Give your ride a new look! Refinish your aluminum wheels. By: Nick Capinski

One of the quickest changes that can be done to alter the appearance of your ride is to add a set of custom wheels.  In fact, this seems to be one of the first modifications that gets done to a vehicle that is getting customized.  The right set of wheels can turn an average vehicle into a cool looker!

With my latest VW Bug build, I’ve been putting this car together on a bit of a budget.  Instead of buying a new set of wheels, I decided to shop the swaps for a good deal.  I finally settled on Centerline-style aluminum wheels.  I actually bought the rims at two different swap meets (I got a good deal on the front rims, and an even better deal on the rear rims).  Shopping the swaps, I was able to find the wheels for my Bug at a great price……partially because these wheels were oxidized, dull, and one wheel was missing one of the decorative rivets (these are one-piece wheels).  The great thing about aluminum wheels is that you can take a dull, oxidized wheel and refinish it to new, or better than new appearance.  This is a job that does take some time to accomplish (don’t expect to spend 5 minutes and be done), but the rewards are great… can see the transformation happen before your eyes!

Here is what I started with….. Centerline-Style Wheel in the beginning

The first step to refinishing the wheel was to strip off the old-anodized finish.  A quick tip to see if your wheel is coated or not, is to take a clean rag with some metal polish (I like AutoSol) and give a quick rub on the wheel.  If the rag stays clean, the wheel is coated, and the coating will need to be removed before polishing.  If the rag turns black, the wheel is bare aluminum. To strip the anodizing from the wheel, I used Eastwood Anodize Remover.

After the Anodize Remover does its job, clean up with a water rinse and scotchbrite or a plastic scraper.  Reapply the Anodize Remover, as needed, until all of the anodizing is gone.  Once it is removed, you should have something like this.

Once your wheel is stripped to bare aluminum, the fun begins.  If your wheel was originally a machine finish and you want a mirror-polished finish, you will need to sand the wheel to smooth out and remove the machine marks.  If your wheel is smooth aluminum, you are ready to begin buffing.

Buffing aluminum is a two-step process: Tripoli compound used on a spiral sewn wheel, followed by white rouge compound on a loose section buff.  The Tripoli compound on the spiral sewn wheel gets the aluminum looking good, and the white rouge on the loose section buff removes minor scratches to make the aluminum pop.  For more information on this two-step process, click here for a tech article on buffing and metal finishing.

If you do not have a buff motor, Eastwood offers a handy Deluxe Polishing Kit that allows you to polish with your drill.  This kit gives you all of the compounds and buffs needed to polish, at a great price!  Click here to see the video on this Eastwood Buffing Kit.

After polishing your wheels, to keep them looking great, you can follow up and re-polish regularly or apply our Metal Protect (this keeps the wheels looking great for several months).

Here is what I have after about 2 hours work on this wheel.  This is a huge improvement over the wheel I started with, plus it didn’t cost a lot, other than some time.  Once I source and install the missing rivet, I will give the wheel one last go-over and then apply Metal Protect… down, three more to go! 

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  • Sam

    May 9th, 2011

    Trying to have a car too cool some guys forget about wheels functionality per different cars. mechanic first, look follows..

  • car care tips

    May 15th, 2011

    Proper way of cleaning parts of car is really important. Giving the best care can really help enhance the performance of the car parts.

  • Steve

    August 31st, 2011

    Were you able to find a rivet I have missing also. If so where did you find it? Thanks

  • Kelly

    July 16th, 2012

    We are refurbishing some rims and would like to replace all the rivets. Did you ever find a place to get them?

  • outlaw

    April 5th, 2013

    what size rivet holes are in the wheel ?

  • NickC

    August 21st, 2013

    I actually found the correct sized rivets in a salvage yard on an aluminum rim from a Ford truck.

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