How To Restore Scratched Wheels

It's time to put those nasty gouges behind you.

Time Needed: 2-3 Hours per wheel, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $50-$100

Unless you’ve got cash burning a hole in your pocket, throwing away a set of wheels over some dinky scratches isn’t the best option. That’s especially true if those scratches are on a daily driver that you don’t have the desire to deck out. And you can’t exactly justify the expense of taking your beater truck’s wheels in for professional repairs, can you?

Does that mean you need to accept the curb rash until it’s time to trade up? Not a chance. This is Car Bibles after all. We don’t spend money we don’t have to. Thankfully, repairing your wheels at home is pretty easy, and it also makes for a satisfying weekend project anyone can enjoy.

How To Restore Scratched Wheels
The chunk taken out of the wheel’s rim pretty much retires this specimen from road use. If you’re dealing with something similar it’s best to replace the wheel altogether. Photo by Hank O’Hop

You won’t need to break the bank or subject yourself to a wild learning curve. The wrenchers here at Car Bibles are going to walk you through the process of breathing new life into your scratched-up wheels. 

The Safety Brief

Restoring a scratched-up wheel is one of those jobs that’s going to generate plenty of dust. I don’t care how macho you think you are, dust sucks. It gets all over everything and finds its way into absolutely every crevice — eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. It can do more than just ruin the clothes you’re wearing.

Whenever you’re generating dust, you want to make sure you’re not breathing it in. A filtered mask or a proper respirator are not just highly recommended, they’re required. You might also consider throwing in a pair of earplugs, whether or not you’re using power tools. As always, make sure to also wear a set of safety glasses and protective gloves.

The Tools and Parts You Need

Just so you know: This isn’t a professional-level method. And this probably won’t be the last time you’ll see this exact process on the internet. However, part of what makes it so popular is that it’s the kind of job anyone can perform with a few basic supplies and absolutely no experience dealing with scratches. I’d even say this is a great way to try your hand at bodywork.

All we’re doing is using some body filler to deal with deep gouges, sanding, prepping the wheel’s surface, and then applying a quick coat of paint. All you’ll need is body filler, rubbing alcohol, primer, wheel paint, painter’s tape, clear coat, a few pieces of cardboard, and some sandpaper.

If you’re inclined to tackle the process with some professional equipment, you absolutely can. Media blasters, a spray gun, and various power tools offer the best results. But, if you’re like us, you can get by with aerosol paint and some elbow grease.

How To Restore Scratched-Up Wheels

Let’s get after it.

1. Identify the Damage 

First, determine how serious the damage is. Keep in mind that you’re not just looking for gouges and scratches. You also want to keep an eye out for anything that compromises the integrity of the wheel. If you find any cracks or holes, the wheel is no good, and you’ll have to pony up for a new one.  

2. Clean the Wheel

How To Restore Scratched Wheels
Photo by Hank O’Hop

To promote adhesion, the surface needs to be as clean as possible. Take the time to clean the surface with some soap and water. It’s a good idea to follow up with some rubbing alcohol to ensure that there’s no grease left behind.

3. Prep for Filler  

How To Restore Scratched Wheels
Photo by Hank O’Hop

Before you start packing filler into the gouges, you must go over the areas of concern with sandpaper. You want to knock down any raised edges around the scratches and ensure that you’re applying the filler to bare metal. Before moving on, give the wheel another good cleaning with rubbing alcohol.  

4. Mix and Apply 

When applying filler, it’s always a good idea to work in small batches. This is because the filler will begin to set up as soon as the hardener is mixed in. If you take on too much work at once, you run the risk of having the mix harden before you get it into place. Trust me, cursing comes easy when that happens. Take your time, work from one spot to the next, and mix filler as you need it.

