How To Bring New Life To Old Wheels

Sanding and painting can make your old wheels look new and unique.

Justin Hughes

Last year, a friend gave me a set of 15-inch wheels for the VW Jetta ute. The car came with 16-inch wheels, and I actually want to downsize them so I can fit some beefier tires in the wheel wells. The only problem with these wheels is that the silver finish is flaking off, revealing the ugly unpainted alloy beneath. But this is easy to fix with basic tools and a little paint.

Justin Hughes

The shiny factory finish was flaking off.

First, sand the wheels with a heavy grit sandpaper. I used my power sander, but in the past, I've done this by hand as well. One time I even had access to a sandblasting box, which produced the best results. Whatever method you use, this will knock all of the loose bits of the flaky finish off and smooth out the edges between bare metal and the finish that still sticks. In my experience, sanding the entire wheel down to bare metal is not necessary, especially if you're not entering the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance anytime soon. Make sure you sand in all the little nooks and crannies as well. I'm fortunate that these are simple five-spoke wheels. I'd give up on complicated BBS basketweave style wheels before I began.

Justin Hughes

Your humble author does his own stunts.

Wipe and/or blow all the dust off when you're finished sanding. Then spray the wheels with primer. It doesn't have to be specifically for wheels. Again, make sure you spray into all of the nooks and crannies to ensure even coverage. Make sure you mask the tire and valve stem if the wheels have tires you care about. You can slip index cards in between the rim and the tire to create a protective shield, and tape the valve stem with painter's tape. I didn't bother with this step since my tires are shot and I'll be replacing them anyway. (There are reasons why these wheels were free.)

Justin Hughes

New paint makes it look like a new wheel.

After that, grab some paint in your preferred color and spray the wheels again. I like to use spray paint designed specifically for wheels since it has a metallic shine to it, but you can use any color you want. Here's your chance to take the boring wheels that came with your car and make them look like expensive aftermarket wheels by simply changing the color. I've done this on several previous cars, but I'm waiting to finish the job for the Jetta until we figure out what color we want it to be when the bodywork is finished in the spring. I'll paint the wheels to complement the final color then.

You probably don't want to do this to expensive high-quality alloy wheels. Then again, wheels like this shouldn't need to be refinished in the first place. For a set of cheap or free factory alloys, it's the perfect way to to make them look much better and more expensive than they actually are.

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