Repairing Alloy Wheels: Tips and Techniques
Updated March 28, 2014
Alloy wheels are a great way to improve the look and performance of your vehicle. However, it can be disappointing if they are damaged due to oxidation, scuffs or get bent. Fortunately, most damage to alloy wheels can be easily repaired.
How to Remove Oxidation
Alloy wheels are made with aluminum and, although the material typically may not rust, alloy wheels do collect dirt, debris and brake dust which causes oxidation. Oxidation is a discoloration that occurs when certain chemicals interact with oxygen molecules. There is very little you can do to prevent oxidation from occurring on your wheels, however, with a little elbow grease, you can have shiny and new looking alloy wheels.
To remove the oxidation you will need to make an acid-based cleaner to counteract the oxygen. If possible, take the rims off of the car and remove the valve stems or use masking tape to cover the area surrounding the wheel. The clear coating, used to prevent corrosion, will have to be removed. Paint remover can be used to remove the coating, but rinse well before proceeding with the next step. To make the acid-based cleaner: in a large pan, combine about six cups of water, one cup of vinegar, two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of cream of tartar. Stir the ingredients and bring to a boil on the stove. To avoid getting burned, let the mixture cool before using. Clean the acid solution off with cool water and a drop of dishwashing soap. Use a garden hose to completely rinse the wheels and dry with a soft cloth. Apply two to three coats of clear coating over each rim and allow complete drying before installing.
Removing and Repairing Scuff Marks
Scuff marks are unavoidable and if you take them to a body shop, it can be expensive to repair them. Repairing basic scuff marks yourself can be done in just a few hours with these simple steps. If you leave the wheels on while repairing, make sure to use masking tape on all areas not being repaired. Pour a small amount of paint thinner in a bowl. Use a tack cloth that has been dipped in paint thinner and lightly buff the scuffed areas. At this point, only clean the scuffed areas. Use wet, 240-grit sandpaper to lightly sand over the scuffed areas until they are removed. Use scratch filler putty and a sponge to fill in the sanded areas. Allow the putty to dry completely. Lightly sand over the scratch filler, apply a thin coat of spot putty and allow drying completely. Use 400-grit sandpaper to lightly sand over the putty. After sanding, the areas should feel smooth to the touch and not have any bumps. Cover the car with a tarp before proceeding with the next step to avoid getting paint on it. Apply silver wheel lacquer to the repaired scuff areas in a thin, even coat and allow complete drying. Once the lacquer has dried, apply a thin layer of clear coat over the paint, let dry for 30 minutes and put on a second, thin coat. Once the clear coat is completely dry, lightly buff the area with 2000-grit sandpaper to remove any imperfections and bring out the luster. Using a small amount of polishing compound and a sponge and working in small circles, buff the repaired areas.
Repairing Bent Alloy Wheels
Potholes are notorious for bending and damaging alloy wheels. Fortunately, if you are comfortable removing the wheel from the car and using a blow torch, you can repair bent wheels yourself. If the wheel is bent to deep or if there are deep cracks near the bending, it may be necessary to take the wheel to a professional. To repair the bent wheel yourself, take the tire off of the car and remove the wheel from the tire using a pry bar, by working in small sections to prevent further damage to the rim or to the tire. Since you will be working with extreme heat, as a safety precaution you will need to wear protective gloves and eyewear. Turn the blow torch on to the highest setting, the flame should be blue. Keeping the blow torch about six inches away, heat the area that has been damaged for about three minutes. Place a wooden board against the back of the damaged area and hammer against the wood, pushing the bent area of the rim back into place. This process must be done while the rim is hot, so if the rim cools before the dent is completely removed, repeat the heating and hammer process until the dent is completely removed. Some discoloration (oxidation) may occur due to the heat, if so follow the instructions provided to repair oxidation. Replace the rim and tire.
It is important that you do a weekly check to make sure the wheels are fitting correctly and there is no damage. Repairing scratches and other damage as soon as possible will prevent further damage that may be impossible to repair. Wash the alloy wheels on a regular basis to remove traffic film, dirt, salt and debris and apply a coat of polish weekly to protect the rim. To get the longest life out of your alloy rims, replace the wheels with steel ones during winter months.
James Crandell is a mechanic for a specialty auto repair shop in the UK. He regularly blogs about high-performance cars and issues important to their owners. Click here for more information about alloy wheel repair.
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