Smooth Wheel Covers on a Budget




Introduction: Smooth Wheel Covers on a Budget

I drive a 1994 Geo Metro GE with a 3 cylinder engine. According to the official fuel economy ratings for this car, it should get 38mpg city and 44mpg highway.

I got this car as a gift from a friend. When I went to pick the car up, we had to remove the weeds that had grown up around it and relocate the family of field mice living in the engine compartment. I towed it home and replaced the alternator, a belt, the instrument cluster, and a frozen caliper to get it running.

The gas mileage was pretty good. I got about 35mpg city. I know this car can get more, so I started researching how to improve it. One of the things I found was smooth wheel covers. They are supposed to add around 4% to the fuel economy at highway speeds. This is only a small increase, but with other small changes, it should add up quickly.

I made my own smooth(ish) wheel covers. They look pretty cool and cost me less than $30 to make.

Step 1: Needed Materials

Wheel Covers
I got my wheel covers from ebay for $15. They are just inexpensive, plastic wheel covers.

Fiberglass Resin
This is available at hardware stores, auto parts stores, boating supply stores, and online. I bought mine for $12.

T-shirts x 4
Any t-shirt will do as long as there is a large enough section without any screen-printing. The shirt needs to cover the entire front of the wheel cover with a little extra for securing it in place. I just bought 4 large t-shirts Goodwill for $0.99 each. The third picture shows what happens to the shirt after this project, so don't use one you like wearing; it will be quite drafty.

Mixing Bucket
Any bucket will work, but you probably won't want to use the bucket for anything other than resin mixing after this. Lowe's has inexpensive plastic mixing buckets in various sizes. I bought the single quart size.

Acetone is pretty easy to find. You can get it at hardware stores near the paint thinner. This is necessary for clean-up. Between the acetone, bucket, and paintbrush, I spent $12 at Lowe's.

Mixing Stick
Just a stick to mix the resin with. I used a scrap of wood that I had laying around. A paint mixing stick will work. Just make sure to wipe any loose debris from whatever stick you use to keep the resin fairly smooth.

Any paintbrush will work. If you intend to use the paintbrush more than once, though, get a natural one. The acetone could damage the plastic kind and cause you some frustration.

Razor Knife
Just a basic box knife.

Diagonal Wire Cutters
The wire cutters are useful for the finishing touches, but a tough pair of scissors could also do this job.

For cutting the t-shirt.

Cable Ties
The locking, single use kind.

Spray Paint (optional)
For coloring the wheel covers.

Keep your hands chemical-free!

Sand Paper
For scuffing the wheel covers. I used a sanding sponge.

5-gallon Bucket (optional)
For a sturdier work surface.

Step 2: Preparation

Use some sand paper to rough up the surface of the wheel cover a bit to help make sure the resin will stick. Clean off the dust with a damp rag.

If your wheel cover has a tension ring, remove it now.

Put the wheel cover in the t-shirt facing the side with no printing on it.

Make sure to position it so that all the holes can be gathered easily into the center at the back of the wheel cover.

Put the tension ring, if you have one, back on.

Carefully pull the shirt as tight as you can without tearing the shirt or breaking the cover.

Gather all the loose t-shirt in the back and secure with a cable tie. You may need to use more than one depending on length.

Put the wheel cover on a sturdy surface with the front facing up. If you have a 5-gallon bucket, you can put the wheel cover on that with the t-shirt hanging down into the bucket.

Step 3: Resin Application

Do this outside. The can says to mix the resin in a well-ventilated area, but outside is best. This stuff burns the nose and smells awful. The fumes are pretty toxic, too.

I highly recommend wearing gloves. You can clean the resin off of your hands with acetone, but it will dry your hands and may irritate your skin.

Mix enough resin for one wheel cover since the resin cures very quickly and you will only have a few minutes to work with it. If you use a 1-quart can of resin, then use about a quarter of that. Follow the instructions on the can for mixing. Mine was a quarter of the liquid from the can mixed with a quarter of the liquid from the tube, but different brands may vary, so read yours.

