refinish your wheels
This is what my Mini looks like now. This is what it looked like this morning:
I’ve had my ‘08 (R56) Mini Cooper since March and started feeling like it was time to personalize it. The first step was replacing the stock chrome 3 bar grille with a JCW black mesh grille (as seen in the photos above). I like the more functional look of the black mesh grille and decided to do something about those always dirty silver wheels.
I have painted several sets of wheels over the years so I decided to document the process this time. $26 worth of paint, tape and other supplies along with a few hours worth of elbow grease and anyone can have a set of custom painted wheels, too!
For this project I used gloss black Rust-Oleum Professional High Performance Enamel. I have used Dupli-Color wheel paint before and it turned out pretty good. I looked and couldn’t find it in gloss black so I fell back on an old stand-by. I have used the Rust-Oleum Professional paint on a number of projects and have always been impressed with the results. I painted a used set of steel wheels for my old ‘81 Toyota pick-up with silver Rust-Oleum Professional a few years ago. I took them to the tire shop a few days later to get a new set of tires mounted. After I told the installer I had just painted them myself he warned me they’d get “all scratched to hell.” I said “fine” and figured I’d be painting them again after I got them back. Later that day I went to pick them up and they didn’t have a mark on them. The installer met me in the parking lot as I was loading them up and said “darned-est thing I’ve ever seen. What the hell kinda paint is that you used there?” It’s good stuff.
First step is removing the wheels from the car. If you are tempted to do this while the wheels are still attached to the car, don’t. I believe if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing right. Taking the wheels off allows you to paint the inside of the rims as well as the outside and has the added benefit of giving you the opportunity to carefully inspect your wheels inside and out. When was the last time you did that?
My jack can lift a whole side of my Mini at a time so I did the driver’s side wheels first then did the passenger’s side. Doing two at a time didn’t really take any more time than having all four off at once and it was a lot easier not having to deal with jack stands and such. You can do this one wheel at a time by using the stock jack but that could be slower as you’ll have to wait for the paint to dry before you can move on the next one. Alternatively, you could use the spare to allow you to work on more than one wheel at a time.
First step is to strip all the wheel weights off the wheels (inside and out). Since I’m going to re-paint the wheels I wasn’t too concerned about marking them a bit with a screwdriver ;-)
Remove the center caps then it’s time for a bath, inside and out. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid to help cut the brake dust and road grime. (Never use Dawn to wash your car as it strips the protective wax coating.)
Before the final rinse comes quite possibly the most important step of the process. Using a Scotch 00 sanding pad, thoroughly rub down all surfaces of the wheel, inside and out. The sanding pad etches the surface of the old paint and gives the new paint something to hold onto. Skip this step and the new paint will look nice at first but likely chip off quite quickly down the road. You can substitute 400 grit wet dry or a Brillo pad but I have found the “Scotchbrite” pads to be the best as they are durable and flexible.
Done correctly, all painted surfaces should have a satin, not glossy finish after rinsing and drying. Be advised that the paint will still look glossy until they dry. If you see glossy spots, hit them again to make sure the paint will stick well everywhere. Pay special attention to hard edges and small nooks and crannies. If you have wheels with bare metal parts then the process will vary based on whether or not the metal parts a clear coated (same as a painted wheel) or bare metal (sand, prime, and sand again) or if you want to leave them as is (mask).
Once the wheel is dry (I propped mine up in the sun while I was washing the other one), it’s time for the masking. 2-3″ long strips of masking tape overlapped slightly and tucked under the bead of the rim protect the tire from overspray.
It’s also a good idea to mask off the inside face of the rim where the wheel contacts the brake hat (read “hub”). This prevents the wheel from bonding to the car later. Let me say that again. This prevents the wheel from bonding to the car. I speak from experience here…
Carefully mask around the valve stem.
The fully masked wheel. Note the use of newspaper to cover the rest of the sidewall of the tire to protect from overspray. Sure you can always clean the overspray off later, but why not just take a little extra time on the front end so you can relax later, kick back, drink a beer, and admire your handsome new wheels instead of spending hours cursing and soaked in solvents.
I like to use a good auto finish prep to remove any oils, etc. from the paint before painting. Make sure it has all dried before beginning to paint.
My work area, by the way. Saw horses are a 38 year old back’s best friend.
Shake the paint can well, then start with the inside of the wheel. Using short overlapping strokes, paint the edges of the rim and the small detail features first.
Then, paint the large surfaces last, blending into the areas already painted with overlapping strokes. Make sure to walk around and get all the angles. Let the paint flash over (slightly tacky but mostly dry to the touch) before flipping the wheel. In this case the sidewall of tire sticks up higher than the wheel surface so there’s no worry of messing up the wet paint. Super low profile tires may require some dowels or spacers to protect the new paint.
Same process on the front, rim edge followed by inside edges of spokes, then bolt holes, and finally the large surfaces. One good coat is all that is required with this paint. The Dupli-Color wheel paint took two coats to get good coverage. Look at that shine!
Let the paint dry until it is no longer tacky (test on the masking) then carefully remove the masking. It’s best to pull it off before the paint fully hardens so that it doesn’t bond with the tape and pull the paint up with the tape. However, if it’s too wet the tape will scrape the paint off as it slides past. Now, set the wheels up in the sun to cure while you work on the next wheel. You will need to let the wheels cure for an hour or so before you can mount them and work on the other side so go grab a bite of lunch or something.
That’s it. Let them dry as long as you can before mounting them. When you do, remember that the paint will still be quite soft. Be super careful with the lug nuts and wrench and you should be OK. I chose to wait to reinstall the center caps for a day or two to make sure the paint is fully cured so I don’t totally bugger them up. After a couple of weeks remember to take them in for re-balancing (remember that you removed the balance weights). I like to wait so that the paint has a chance to fully harden, though some touch ups may still be required depending on the skill of your service technician.
I recommend using a microfiber cloth or wash mitt to clean them as this type of paint doesn’t get as hard as the two part enamels typically used by the factory. Good thing is, now that you know how to paint them yourself, touch ups later on won’t be that big of a deal. be sure to save the left over paint for later use.
Pop that beer and enjoy your “new” wheels!