How To Deal With Every Type of Wheel Repair

Humans are lucky. When we get scrapes, gashes, or cuts, our bodies go Doctor Who and regenerate. Cars, however, are much less advanced. They might be able to parallel park without a driver, but scuff up a rim, and that ride’s appearance is marred for life. At least until some nice human fixes that too. 

Damaged wheels are one of the most common issues plaguing automobiles, and it’s no surprise. Traversing America’s crumbling roads mean even quick trips to the grocery store can be akin to navigating an American Ninja Warrior course. Road debris, potholes, and uneven curbs destroy car wheels with scratches, chips, cracks, and dents. Sometimes they can be repaired, sometimes you’re better off buying an entirely new wheel. 

Wheel Repair Basics

Estimated Time Needed: An hour to a weekend

Skill Level: Beginner-Intermediate

Vehicle System: Wheels

Wheel Repair Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you leave the same way you entered.

  • Safety glasses
  • Mechanic gloves
  • Respirator with filters for painting

Everything You’ll Need For Wheel Repair

We’re not psychic, and we’ve never toured your garage, so here’s exactly what you might need to get the job done.

Tool List

  • Everything to wash your car (buckets, microfiber wash mitt, wheel brush, car wash soap, wheel cleaner, dry towels)
  • Chrome polish or metal restoring compound
  • Applicator pad
  • Microfiber towels
  • Auto tape
  • Cordless drill
  • Sanding disc drill attachment
  • Various grits of sandpaper, 180 grit and finer

Parts List

  • Your wheels

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking—that’s also well-ventilated). Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How To Deal With Wheel Repairs

Let’s do this!

Light Surface Curb Rash and Wheel Scratches

First, try using wheel polish to buff it out. If that doesn’t work and the damage remains, you’re going to have to sand it down and repaint it. When spraying paint and/or clear coat, be sure to use a respirator with the appropriate filters, regular masks aren’t going to cut it.

  1. Remove the tire or tape it off. 
  2. Next, you want to prep the entire wheel, not just the trouble area, for repainting. Start with medium-to-fine grit sandpaper. Sand the whole wheel and remove the first coat. 
  3. Clean, then do this a few times. Use finer and finer sandpaper each time you do.
  4. Pay special attention to the trouble area and smooth it out. Be sure not to remove too much of the metal to the point that the wheel cannot be used.
  5. Use a filler primer to put on a primer coat.
  6. Sand, then apply the paint.
  7. Repeat until you are happy with the coats. 
  8. Sand, then apply the clear coat.
  9. Buff and wax. 

Dents 

Professionals have machines designed to form bent wheels back into shape. We recommend taking your wheel to your trusted shop. Or, you know, buy a new one.

Cracks, Gouges, or Deep Scratches

Leave this stuff to the professionals. Because they have experience working on these issues, they’ll know when the damage is significant enough to affect the performance of the wheel. If it is repairable, they have the tools to do the job properly. 

Some DIY people fill gouges and scratches with bondo like on a car, but we are not those people. Don’t be those people.

Light Corrosion

Similar to restoring your chrome, fixing light corrosion on aluminum or other alloy wheels can be accomplished with metal polish. After washing, apply small amounts and work in with a microfiber towel or applicator. Remove the polish with an untouched dry section of towel or a fresh one. 

If the issue remains, it might need to be professionally restored.

Keep This In Mind When Sanding

Many wheel repairs are done simply by sanding the wheel down past the point of the damage, but this can be a bad idea if too much is sanded off. Most importantly, sanding the wheel rim, where most of the curb rash occurs, could create an abnormal edge on the wheel. It might not seem like a hazard while you’re sanding, but a “sharper” edge could react to impacts differently, including damaging the tire or wheel’s structural integrity. 

Additionally, be wary of taking too much material off of the wheel. This could not only change the look and design of the wheel, it could also affect weight and balance. 

What Do The Pros Have That I Don’t?

Professional shops and garages have all sorts of tools you don’t, so they can get things done at a higher level of quality and in faster time. Here are a few of the things they use that you probably don’t have.

  • Welders
  • Tire removal tools
  • Industrial paint stripping baths
  • Industrial sandblasters
  • Wheel benders/shapers
  • Warming/baking ovens
  • Powder coating tools and applicators
  • Paint rooms
  • Electroplating tools

What To Do With Ugly Rims That Still Work

There will come a time when buying a new rim makes more sense than restoring your old one. We’re not ones to waste anything, so that old set of wheels can be reused! They are perfect for housing your winter tires (that way you don’t have to switch back and forth), or they could be used for a track car. Remember the three Rs! 

Carlos G. Hill

Carlos G. Hill

Carlos joined TireReview in 2019 after seven years of living and working in Dubai. He has been a journalist for over a decade and has worked for a wide range of publications, including Rolling Stone, Time Out, iQ and Loaded. After starting out on the automotive team as deputy editor of Engine Technology International, Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International and Transmissions Technology International, he has been an editor since 2015, and began editing Tire Technology International in 2018. In 2020, he was appointed editor-in-chief of Tire, Professional Motorsport World, Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International and Crash test Technology International

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