Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Rattle Can Your Wheels Without Looking Completely Trashy

Top Right: as received. Bottom Right: stripped. Bottom Left: Primed. Top Left: Painted
Project Miata came with a set of oddly light 14" rims that I really wanted to use.  In their favor are the facts that they're light, I've got a bunch of 14" tires laying around, and I like the shape.  The downside is the ugly clear coat that's pealing off and corrosion that lies underneath.  These wheels need an eye popping new color but I don't want to spend any money.  Details after the jump.

Spray painting with rattle cans is about the simplest way to paint anything.  Its essentially point, spray, and throw empty can away.  The difficult part is getting the old paint or clear coat off the wheel so the paint will stick.  Chemical treatments are tempting.  They don't require a lot of sanding or scrubbing and easily get into every corner.  For aluminum wheels its the way to go, but thoughts of bad chemical reactions scared me away.

I found that 600 grade sandpaper or fine steel wool did a good job of removing the clear coat.  When using the sandpaper, I dunked it a bowl of water every few minutes to keep the area wet.  The sandpaper worked well on the flat sections and the steel wool worked better on curved surfaces.  Once the wheel was cleaned up, I rinsed thoroughly with water to remove all the shavings and dried the wheel with a towel.  Once completely dry, its time to start spraying.

Each wheel got three colors of paint.  First a self etching primer (green in the photo) then a white sand-able primer, and last the safety cone orange.  The white primer is optional.  Without it, more coats of orange are required to fully cover the dark green and the final color won't be as bright. Each color was applied in about a half dozen light coats.  Multiple light coats mean the paint won't pool up and run.  Last, remember to evenly paint all the surfaces that aren't parallel to the face of the wheel.  For these rims, that meant individually spraying the sides of each spoke one at a time.  When you're standing next to the car looking down at the mounted wheel you'll see the sides of each spoke clearly so its important to paint all the surfaces evenly. 

Let me be clear that this coating is not as durable as any factory wheel paint.  When I mounted the tires it was very easy to chip the paint around the rim with the tire machine.  I touched this up afterward and haven't lost any paint since.  Getting each wheel to look uniform took two cans of self-etching primer, two cans of orange, and one can of white primer.  Five cans of spray paint plus a bag of steel wool and sheet of sand-paper cost about $40.  Time invested amounted to most of a Saturday, although that includes lots of time to do other things while paint dries.  Considering that any durable/professional coating costs several hundred dollars, I'm satisfied.

I am in no way an expert on wheels, painting, or making a car presentable in anyway.  If you have any suggestions or better methods please sound off in the comments. 

1 comment:

  1. I found Rust-oleum's "hammered paint" works well; it is very durable.