Refurbish Your Old Rims - Make Them Look Like New!




Introduction: Refurbish Your Old Rims - Make Them Look Like New!

Student, currently studying for my masters degree in Automotive Engineering. Bachelors in Mechani...

In Sweden, it is mandatory to have winter tires during the winter half year. I only had dull looking steel rims for my winter tires, which was something I wanted to change.

Since I am a student and do not want to spend to much money on wheels for my car, I decided to buy a set of second hand BBS wheels and put some time into them to make them look like new.

Step 1: What You Need


  • An old set of rims
  • Aluminum primer (either in a rattle can or for a paint gun)
  • Wheel paint in a color of your choice (either in a rattle can or for a paint gun)
  • Centercaps


  • Sander or an angle grinder
  • Dremel
  • Polishing/Buffing kit (buffing wheel, buffing compound)
  • Drill
  • In case of split wheels; socket wrench and a socket (usually an XZN socket)
  • Paint mask
  • Tape

In case of buying wheels with tires; you will also need a tire machine or as in my case a friend with access to a tire machine. In case that you do not know anyone with a tire machine, your local mechanic can help you get the tires of the wheels.

Step 2: Remove the Tires From the Rims

Start with removing the tires from the rims or as in my case, have a friend help you with it.

Step 3: Split the Wheels

Split the centerpiece and barrel by removing all the bolts. I started by loosening the bolts a bit and then unscrewed them completely. You may have to use some force, after all, the bolts have probably been there for a couple of years.

A tip is to sit on the opposite side of the bolts when loosening them to be able to get enough force.

Step 4: Give the Barrels and Centerpieces a Good Clean

I decided to give the barrels and centerpieces a good clean before continuing to avoid getting dirty everytime I worked with the rims. For this wheel degreasing and a pressure washer was used.

Step 5: Strip the Barrels and Centrepieces of Paint

On some parts of the barrels, the paint had started to crack, meaning it was possible to easily break it off using a knife. However, this was only possible on a few segments, and the rest of the barrels and centerpieces had to be sanded. Before sanding, put tape over the threads to avoid dust to get into the threads. Start with high grit sandpaper and work your way down to small grit sandpaper. To sand in between the spokes and in the holes for the bolts, I used a Dremel. I also tried using an angle grinder which worked well when removing the paint but did not result in a smooth surface which is why I had to finish up with a sander anyway.

For this step, patience is key because a good preparation work will pay off in the end. So, continue sanding some more, and do not forget to use a mask of some kind to avoid breathing in all the dust.

Step 6: Prime and Paint the Centerpieces

If the wheels are damaged and have dents in them, now is the time to fill the dents. Use a 2-component compound to do so and let it harden for 24 hours. Having done this it is time to prime the centerpieces. Once more, take your time in between the layers. I did 4 layers of primer with about 30 minutes in between each layer and then let it dry for 24 hours. If needed sand for a smooth surface with high grit sandpaper before painting the wheels.

For painting the centerpieces, I applied 5-6 coats of paint in 30 minutes intervals and then let the centerpieces dry for 24 hours. Since I did not have a paint gun I used rattle cans and I think the result turned out very well. Decide for yourself if you want to go with rattle cans or a paint gun.

For the whole painting process, 3 cans of primer and 4 cans of paint were used.

Step 7: Buff and Polish the Lip of the Barrels

As earlier mentioned, patience is key. If the lip of the barrel is not properly sanded there will still be scratches after polishing, so make sure that they are properly sanded. Start with low grit paper (if all the paint/primer is stripped, about 500) and increase the grit size up until 2000 and finish up with 2000 grit wet sanding.

After sanding the lips properly, it is time for buffing the lips. Since I did not have access to a buffing machine I bought a buffing set for an electric drill and used this. Be sure to use the correct buffing compound for the material you are buffing, in this case, Aluminium.

To buff the lip, first, apply the compound to the buffing wheel. Then start buffing by "rubbing" the buffing wheel, with slight pressure, against the lip of the rim. You should have to carry out any work, instead, it should be done by the compound and the machine. Repeat this step as many times as needed and do not forget to apply new compound to the buffing wheel from time to time.

When the surface starts to shine and you feel satisfied, wash down the lip with warm water and soap to remove excess compound. Lastly, end with polishing the lip.

Step 8: Assemble the Rims

Assemble the Rims by cross-tightening the bolts. If you are a perfectionist like me, buy new center caps instead of reusing the old ones. This will make the rims look like they just came out of the factory.

Step 9: Mount Wheels on the Car

Mount your new tires to the wheels, or as in my case have a friend help you mount tires to the wheels. At last, after many hours of sanding, painting, and polishing, mount the wheels on the car and enjoy the looks of your new wheels!!!



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    17 Discussions

    Would definitely recommend it, it has been very reliable! :)

    looks mint! 2 tips

    When the rims are split for refurbishing you might as well remove the valve stems for easier paint stripping and polishing, new valve stems are dirt cheap and easy replaced.

    I would have applied some kind of sealer to the lips to prevent me having to go trough the painstaking polishing process so often, specially when you use them as a winter set.

    But main those wheels look tasty, good job!

    4 replies

    Thank you!

    I agree with you on both of your tips. I don't have a clue to why I did not remove the valve stem. And about the sealing of the lips, do you have any suggestions on what to use?

    Some automotive grade clear coat would do nicely. I've used this on newly polished headlights and it works wonders to reduce UV degradation and make cleaning easy.

    It came to my mind as well. However, I was afraid that the clear coat would not stick to the polished surface, especially since the wheels are very much exposed to stone chipping.

    Clear coat on polished wheels is really hard to get right. And after a while it will flake, even on some factory polished and clear coated wheels the coating flakes after a few years. But I can't remember for the life of me what my mate tipped me to use (he's a car detailer by trade)

    Looks good, I do a bit of aluminium polishing on motorcycle parts plus I've done quite a few alloy wheels over the years. It's a ton of work to refurb wheels plus keep them good afterwards. Very few paints will 'stick' to aluminium for any length of time, the oxidised surface prevents good adhesion, particularly when highly polished. Aluminium forms a surface layer of oxides a few microns thick almost immediately on exposure to air, (but, you know that) Professional polishing will leave a layer of very hard wax which will protect wheels for several months in good conditions but only a few days on 'salted' roads. I'm British, the dally/weekly freeze/thaw cycles mess things up quick as there is a lot of salt and water

    1 reply

    Thank you!

    Yes, it is very hard to keep them as nice as they are in the photos. I give them a good polish before I put them on for the winter season and then just let nature take it turn on them. If I would like to keep them as they are in the photos for the whole winter season, I would have to put in way to much time on polishing as you can imagine haha.

    Thank you, done a few small mods to it and I'm really happy about how it has turned out!

    Very nice instructables with detailed pictures.

    1 reply