Starting at the center, paint the resin onto the t-shirt working outward to the edges until it is well saturated and you can see the wheel cover through the shirt. It will not be completely transparent, but you should be able to see some definition.

In the time it takes to do this, the resin will get gummy in the paintbrush. When you have finished one wheel, clean the brush with acetone and either clean your mixing bucket or let the resin in it cure completely. I found it simpler to just clean it when I cleaned my paintbrush between each wheel cover.

Do all four wheel covers the same way.

Allow the resin to cure completely. My resin required 2 hours, but, again, brand requirements may vary. I actually left mine to cure overnight because I ran out of light.

Step 4: Removing Extra T-shirt

Remove the tension ring, if you have one, and trim the t-shirt along the edge of the wheel cover with a pair of scissors.

Clear off any small drips down the sides with a razor knife, and use wire cutters for larger drips.

Replace the tension ring and your wheel covers are useable.

Step 5: Painting

While the muddy brown of resin does not affect the useability of the wheel covers, it is ugly. To rectify this, just paint them. Pretty much any spray paint should work, but I used a black automotive primer I had left over from another project.

After shaking the can thoroughly, hold it about eight inches from the wheel cover and spray using a sweeping motion from side to side. This is a great project for practicing your painting technique. Allow the covers to dry, then install them on your car.

Step 6: 2 Months Later

In the time since I made these (about 2 months ago), I have only had to do two repairs to them.

The first repair was from when I accidentally popped a small section of one edge off while doing my brakes. I used a pry-bar to pull the wheel cover off the wheel, but I grabbed the wrong edge and it popped loose a bit. I fixed it with some super glue, and it has stayed just fine.

The second repair was purely cosmetic. I misjudged a turn and ran my wheel into a curb. Some of the paint scraped off and I had to give it a quick spray.

I like the look from the smooth(ish) wheel covers, and my gas mileage is currently 38mpg city. The tiny gas economy improvement isn't much, but with the other modifications I intend to make to my car, they will be worth the little bit of time and money I put into them.

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13 Discussions


8 years ago on Introduction

very interesting!
you could even go as far as painting on a design that imitates some nice rims if you wanted.
ive never seen t shirts used in a similar technique as fiberglass, but that seems like it works pretty good, i might almost consider it myself :P


8 years ago on Introduction

Very nice. I think I'll do this to my spare set of wheel covers. I guess if you want to "round' things out you would use some sort of foam or paper between the shirts and the covers? to make the surfaces look more level.



Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

you could always look for flatter hubcaps/wheel covers too


8 years ago on Introduction

All I can say is that one of the primary reasons that there is a gaps in wheels is cooling for the brakes which generate a lot of heat under braking (especially when at high speeds on the motorway etc) and then without proper vent can cause the discs to warp and a damage and reduce the braking effectiveness (and fail motoring tests like the MOT in the UK) and will increase you maintenance costs.

A better way to improve the fuel economy would be other tips in the comments such a rev management wheel balancing good servicing etc. However I would also suggest changing your fuel and air filters to better ones as these can provide cleaner air thus a better burn and better efficiency. Also you could try reducing weight etc by taking out anything you do not need, if you have a family this may be tricky however removing rear seats can take off a lot of weight.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

You are making a lot of assumptions here. Such as that it completely blocks the air flow. If these were made professionally, that is possible, in fact I have seen such and they have been around for decades, that are called baby moon hubcaps. There is plenty of airflow from the back and since these don't have perfect seal on the front, there is enough going through there as well.

