Fixing Car Wheels / Rims on a Budget

Doing something a little different this time with an attempt to help those that need to get their car looking good for summer. My 2016 Volkswagen Golf’s summer tires needed replacing and the stock rims had seen better days. I did some looking on local classifieds (Kijiji) and found the perfect set of rims (VW Bathurst 18” from a Jetta GLI) for a great price. The only problem was that the wheels had some serious corrosion, commonly referred to as ‘white worm’ on these styles of diamond cut / machined surface rims. This picture hardly does the damage justice – those spots were deep and ugly:

After extensive research I’d learned that this is a common problem with these types of wheels. I initially thought that I could sand out the corrosion and re-polish the steel finish – boy was I wrong. After hours of hand sanding, I realized that these rims would never look like new using DIY at home measures. The next best thing would be painting the wheels with a similar finish. The professional method would be powder coating, but it costs more than I paid for these rims / wheels in the first place. Therefore I opted for the next best method, re-painting them myself. Here are the steps that I took:

Step 1: Clean Wheels

Using car wash soap or DIY solution (dishwashing soap, warm water, baking soda), scrub the wheels until all of the dirt is removed. If the wheels are super dirty, you may want to use a degreasing solution.

Step 2: Sand Wheels

As mentioned, I did extensive sanding since I thought I would be able to just re-polish the rims and make them look like new. I started with 600 grit, then moved incrementally down to 80 grit sandpaper to get the wheels as smooth as possible. If you’re painting over the rims it might feel like overkill, but hey it worked for me. I’d recommend a pack like this that has mixed wet / dry grits. Depending on the condition of your wheels if you need something heavier duty you can try a wet / dry sanding block.

Step 3: Tape Wheels

Once the wheels are clean and dry from the sanding phase, now comes the fun (I mean tedious) part – taping! This step took a long time for me because the wheels had two separate colors (stainless steel and black gloss). I decided to paint the silver parts of the wheel first so I taped off the black gloss inner parts to start. On the sections that were closer to the edge I used more precise Frog Tape, to ensure that there was a clean edge when the paint was peeled off. Make sure that you are pressing the tape firmly to the edge as well. I have seen some people use cue cards on the lip of the wheel to block paint from getting on the tires, however I didn’t have any handy so I just taped the closest parts of the wheels as well.

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Step 4: Prime Wheels

It’s important to get a good coat of primer on the wheels to ensure that the finishing coats will adhere properly. The primer that you choose should be automotive specific and engineered to withstand high heat. I chose Transtar Auto Primer as it was the highly recommended by my local auto paint shop. I sprayed 3 coats, 15 minutes in between each coat. I was impressed that it only took 1 can for all 4 wheels. Since I was painting outside, I brought the wheels inside to dry for a full 24 hours.

Step 5: Base Coat

It took some trial and error to find the suitable color for the machined metal section of the rims. Initially I tried the “Silver” color in the Duplicolor Wheel Coating line, however it was much too light for my liking. I re-tried with the “Graphite” color from the same brand and it suits my car much better – it is almost a gunmetal color. I followed the directions on the can for application and brought the wheels inside to dry. It took 2 cans to cover all 4 wheels.

Since I needed to paint the other section of the wheel a different color and would need to tape the section that I just painted, I let the wheels dry for about 3 days before applying the Frog Tape to the new “Graphite” paint. Next you will need to repeat steps 4 & 5, however I used Duplicolor’s “Gloss Black” shade for this section.

Step 6: Clear Coat

The clear coat is extremely important to the overall finish and durability of the painted wheel. After extensive research I decided to use the Spraymax 2K High Gloss finish. I waited about 2 days for the base coat to dry on the wheels before removing the tape. I applied about 5 light coats of the clear coat on both sections of the wheel at the same time (over the black / graphite base coats of paint). The Spraymax is a 2 part product that needs to be mixed and used within a day – afterwards it will harden and become unusable. It took 2 cans to cover all 4 wheels. Make sure to follow safety precautions when using this paint as it is highly toxic – wear a mask and gloves and dispose of both after using if possible. After the clearcoat I left the wheels outside for a full day before bringing inside the house, and I let them cure for over a week before I put them on and drove my car.

Well that’s about it, you’re ready to install the wheels and get driving. I’ve included the materials list below for the project, in total I spent about $80 on supplies.

Materials list: