DIY: How to spray paint your wheels

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I had two of my 2011 Mustang’s polished aluminum 18-inch wheels damaged and oxidized when I got the car. These came with a pony package and since I really like them I had to get them fixed. This involved some welding and straightening.

Due to the geometry-loss the aluminum had to be heated to straighten and that gave my wheels a “burned” and dirty look as a result. I’ve tried polishing them but it gave no desired look. It would have been the best if I had stripped the clear coat, polished and then clear coated them again probably, but I hadn’t… so the whells looked bad.

After watching a few videos on Youtube I’ve discovered that it is extra easy to spray-paint them myself. And it also looked like an interesting mini project for half a day or so. So, I went on it.

The best sequence to spray-paint your wheels is:
1. Paint striping (optional).
2. Sanding.
3. De-grease.
4. Priming.
5. Painting. 3-4 coats.
6. Clear coat. 1-2 coats.
7. Buffing (optional).

My wheels are polished aluminum, so I had to strip the clear coat first. Some folks skip the paint-stripping stage and only sand them to roughen up before the primer. I’ve decided to learn the difference and skipped paint striping on one wheel.

I’ve used a random sprayable paint stripper. Since I wasn’t sure how the stripper is to effect the tire and I also didn’t want to re-paint the inner side of the wheel, I’ve masked the “test wheel” and sprayed the remover on the fascia. It took about 30 minutes for it to dissolve the clear coat. Then I’ve used a random plastic brush and strong current if water to remove the paint and the chemicals (use the gloves!).


To strip or not to strip
As a result, the only difference I’ve noticed of the paint-stripped and non-stripped wheel was the sanding process itself – it was much quicker and easer to work on the wheel with no clear coat. On the other hand, I had to re-mask the paint-stripped wheel again. My recommendation? Use the stripper and save yourself a good hour per wheel on the sanding process. 

I’ve used a tape and newspaper to mask both wheels and de-greased them with acetone before moving to the next stage.

I’ve used a grey colored primer ’cause it is much easer to paint the base paint on a color matching primer. I gave it only one coat of primer and it started to look good already. It took 20 minutes to cure and then I did a little bit of sanding in some spots with a 2000 grid sanding paper.

The painting process
I’ve decided to go with 3 to 4 coats and started with a mild and dusty one for the first – this is what most of youtubers suggest. I could barelly see the color after the first coat, but you can definitely notice the 2nd one. It takes about 20 minutes for the paint to dry in between. It is a good time to inspect your wheels for the missed or badly covered spots before the 3rd coat which was my last one for the base as well.

The 1st coat

The 2nd coat

The 3rd coat

My spray paint happened to be a bit grainy and I didn’t want that. My father advised me to sand them with a 2000 grid wet sandpaper. This is not what you usually have to do in your wheel painting process, but I had to risk. And it went well actually. Even though less shinny, but my wheels became smooth and slippery to the touch after a 2000-grid sanding. I’ve only used one can of the paint on both wheels and the were some left, so I guess you’d be safe with 2 cans for all set of 4 wheels for good 3 coats on each. Well , its time for the last stage – the clear coat.

Clear coating

I gave my wheels a good dry on the sun and then did some “control” drying with a dryer to make sure they are not wet after sanding. I did the first clear coat dusty and then 20 minutes later I went with a heavy second one. Somehow, I didn’t get any orange peel effect, so I did no buffing of the clear coat at all. I don’t know whether I was lucky or used too little of the clear.

The 1st coat of clear (mild and dusty)

The 2nd coat of clear

The result
These are not perfectly looking wheels, but I’m happy with the result. It cost me under $25 to buy the paint, the paint-remover, the sandpaper and the clear coat.