Introduction: Customize or Refurbish Hot Wheels!

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Hot Wheels. Cheap, good, clean fun. Well, I'm not so sure about cheap- because I truly believe that a man's most expensive hobby begins with 97 cents!

I got into building custom Hot wheels a couple of years ago. I'm to the point now that I love it so much I'm teaching my students how to do it. This Instructable goes over the basic steps of taking a stock Hot Wheel or Matchbox car, stripping it down, cleaning it up, painting it, and adding details to make it look GREAT.

While there are many different levels to this insanity, it is really simple to take the cars appart and slap a paint job on them. For a basic custom, you'll need the following tools and supplies:


Assorted drill bits

Vice Grips, pliers, and wire cutters

Paint stripper (soaking in acetone works well also)


Paper Towels

Paint - spray cans, modeling paint, sharpies, etc

Paint brushes if using modeling paint

Masking tape


Crazy glue

Those are the basics. If you want to get REALLY crazy and build some of the extreme cars like the ones above, you might want to check out the custom tool box I built just for the purpose of building Hot Wheels:

Alright! Lets get BUSY!

Step 1: Split.

First thing that needs to be done is to take the car apart. Its pretty easy to do with a drill or a drill press. Start with a small-ish drill- I like to use a 1/8" bit. Drill the center of any rivets on the bottom about 1/8" deep. Once you have the pilot hole drilled, then you can cut the rest of the rivet head off by drilling with a larger bit. Use a bit that is big enough to cover the whole head of the rivet, and drill until the head is gone.

With the rivets gone, the base of the car should almost fall right off. If it doesn't, you can gently pry the bottom off with a screw driver. Spread the pieces out and see what you've got!

Step 2: Strip.

I like to start by stripping the paint off the casting first. There are a few different ways to do this, but my favourite is using a paint stripper in a spray can. Using a pair of Vice grips, clamp the casting from underneath. Spray the stripper on (make sure you follow all directions and cautions on the can!), let it sit for a couple of minutes, then use a toothpick to scrape the bubbled paint off. Once you have as much paint scraped as you can, wipe it off and rinse it with hot water. You may have to repeat the process 2 or 3 times. For some reason, purples seem to be the very hardest to get off!

When you have most of the paint off, you can use a pin or thumbtack to scrape out the cracks where the toothpick wouldn't reach.

Don't they look great without paint!?

Step 3: Wheel Swap.

Here's a fun step. Most plain Jane Hot Wheels come with plastic wheels. If you really want to go big, there are several versions of Hot Wheels with "Real Riders", which are 2 piece rubber tires and rims. They're a little more spendy, and I've always had a hard time buying them knowing I'm just cutting them up for the wheels, but hey... Sacrifices must be made!

Remove the rivets as described in the Split step. The hard part of this step is getting the wheels out of the base. The base is usually metal on these, and getting the axles to pop out with bending them can be tricky. Sometimes you can cut the locks with a pair of wire cutters. Failing that, you will need to either drill off the tops of the locks or use a dremel style grinder to get rid of them.

The car we are building has a plastic base, so cutting the locks and getting the old wheels out is usually pretty easy.

Once the wheels are all out, put the new wheels in the base, and stick them there with a small drop of crazy glue.

Step 4: Paint.

This step is very open to interpretation- there are a billion different ways to put paint on something. This is just my process.

Primer. Not a requirement, but I think putting a coat of primer yields a better finish. Mainly because it gives me a layer to wet sand to help make things smoother.

Wet Sand. MAKE SURE THE PAINT IS DRY before you try and sand!!! After the primer, wet sand with a fine sand paper to buff / polish. Make sure to rinse and dry the car before the next layer of paint.

Color. Pick your color, and follow the instructions on the can! In this case, I'm using a metallic paint that requires a layer of silver first, then the blue over top of it.

All of these paints were just from regular spray cans found at any store. I have run into a few cans of paint that DO NOT mix... If you try and layer them or paint a stripe over another color the paints crackle or bubble. Not a huge deal- we can just strip it back down, just a waste of time.

Don't be afraid to experiment!

Step 5: Detail.

THIS is the most important step!

The devil is in the details. The more details you add, the better the car will look (assuming the details are done right!). Studying pictures of real cars can really pay off.

I started with the bed- since the bottom of the bed was black plastic, I painted the insides of the bed to match. Masking tape can be very useful but you need to make sure it is REALLY well stuck down or the paint will bleed under it and make a mess.

Another trick I like to use is a scraper. Anything that needs to be silver and is SMALL, you can *very* gently scrape the paint off back down to the base color. Find something small, flat, and sharp. TAKE YOUR TIME with the scraper!

Sometimes you just need to grab a paintbrush and wing it. A steady hand helps- but the most important part is patience. Take your time, do pieces one small chunk at a time. Again, don't be afraid to mess up- we can strip it back down and start over if we need to!

Paint mixing tip- Using a toothpick with paint on it you can put drops of paint in something. Mix different colors a drop or two at a time to get the color you want. The yellow for the headlights on this car was 3 drops of white and one of yellow.

Don't forget the interior! Some simple swipes with paint or even sharpie can add a lot of detail.

Stripes can be very easily made with vinyl sticker material, a razor blade, and a ruler. Once you cut a pattern out and remove the excess parts, cover it in scotch tape, peel it off the backing, and apply it to the car. Make sure the vinyl is stuck to the car, then gently peel off the scotch tape.

Step 6: Finish It Off!

Once all the parts are done, put it back together! You can carefully crazy glue it back together where the rivets were drilled out, or anywhere the base touches the casting.

If you have the means and want to share it, spend some time taking quality pictures. The above pictures were taken in a light box I built using this instructable:

Don't forget to SHARE! I love to see others work!

Once you have to basics down, try doing more custom work. You would be amazed at what you can do with some scraps of metal and bits available at your local Hobby Lobby!

Check out my blog- - or my instagram- dorkpunch - for tons of other custom Hot Wheels builds

Don't forget, your most expensive hobby starts with 97 cents!

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