Alloy wheel refinishing – ‘saving’ hard-to-find AMG replica wheels

'Curb rash' and years of corrosion removed, refinished wheels look brand new.  Refinishing is a good value, especially for rare, hard to find specialty items like these AMG replicas.

‘Curb rash’ and years of corrosion removed, refinished wheels look brand new. Refinishing is a good value, especially for rare, hard to find specialty items like these AMG replicas.

The wheels on a vehicle are one of its most important design features.  Wheels contribute a major visual design element to the curbside ‘character’ of every car, SUV and pickup truck on the road.  And whether you’re a vintage car, muscle car, or sport compact enthusiast, or simply somebody who’s fanatical about maintaining a pristine vehicle, ‘dinging’ a wheel can happen all too easily.  All it takes is mis-judging the distance between the wheel and curb by 1-mm and your precious wheel is scarred.

The cost of replacing a damaged OEM alloy wheel is shocking.  When I started researching this story, I was testing a 2011 Cadillac CTS coupe.  I popped into the downtown Chevrolet-Cadillac dealership and asked parts person Roni Repato for the price on a 19-in. OEM Cadillac alloy wheel.  “It’s expensive”, he replied even before searching the computer database.  “$909.25”, he replied.  Ouch.  OK, I replied.  Let’s try something less expensive.  How about a replacement wheel for a ‘normal’, non-luxury vehicle, like a 2011 Chevrolet Traverse crossover utility vehicle? I queried.  “$678.00, with a $50.00 core charge.”  Ouch again.

Car enthusiasts know that one can easily purchase aftermarket alloy wheels often for less than $200.00 each.  But if you’re driving anything ‘special’, any late model premium vehicle or sports car, a new Mustang GT for example, chances are you’ll want to keep the OEM wheel ‘look’.

One cost-effective solution is to have that dinged wheel refinished.  We contacted Des Ross, the owner of Auto Details (11505-105 Avenue, Tel. 780.944.1444) in Edmonton about refinishing a set of 17-in. AMG replica wheels for a twelve year old Mercedes-Benz E430.  Ross’s background is an auto body technician and started his auto detailing business in 1993.  Eight years ago, the company added wheel refinishing and autobody repairs, doing minor scrapes and dents that were too small for full service auto body shops .  Our AMG replicas had been used as winter wheels by the previous owner and badly corroded, and these stylish ‘Monoblock’ wheels are now getting hard to find.  We liked how they look and wanted to preserve the ‘factory’ look for our aging E-Class sedan, and therefore chose to refinish rather than replace.

These AMG replica wheels were used for winter tires.  We wanted to restore them to new condition for summer use.

These AMG replica wheels were used for winter tires. We wanted to restore them to new condition for summer use.

Ross says refinishing a wheel to remove ‘curb rash’ runs between $100-$300, with the typical repair costing $200.  “We can do the repair with the tire right on the wheel, which saves the owner tire mounting/dismounting costs”, he explains.  Also, refinishing a wheel with the tire on it prevents possible damage to the wheel when mounting the tire.

Refinishing technician Chris Carrier took our four wheels and first degreased and removed contaminants from them, and cleaned any ‘dressing’ from the tire in preparation for masking.  Next, the tire and valve stem were taped to protect them from paint overspray.  Carrier then uses a grinding wheel with various grits of abrasive to remove the corrosion and applies filler to smooth the surface.  Sanding the spokes and lips of the wheels is the next step, followed by a coat of primer and then one coat of sealer primer.  Finally, two coats of silver paint are applied and the new paint is cured in a heat booth.  Ross says by using OEM wheel paint codes, minor repairs can be done to small sections of the wheel, and the paint can be matched, thereby eliminating the need to repaint the entire wheel, saving the customer money.

When our AMG Monoblock replica wheels were ready, they looked factory fresh.  On close inspection, the outside edge of the lips on the wheels show tiny (but painted) imperfections that are impossible to sand smooth due to interference from the mounted tire.  This is entirely acceptable for wheels on a daily driver; but if were refinishing the wheels of a show car, I’d pay the extra expense of removing the tires and having the wheels refinished perfectly.

While refinishing a ding on a wheel at a cost of $100-$300 dollars may seem expensive to some readers, the alternative can be unbelievably pricey.  Ross says one customer inquired about the cost of refinishing the damaged wheel of a late model Bentley Continental.  The customer says they were advised that there was only a production run of one hundred OEM replacement wheels manufactured for that vehicle in the world, and that replacing four wheels would cost $26,000 dollars.  Suffice to say the Bentley driver had no reservations about Auto Details undertaking the wheel repair for considerably less money.

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