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How to polish wheels

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Wheels are an important part of your vehicles appearance. Polishing wheels can be just as effective on the overall look of the vehicle as the rest of the paintwork. Polishing wheels isn’t very difficult, but takes some practice and the proper polish/tools to do it perfectly.


The different types of wheels to polish

There are a few different types of wheels that can be polished. The difference is made by the material or the type of coating on the wheels. Although there are a few more differences, these are the general differences that can give you a clue on how to approach the job at hand.

Painted wheels

These are wheels that have similar paintjobs as the vehicle itself. The wheel was first treated to a primer, then a colored coat and finally a clear coat. The type of paint used might be slightly different to the paint on your car, but in general terms it will be very similar.

Powdercoated wheels

These wheels have been coated with powdercoating, which is a powder that is sprayed on the subject and then baked in an oven to cure and harden. Powdercoating is generally much harder then a normal paintjob, but is more prone to orange peel, and corrections are more difficult to make.

Uncoated wheels

Some wheels can also be just bare metal. Some wheels have been coated with a layer of chrome, but others are made from aluminum that is then polished to a chrome like shine. When an uncoated wheel, made from metal, is polished by a professional, it is difficult to see the difference with a freshly chromed wheel.

Differences and similarities

Some things are very similar between polishing a painted wheel or an uncoated wheel. The biggest different is the car that is taking into not affecting the surface to much, and the type of polishing.

  • All wheels need to be washed and cleaned before you can start polishing
  • All wheels can be clayed to decontaminate
  • A fallout remover can be used on all wheels
  • All wheels can be protected after polishing
  • All wheels can benefit from regular maintenance

There are also differences that need to be taken into account.

  • Using an acidic or alkaline wheel cleaner can damage an uncoated wheel, but will have little negative effect on a painted or powdercoated wheel
  • Since the unprotected wheel is basically just bare metal, it can be polished with a metal polish, the painted or powdercoated wheel can be polished with regular polish you would use for your vehicle.
  • When the paint on a painted or powdercoated wheel is damaged beyond correction, it can always be repainted. An unpainted wheel would need much more work to be repaired, and might be much more expensive
  • A wheel wax might not always bond properly to an unpainted wheel
  • Wetsanding can be done on painted wheels, but is not recommended on unpainted wheels

polishing the wheels

Polishing painted and powdercoated wheels

Polishing the wheels isn’t really any different to polishing paint. You start with the least aggressive product and see how it goes. You keep going up 1 step until you found what works for you. When done with 1 grade, you keep going down 1 step at a time to refine the polishing step by step.
Tools and trics can help to make it easier for yourself.

  • Smaller polishing pads will help
  • Using a polishing cone or ball can make the insides easier to work with
  • If you can’t remove the tire, tape it off. Hitting the tire with your polishing pad can result in unwanted dirt on your polishing pads
  • There are different grades of polishing pads, and different types of backing plate. Many found that a flexible backingplate with a thin and/or hard polish pad worked great with a relatively soft polish.
  • There are certain polisher that come in an extra small version

Polishing unpainted wheels

Polishing unpainted wheels isn’t very different to polishing metal in general. Some tools and techniques can help to make it easier for yourself or achieve better results in a shorter time.

  • Unpainted wheels are basically naked metal, you can have some effect with a regular paint-polish, but a dedicated metal polish would perform much better
  • You can use different pads, different grades of polish and different speed to get different results
  • Some polishers can come in different sizes, for some jobs an extra small polisher can be very handy
  • Wetsanding is not recommended on unpainted wheels
  • Smaller polishing pads can help in certain areas
  • Using a polishing cone or ball can make the insides easier to work with
  • Polishing metal can be done with different pads then the ones you use for polishing paintwork
  • Tape off the tire, you don’t want to get rubber particles on your polishing pad. The tire might not be as clean as the wheel itself, making your polishing pad dirty
  • Polished aluminium can look the same as chrome. You can use this info to set your standards

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