One of the most noticeable parts of your car are its wheels. Much like a nice pair of shoes, a nice set of wheels can turn a so-so looking car into something unique. When you bought your car, you likely thought the wheels were fine and seemed to go with the overall look of the car. Of course, everyone else who bought your model car have the same wheels so now you are just one of thousands with the same wheels. Ho hum, what fun is that?
It would be easy to go buy some new wheels and have your tires dismounted from the old wheels and remounted to the new ones. New wheels will likely run $150 – 300 EACH. Add the cost of mounting and balancing your old tires for $15 per wheel and you are now looking at $660 – 1,260 for those new shoes. Are you mad at me for even bringing up the subject? Don’t be–I come with a very cost effective solution!
Cost Effective Solution
Take a look at the wheels above. I bought these to put on the old Honda CRV I bought as my winter driver. I found them on Facebook Marketplace for $80 total! There is no damage to the wheels, but the clear coat was peeling in several areas and the overall condition of the paint was poor.
With a little bit of work, these wheels can be cleaned up and repainted to a like-new condition. I am also going to change the color to update the look. If you follow the steps I share below, you can achieve the same results with your wheels for under $40.
Keep in mind a professional shop will charge $125 per wheel to repaint them. Do it your self!
Prepping for Paint
It is important that the wheels are clean and the surface prepped for paint. Your final paint job will only be as good as the preparation you put into it.
I am showing you how to paint wheels that do not have tires installed. You can definitely paint wheels that have tires installed (in fact, I think it is easier and cheaper to do). You just need to mask off the sidewall of the tire before painting.
I will be painting a set of wheels already mounted with tires soon, and will share some more info at that time.
Here is the series of steps to follow:
Remove any wheel weights (these are placed on the wheel by the tire store to help balance the tire/wheel assembly). They pry off easily with a screwdriver. If you have a tire mounted on the wheel, be sure to note where the weight goes so you can reinstall it after painting.
Sand the existing paint with 320 grit sandpaper. The goal is to give the paint a surface to grab onto and a smooth surface free of irregularities.
Unless there is peeling paint or clear coat, you just need to remove the gloss from the existing paint. If any paint is peeling, be sure to sand enough to remove the loose stuff and to make any edges disappear.
Remove any loose paint in the “well” of the wheel where the lugnuts fasten. I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to remove the loose clearcoat within the lugnut area.
If you don’t have any loose paint, a light sanding with the 320 grit sandpaper to remove the gloss will do.
Wash the wheels. Once the wheel has been sanded, give it a good cleaning with soap and water.
I used a green scrubbing pad and Dawn detergent as it is great for removing grease and grime. Let dry thoroughly before painting.
Priming Bare Metal
Before you start spraying primer or paint, please take the necessary safety precautions to prevent any health issues! Make sure you wear a filter mask appropriate to the paint you use. Any home improvement or hardware store will carry these in their paint sections.
Also, make sure you are in a well ventilated area. I normally like to paint in my garage, but with winter, I go in my basement. I have a ventilation system set up in my basement, but you can use an old box fan by an open window.
Any areas of the wheel that show bare metal should receive a coat of primer, otherwise the paint will not properly adhere. For the wheels I painted, only the back side of the wheels showed any bare spots.
I used the primer that was recommended by the manufacturer of the paint. They tested the materials for compatibility, so I know there will be no weird chemical reactions.
The picture above shows the back side of the wheel after priming. Doesn’t that look fresh?
*Special note: It is not necessary to paint the back side of the wheels as they are typically not visible once they are mounted on a vehicle; however, it is like getting a new suit but wearing the same old underwear!
Finally, after all of that prep you are ready to paint! For me, this is the best part as the transformation is really about to begin!
It is really important to take your time and follow the instructions on the paint can. Over the years, I tried to take shortcuts and/or ignore the time windows for additional coats. Trust me, the paint manufacturers know their product better than you do!
Mask off any areas of the wheel that you do not want overspray. After I primed the wheels, I painted the back side with some black spray paint I had in my shop. I masked the areas where paint from the front of the wheel might enter the back when sprayed, using “Frogtape” painters tape (the green stuff).
I could have used the same paint as the front side of the wheel here, but the back of this wheel rarely gets seen and I wanted to use up some paint I had on hand.
Why is there a picture of an old workshop stool shown here? This is my version of workplace ergonomics! I cover the seat of the stool with masking paper, then set the wheel on top. This stool swivels, so I can sit on a milk crate and paint the whole wheel without dancing around it.
First coat of color is a very light dusting that allows the future coats to adhere. Don’t be tempted to do it all with one coat. According to the manufacturer of this paint, you should apply two light coats of paint, followed by a final medium coat. Wait 10 minutes between coats.
This is a critical first step as this light coat of paint is the first to grip the surface of the wheel. It will still be tacky (sticky) when you apply the second coat, which is by design. The next coat will adhere much better as a result.
The second coat of color will provide better coverage than the first, but not quite enough to give the wheel a quality look.
Notice how the color looks splotchy? This is more exaggerated since I am using a metallic paint, but will improve once I put on the final coat.
The final coat of color is applied a little more heavily than the prior two. Sometimes the paint manufacturer will call this a medium wet coat. Essentially, you want to apply enough paint to give it a nice uniform look, but not too much that the paint will run after it is sprayed.
Clear coat (clear paint) can be applied if you want a deeper gloss and a little more durability. If I was using a normal two-step automotive paint, it would be necessary to apply a clear coat over the color because of the way the paint is formulated.
I used a paint specifically formulated for wheels. The color paint results in a matte finish, which by itself looks good. For this project, I decided to go with the clear, as shown here.
Here is the final product after three coats of color and two coats of clear.
I should have noted earlier that I painted both the “face” of the wheel and the sides at the same time, but only applied clear coat to the face. The sides will be hidden once the tire is installed, but I like knowing the whole wheel got a fresh coat (or three!) of paint.
If you follow the instructions I provided, you should get the same results. Do not fret if you get a paint run or other defect while painting. Wait for the paint to dry, sand the defect away and repaint the affected wheel.
(1) Package of 320 grit sandpaper (5 sheets for $4.99)
(1) Can of Automotive Primer ($4.99)
(2) Cans of Duplicolor Wheel Coating ($7.99 each x 2 = $15.98)
(1) Can of Clear Coat ($7.99)
(1) Roll of Frogtape painter’s masking tape ($5.99)
(4) Chrome center caps (found on eBay for $8). This was optional as the caps that were on the wheels were fine. I just wanted to do something different!
The total cost was $39.94 without the optional new center caps.
Note: Rust-Oleum also makes a good wheel paint as well. I went with the Duplicolor brand out of convenience (it happened to be at where I was shopping). Both work great.