Refinishing Stock Wheels


I don't have to go into much detail or persuasion to explain how and why you should do this.

O.k...convinced right??? Yes this is a stock Aluminum wheel. Take the wheels of the car and have the tires removed. Get some paint stripper, in a spray can or in bottles, and get the clearcoat off the showing surfaces (you don't have to worry about the the other parts)...but make sure you get into the holes, lugnut holes, etc. Use a toothbrush if necessary. Use paint stripper as directed. After the paintstripper does it work, wash it all off with hot water. Get some hot soapy water and clean the wheel as best you can, inside and out. Now dry it off and get some brake parts cleaner...get as much brake dust off the outside AND inside of the wheels as possible. The soapy water will get a lot off, but the really stuck on stuff needs help. You may have to repeat this step, using brake cleaner and then washing it all off with soap and water, many times. The inside may have very caked on brake dust...get it off as best you can, but don't worry about perfection. After you've cleaned the wheel and got all the paint stripper off, you may think, "Man that looks good just like that." And actually its not a bad idea if you don't have scratches and such, to just polish it up just like that and call it a day. But my wheels still have some imperfections and certainly didn't look like the picture above.

Now that its all clean, get it dry again. Take an orbital sander and a 150-220 grit pad and get all the machine lines off. This will take a good while. Get all around the lip of the wheel. Don't sand the insides of the holes at makes a good, you wouldn't want to take the time to do them well. Anyways, get the machine lines off. It will be particularly hard to get off the lines around the changes in elevation. BUT GET THEM ALL! After this, you need a bucket of warm water and lots of sandpaper. Get 320, 400, 600, 800, and 1000 grit sandpaper, and if you want to save your hands, get a nice sanding sponge. Make sure you get wet/dry sandpaper....usually its black. You may also want to pick up a wool or sythetic wool sanding pad for later. If you do use the orbital sander, pick up some polishing pads from Sears...they come with an application pad and a polishing pad (100% wool)'ll be glad you did. By the way, if you don't use some kind of pad, and you actually do this all by hand, you WILL end up effectively sanding down your skin. I came in after getting halfway done with my second wheel (did the first wheel the same day) and there was blood coming out of my pinky where I was gripping the sandpaper. When you sand, make sure there isn't a lot of dirt or loose sand in the area or in your bucket of water!!! A big peice of sand will make scratches that will be very difficult to remove without going really deep.

Now sand til you hurt like the karate kid. Start with 320 and get down to the bottom of the scrathes from the oribtal sander. After 320 is done, this is what you'll have. If you try to use alum. polish now, you'll end up with a very smokey finish, which looks o.k. off the car, but not so good on the car. Plus, you have a very rough surface that is prone to oxidation and haze.

Then use the other grits (which I did by hand), each time getting rid of the previous scrathes. One way you can tell you've done a good job, is if while using the current grit, you make new scratches everytime you sand...this means you've created a new surface with each successive grit. MAKE SURE YOU'RE DIPPING the sandpaper into the WATER helps wash away sanding residue and keeps the scrathes from getting too deep. Go all the way to 1000, and if you really want good sanding, go to 1200, 1400 etc...but at 1000 its pretty much ready for polishing.

Before you proceed to polishing...wash the wheel off as good as you can. You may have to use more brake parts cleaner for this step. You want the surface as clean as possible before polishing. Get inside the holes also, as you will not want to try to clean them out after polishing the surface parts.

Get some rubbing compound. I used Turtle Wax rubbing compound, and work it in with your fingers. Wipe off the excess and then use a clean cloth to polish. You can also use your Orbital Sander at this point with the polishing pad. Get all that off and then use some Mother's Aluminum Polish. I repeated this step a couple times...if you've done a good job sanding, there should be a minimal amount of black residue coming off with the polishing...if you did a mediocre job, you'll have a lot of residue and because mediocre jobs leave plenty of pits in the aluminum, the dark residue will fill in the holes and your wheel will look shiny, but smoky, not like chrome, but more like graphite. If you have this problem, decide where you started to slack off with the sanding and start over from it 400, 600, or even back to the 320. I have seen the wheels smoky and shiny on the car, and I'm telling you the smoky doesn't have very much appeal. The shiny does. So take your time.

This process should take 3-4 hours per wheel. Consider your time restraint. I have my car stored so I took off the front two and I'll be doing the back two next. If you want, you could pic up some cheap steel wheels and put them on while you are polishing your wheels. I will be doing one wheel per Saturday until I'm done. Good Luck. You should see yourself in the wheels after you're done.

There are many other instructions posted in various places. I never saw a picture however, until about 2 weeks ago. Didn't take me long to decide that this should be done. I have no idea why no one posted pics before. The excuses were mostly, "I don't have a scanner or I would've done it". What a lame excuse. How dare they keep us from this for this long. But still, thanks to Brian85T and whoever posted the pic for him. This was his pic that inspired me to do this.