful info on DIY repair on your own wheels however i want to ask you about the silver paint cause i don’t know if all silver paint are alike, I have a 2007 C230 Mercedes Benz and i would like to know what kind of silver spray paint should i use to get the exact color.

    Thanks Pete

    • Mike Allen says:

      Mercedes, of course will try to sell you a hyper-expensive German paint. I’ve found that the Dupli-Color silver is always fine. If you have a smoke color silver, maybe not. Don’t forget the clear coat.

    • Sheldon says:

      Not 100% sure about Benz, but for VW and my BMW, the Einzett (1Z) silber wheel paint is an exact match. Wurth clear over top finishes the wheel like it came from the factory

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks for these instructions. Where is the best place to find the repair supplies?

  3. Pingback: Rim repair in So Cal? - FFCars.com : Factory Five Racing Discussion Forum

  4. Marie Hansen says:

    Any suggestions for exact same gutter looking damage along rims that are finished with a “chrome-like” finish on the rim. This is a factory-stock Honda Accord Coupe rim (described as “chrome like finish”. The Honda service Dept. States it’s a painted finish and not chrome. Don’t know if I should try to find professional for repair, or replace the damaged rim. I thank you in advance for any direction. Marie H. / Orange County – Calif.

    There are two ways of achiving a “Chrome-Like finish” used nowadays. One method simply glues a chromed plastic wheel cover permanently to a steel or alloy wheel. Why go so cheap? it allows the manufacturer to restyle the wheels annually without engineering and validating a new wheel design, as the wheel cover is only cosmetic. It is, however, pretty permanent, because the adhesive is very aggressive. And, there’s no replacement cover available. If this is the case, you can either repair and repaint the wheel like any other painted surface in the color of your choice. A really good spray job with some Dupli-Color chrome paint might be pretty close, but I guarantee it won’t match the other wheels, so you’ll need to do all 4 (or maybe just two if they’re both on the same side of the car.)

    The other “chrome-like finish” I’ve seen is a clear powdercoat over a polished alloy wheel. In that case, you’ll need to get the wheel refinished professionally. At the very least, the tire will have to be demounted to put the naked wheel into the powdercoating oven. That will put the vehicle out of service for a few days if you don’t have another set of wheels to use.

    Mike

  5. Lneff@comcast.net says:

    Hi
    Do you know what color paint would work for an
    Infiniti g37?

    I’ve always used the Dupli-Color shown in the photos for everything, and never seen any mismatch. People will tell you that you must use the specific touchup paint required by the shop manual, but they all seem the same to me. Stick with a clear coat that matches the brand of silver, too. It’ll be more compatible with the chemistry in the color coat. Again, Dupli-color is good. Eastwood sells a pretty good line of aerosol paints as well.

    Mike

  6. Paul says:

    I have clean wheels-almost no curb rash. However, the clear coat has failed in numerous spots.
    Would you sand the clear coat where failed, feather in the edge, then repaint and re-clear? Or would you attempt to remove all the clear coat? (which I imagine will take a lot of elbow grease).

    This is a tough call. The clear coat is failing? How badly? If it’s all four wheels, and failing at random, then I’d counsel cleaning up as much of the old clear coat as possible. Of course, that means a lot of wet sanding, which invariably leads to sanding through the silver in a number of spots by accident, which means in turn spraying a fair amount of silver and then clear coating. As you say, a ton of fussy hand work. And for that big a job, I’d demount the tires to do this. It’s basically a complete refinish, and even I’d probably just find someplace that refinishes wheels and swap out for a set that’s already been done. By the time you pay to have the tires demounted, remounted and balanced, you could be looking at four figures out of pocket.

    If the wheels aren’t bad, and the peeling clear coat looks like it might be localized. i.e., as a result of some chemical contamination or a minor issue at the wheel factory the day there were coated, I’d try it your way. Featheredge the peeling areas with some 240 Wet-or-dry. Scuff the remainder with Scotch-brite, mask, degrease and spray the clear. For a daily driver and not a show car, you’ll probably be fine. Worse case is that the clear coat under the new clear continues to peel, at which point you’ll be back where you started, minus a few hours and few bucks for some paper, tape and a rattle-can of clear.

    Mike

  7. levi robinson says:

    Hey there I have a 2001 ss camaro and one rim is curbed all the way around . Its just that one wheel but should I do all the wheels to make a perfect blend I dont mind doing them all I just dont want one wheel looking off. And also I seen a video with some of the car brand names on the paint any idea where I can get some of them I checked chevy and gm and found nothing. Thanks for the diy best one ont the web right now

    I’m going to suggest that after thirteen years that the other wheels aren’t exactly pristine, and you’ll probably wind up doing them again to make all four match closely. You might get away with just clear-coating them. The silver wheel paint somehow always matches, regardless of the brand. I think that’s because the pigment is powdered aluminum and nothing else. Try repairing the one wheel and see how it comes out.

    Mike

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