Also, Downgrading an 'ible cause you don't agree with it is just mean. If the 'ible was badly done or hard to understand is one thing, but doing it because you disagree with the why of it is just wrong.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Well the material is covered in a solid resin then I would imagine the air flow is severely restricted so i do not think it is an unreasonable assumption. Normally the hot air produced during braking is drawn out by the venturi effect of the vehicle moving forward, thus if the exit is blocked it is harder for the hot air to be removed. As it can be seen from the images, both the wheel and wheel trim has vents for this reason, if the manufacturer thought this was a better way to improve the efficiency then all cars would be sold with solid wheel trims as it would sell more cars however they don't because it has holes for a reason.

I think i know the type you mean, a sort of 50's fashion type? Most of these do also have some ventilation though and the ones that don't as you said 'have been around for decades', i.e. from a period when cars didn't go as fast and the heat dissipation was not as much of an issue or as well documented/understood.

If it appears that I am 'downgrading' the 'ible then that isn't how it was intended, if is well written and easy to understand, however i was just throwing in my 2 cents that there may be better options to improve the fuel economy of the car. I do not disagree with the 'why of it' perhaps just the how of it. And the point of the thread at the end is meant to be a forum for engineers and enthusiasts to discuss projects and their effectiveness otherwise how are we to learn of good ways to further our understanding and improve our projects.


8 years ago on Introduction

Nice job. I am always interested in new ways to fabricate things. I had never thought of using epoxy resin with a cotton t-shirt like that. I would be interested to hear how that construction holds up in this application. Note that painting this is an important step or the resin will break down in the sunlight.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

a few years ago, i saw an actual WHOLE CAR BODY made of epoxy impregnated bluejeans! the car had like 35 freaking pockets all over the outside. it was at the same time, one of the coolest looking cars i've ever seen, and the UGLIEST one I've ever seen driving. and I Saw it a couple times over the course of 4 years... so it must last pretty well when done right.


8 years ago on Introduction

If it's a stick, you shift points can make a big difference. It might seem like the best mileage would be achieved by shifting early and keeping the rpm low at all times, but depending on how the engine is tuned there is a certain optimal rpm range and if you are shifting before that you are actually wasting fuel because the engine isn't using it as efficiently. For example, my accord hit peak efficiency in the 3,000 to 4,000 range, so even driving around town, when keeping it in second gear until 4,000 rpm might seem like pushing the engine a little for no reason, it is actually more efficient.
Driving fast doesn't make as big an impact on mpg as driving quickly does. In other words, a steady foot on the accelerator is more important than how far down you put it because it's changes in speed that eat up gas.


8 years ago on Introduction

hey, good job.
not really digging the dark color, but that's just me. it certainly doesn't detract from the cars overall appearance!
now looking at the pics you've got a lot of rust on the wheel hubs. probably be a good idea to hit those with some rust paint to stop that in it's tracks.
heres a couple more sites:
they may have good tips for you. i think they're more about driving habits than car mods but everything helps.

I'm assuming you already know this but here's what I do:
a top notch tune up every couple years. getting the engine up to factory specs can really make a difference
getting tire balanced, rotated and wheel alignment a couple times a year.
check tire pressure at least once a month.
i've been using synthetic motor oil which is supposed to be better with high milage cars. to be honest i haven't really notices a difference but i can say that it hasn't hurt it.

keep updating this as you can. i'm interested to hear how your hubs hold up over time and over winter.

good job!


8 years ago on Introduction

Congratulations on your Gen2 find!
And nice look for the covers! :-)

once you get things tweaked,.. you SHOULD be seeing over 40 city!
Some of it will come from how you drive.
lead feet = poor milage.

Can't wait to see the rest of your geo-related ibles in the future.

You'll want to join in on the fun at

There's more information in the archives there than you can shake a stick at.


8 years ago on Introduction

I loved my geo metro ! driving the automatic like a stick shift I could get 37mpg around town in traffic ! During non traffic times I could get 40 or better ! I kept my tires over inflated by 10lbs and removed the back seat and any extra weight I could, I also used a synthetic oil. I had over 278,000 miles when the crankshaft broke = (