5. Sand Flat 

How To Restore Scratched Wheels
Photo by Hank O’Hop

Now it’s time to break out the elbow grease. Sand the filler to match the shape of the wheel’s surface. If you’re lucky, that surface is flat, and you’ll be able to make quick work of this step. If it isn’t flat, just take your time and shape it as necessary. This can be arduous and take awhile. So, use the time to tap into your spiritual side and promote self healing like everyone’s been telling you to.

6. Don’t Forget the Little Guys

Working body filler can eat up a lot of your focus, but you can’t forget about the little scratches elsewhere on the wheel. They may need merely sanding to remove, or they too may require some filler. Either way, deal with them before moving on. Otherwise, they will appear in the final product.

7. Masking Time 

Break out the painter’s tape and start covering anything you don’t want to paint. Some tutorials implore the use of playing cards to protect the tire, but a few scraps of cardboard will work just fine. Make sure you also put something under the wheel, such as a sheet of cardboard, to prevent paint from messing up your pristine garage floor.

8. Apply the Primer 

How To Restore Scratched Wheels
Photo by Hank O’Hop

Once the sanding is done, you’re ready to clean up the wheel and apply a coat of primer. You may discover some minor imperfections after cleaning, but don’t lose your mind over them. Something like Rust-oleum filler and sandable primer will conceal those.

9. Time for Paint 

How To Restore Scratched Wheels
I’ll admit that I made a mess of the tire, but considering neither it or the clapped out wheel will return to the road, I’m not all that worried about it. I suggest you take masking a little more seriously than I did if you want to keep your tires looking fresh. Photo by Hank O’Hop

After applying primer, you’re ready to start painting the wheel. You can paint it to match the factory paint, or you can have fun and go with whatever color your heart desires. Either way, this is all that stands in your way of calling it a day.  Don’t forget to follow up with a quality clear coat. If you skip this step, rocks and road debris will chew the paint right off your project. You can use whatever clear coat you prefer, but we suggest something with a hardener to provide maximum protection. Lastly, if you want to protect your wheels from road grime, a coat of wax helps keep your car clean.

The Car Bibles Questionnaire

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions.

Q: Can you fix a scratched black rim?

A: Yes, you can fix a black wheel. It’s not the color of the wheel that matters, it’s the finish. If your wheels are powder-coated, you don’t really have the option to use filler. Powder-coating uses specialized equipment most people don’t have access to. But a black rim is ripe for a good can of spray paint specifically designed for automotive wheels.

Q: Can body filler be powder-coated?

A: Body filler can’t be powder-coated. (There are professional fillers to use under powder-coat, but they are not for typical DIYers.) This is due to the filler’s tendency to shrink or outgas and create irregularities in the finish under the heat-curing process. That’s part of the reason you might consider other methods or even taking scuffed-up wheels in for professional repair. The same school of thought applies to chrome finishes as well.

Q: How can I sand my rims fast?

A: Power tools for sanding can be used to speed up the sanding process. Another alternative is to use a media blaster to remove your wheel’s finish in the first place. Keep in mind that these tools can work against you in shaping body filler. Consider the shape of the surface and decide whether power tools are acceptable for it.

Video Tutorial on Restoring Wheels

We get it, reading sucks. That’s why we always make sure to provide a video tutorial in our guides. Below is a video link that breaks down the process of restoring wheels. It also does a great job explaining which power tools to use for those looking to speed up the process.

Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Restore Your Wheels

We put standard Bondo body filler to work for this project because we didn’t intend to actually reuse the wheel. We recommend Bondo Metal Reinforced Filler for anyone actually putting their wheels back on the road. We also used Rust-Oleum 260510 Automotive 2 In 1 Filler and Sandable Primer and 3M Small Dent Repair Sanding Pack to work and wrapped things up with Dupli-Color HWP102 Graphite High-Performance Wheel coating. And though we didn’t use clear coat on our test subject, we highly recommend putting USC Spray Max 2k High Gloss Clearcoat Aerosol to work on your wheels. All of these can be sourced from Amazon and Walmart.

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