Paint Your Rims Cheap!




Introduction: Paint Your Rims Cheap!

In this Instructable I will show you how to give your ride a facelift by painting your rusty or chipping rims.  I've done this on 3 of my cars now and I've learned that it takes a good deal of patience and prep-work.  I was sick of my Subaru looking like a grocery getter, so I picked a nice gloss black to replace the flaking silver.

In this Instructable you will need:
-various grits of sandpaper
-steel wool
-paint thinner
-painters tape
-Self Etching Primer
-"Stops Rust" paint

Step 1: Prep the Wheels

In order to get the paint to stick and be durable, it is imperative that you remove any flaking, rusting, or chipping. To get rid of the bulk of it I used a wire brush attached to a drill. This saved me a lot of time and elbow grease. I know not all of you have this, so a good sanding and a wire brush will do the same, just not as easily. 

Once you're done getting rid of the flakiness you reach for the sandpaper. You should use 150 grit sandpaper to really rough-up the surface. Your goal here should be removing anything shiny or rusty. If you used the drill, make sure you smooth out any deep grooves you cut in it. I didn't do this so well so now I have some nasty cuts in my finished wheel.

After the sandpaper, get out some steel wool. I used the finest stuff, I think it's 0000. But 000 should woork too. Make sure you hit every spot on the rim, getting a nice even dullness.

Finally get rid of all the dust and debris with a rag. Then hit each wheel with a rag of mineral spirits or paint thinner. Again, make sure you get all of the wheel. Wipe it up with clean paper towels and let it dry for 5 minutes.

Now you're ready to tape!

Step 2: Tape Off the Tire

To prevent over-spray on your tires you need to tape where the rim meets the tire. I tore strips of painters tape into 3-4 inch pieces. Then I stuck them in the groove overlapping about 1/2 an inch. After I went around the whole wheel I tore strips of some paper that I found in the recycle. Newspaper is the perfect paper to use. Make sure you cover the tops of the tires, paint will settle everywhere.

Finally, tape the valve stem. This should only be one piece of tape if you do it right. If you are using black paint it's not too big of a deal, you just don't want it gummed up with the paint.

Step 3: Apply the Primer

After perusing the internet I found out that Self Etching Primer is the best. The primer helps the paint stick to the wheel for a lasting result. To apply the primer, hold the can 8-10 inches away from the wheel, don't just hold down on the trigger. You want to pulsate your finger every second or so, moving at all times. Make sure you don't hold it down too long in the same spot otherwise it will drip and look terrible.

After the first coat, wait 20 minutes and apply a second coat of primer. You can do a third coat if you would like, but I stuck with two. After your final coat of primer let the wheels sit for 2 hours. From what I read this lets the primer fully cure and dry and will help for a lasting result.

Step 4: Paint!

Now you finally get to apply your final coats. Again, patience is a virtue. Make sure you don't coat it too thickly, otherwise it will drip. Your first 2 coats should be relatively thin, waiting 20 minutes between coats. And on your final coat make sure it's pretty thick so it brings out the true finish of the paint. Make sure you get a good amount of paint everywhere for your final coat.

Once your last coat is done, let it sit overnight, or a few hours at least if it's warm. To top it all off, give your lug nuts a good scrubbing with a wire brush. I used a Vise-Grips to hold the lug nuts in place while I got the rust off.

Step 5: Mount Them and Admire

Alas, remove the tape and mount your wheels. Stand back and take a good look at your handiwork. You will now be the talk of your town, and if done right, the rims will last for years. Congrats!

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    5 years ago

    Can't wait to do this. I've been restoring my great grandfather's
    Bronco II, and this will really help me keep the stock rims without them
    looking like crap.


    7 years ago

    Hello- thank you for posting this; I have found it very helpful. But, my car is fairly new and so my wheels are not rusty. I was wondering if all the sanding, steel wooling, and wire brushing is still necessary when I don't have any rust or imperfections on my wheel surface, or if it is necessary for the paint to properly adhere (regardless of the condition of the wheels). Thank you!!


    Reply 5 years ago

    Yes it preps the primer to stick so the paint will stick


    5 years ago

    I totally love this idea! I have a Sube wagon as well and I'm also tired of the grocery-getter look. Definitely going to do this soon


    6 years ago on Step 5

    Great write up! Honestly the drying time is all dependent on location, weather, humidity, heat, etc. I would say 24-48 hours is perfect! I plan to paint my 18 year old Jeep Grand Cherokee wheels this spring as i like the look of them, and they are already set up perfectly. Just need to be refinshed and freshed up with a good gunmetal color finish. Thank you for this, my main concern was whether i had to take off the tires to do this.

    DIY  Dave
    DIY Dave

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Looks great! I'm planning to run to autozone tomorrow and grab some wheel paint. What kind of paint did you use? Also, is it necessary to use primer before painting?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I used Rustoleum brand paint. Not specifically for wheels, but for metal. It's good quality paint with a lot of different colors. I've read online that you can find good wheel paint at all sorts of auto parts stores. And as far as the primer, I believe it is worth it. It costs around 4 dollars and from what I've read online it seems like the smartest way to go.