How to Polish your alloy wheels

About This How-to
Added: 07.27.03
Updated: 02.27.04
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This how-to will show you how to make those stock 15" rims shine like mad. It is a lot of work, but if you can't afford aftermarket wheels, it is definately worth it! polished


Tools

How To Do It

Step 1

Sanding disc on your drill with ca. 140 grit sandpaper. This will take off the heavy corrosion and clearcoat (the latter of which is the hardest part). Keep the drill speed down or the clearcoat will melt and gum up the paper. Also, make sure you keep the disc as flat against the surface of the wheel as possible to avoid digging into them with the edge of the disc.

Step 2

220 grit wet/dry (used wet with plenty of water) until the scratches from the discs are gone then 400 grit until the scratches from the 220 are gone, then 600, 1500, 2000. All of those may not be necessary. Make sure you get it down to at least 600. The finer the better after that. Each succeedingly finer grade goes faster than the one before. When you sand, use straight movements back and forth, not in circles. If you sand in circles, the pattern you produce will hide the scratches you're trying to remove.

Straight movements or not, as you get down to the finer sandpaper grades you will see scratches that you couldn't see before (because they get camofluaged by the pattern of the sandpaper in the coarser grades) so, depending on your level of fastidiousness, you may have to go back to a coarser grade and sand spots again until you get rid of them all. Look at the surfaces you're working on from different angles to make sure you're getting all the scratches.

A note on the above-mentioned fastidiousness: The wheels will shine brightly, even with a fair number of scratches in them. The problem will be that when you get closer you will see the scratches. If they're deep enough, they'll fill up with blackened polishing compound after you buff. You don't want that. I spent enough time on mine to get almost all of the deep scratches from the sanding discs out but I did miss a few. There are also some scratches from the 220 grit left. When you stand next to the car, they look fine. It's only when you bend down and look closely that you can see the imperfections. It took me about 20 hours to get them to this point. By comparison, my $140 Grant Elite steering wheel has machine marks in the spokes. I think I did alright.

Step 3

Get 2 cotton buffing wheels for your drill and polishing compound. I got mine at Lowes. They have a 3 step system of polish and I got a stick of Step 2 and a stick of Step 3. Other stores will have similar systems so, the important thing is, get a medium and fine grade polish. First use the medium. Run the drill at the highest speed with a moderate amount of polish on the wheel. To the extent possible, polish such that the buffer turns off the edges of the wheel, not into it. This way, you'll be better able to control the drill. Try to polish from a number of different directions. At this point you wheels should be shining brilliantly.

Step 4

Finally, repeat the polishing process, but with the fine polish. This won't make them appreciably shinier but it will get rid of the swirl marks left by the first polish.

Step 5

Your wheels should look 500% better now! Stand back and enjoy!

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