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How to Repair a Damaged Finish on Wheels


ou only have good intentions when you take your car to the local car wash. As your car moves through the tunnel of long brush strips, the streams of soap and water make your car feel like a cocoon. You lean back and your mind wanders. All in all, you find it an enjoyable, somewhat meditative experience.

Proudly, you drive your car through the streets, admiring how the sunlight shoots sparks off your blindingly clean hood. Maybe you even pull into the driveway and go into your house for the evening without noticing what has happened.

But sooner or later, probably the next morning or afternoon, you will see it. There is something wrong with the wheels. They have a white discoloration and small streaks. You think hard for a few moments, but are sure they weren’t there before.

And you aren’t wrong. The problem happened at your local car wash. You see, they use an acid to clean the wheels and tires. It works well to remove dirt, but it also damages the clear coat on many wheels. Like a water mark on fine wood, the result is a cloudy, whitish or dull appearance.

But don’t panic — you can repair the damage. Your first step is to clean the wheels thoroughly. Use a quality car wheel solution — but be careful. The most popular brands are highly acidic and will only damage the finish on your wheels further. Try P21S or Sonax, which are pH balanced. They are not as aggressive, but they will not strip the finish off your wheels.

Spray the cleaner on a DRY wheel and work it evenly into all areas of the wheel with a soft cloth, sponge, or wash mitt. Try to smooth out any drips so that there is an even coating of cleaner over the entire wheel. Then allow the wheel cleaner time to work (around 3-5 minutes) and gently scrub the wheel with your cleaning cloth.

You will need a glaze to clean the faded finish on your wheels. Choose a quality brand such as 3M Imperial Hand Glaze. Apply this glaze to a soft cloth, gently rub, and buff out the clouding. If your wheels still look cloudy, do not lose faith.

You will need another product. Pick up a metal finish restorer metal polish. Then put a good amount of 3M Imperial Hand Glaze on a cloth and add a small amount of the metal finish restorer. Once again, polish the wheels. This will usually work, restoring your wheels to their original condition. Follow this with a coat of quality Carnauba wax.

If, however, you are still not happy with the results, do not give up. But it is time to get serious! You might want to take a mental health break at this point. I suggest locking yourself in the garage or the basement and letting out a few primal screams. If your thing is meditation, go on and light that incense.

When you’re ready to tackle the problem again, arm yourself! You will need a much more abrasive cleaner. Again, apply to a soft cloth and rub into the wheel. BE GENTLE. If you rub too hard, you might scratch the coating. Hopefully, you will achieve the finish that makes your heart sing. If so, apply 3M Hand Glaze again, and follow up with wax.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but in some cases even all this hard work will not do the trick (time for more primal screams). At this point, you must repaint or repolish. First determine if the entire wheel is painted, or if part is painted and part is polished. If the whole wheel is painted, repaint the whole wheel. Use a primer first, and then spray several light coats of paint on, allowing each coat to dry for at least two hours (during which you can take more time out for primal screaming, running a few miles, or even treating yourself to a glass of 25 year old scotch). Finally, allow the wheels to dry thoroughly for a few days, then clean them again and spray several light coats of clear gloss wheel paint.

Whew! That was a lot of work. But take heart. You only make this kind of mistake once. Next time you need to wash your car, do it yourself. Or hire the kid next door. If you’re addicted to automatic car washes, be sure to talk to the manager first. And if they use acid to clean the wheels — well you know what to do…make tracks out of there!


Also see:

Your Car's Exterior  

High Mileage Car Maintenance -10 must-know tips for keeping your "classic" running.

Scratching the Surface -tips for minor repairs for the do-it-yourselfer.

It's a Dangerous World Out There without a Proper Car Cover -learn the pros/cons of the different car covers on the market.

Selecting the Right Tires for Your Car -get the scoop on selecting the proper tires.



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