DIY | How to refurbish your car's rims and make them look brand new

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Nissan 1400
Nissan 1400
Stuart Jonhson

• Refurbishing one's vehicle's rims needn't be a difficult task.

• Good, quality materials to clean the rim with is sometimes all that's needed.

• For a fresh touch, you can respray the rims.

For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24

A rather beat-up old Nissan bakkie drove past my sister-in-law Karien's spot in Groot Brak a year or so ago. It belonged to her neighbour, and as it was still in the warm-up phase and travelling slowly in first gear, she waved and asked her neighbour where he was off to.  People in Groot Brak still do that sort of thing, you know?

The neighbour replied he was off to sell this rather beat-up old workhorse, and the long and the short of it was that Karien did a terrific deal on the spot, and the bakkie ended up parking one house down from where it used to gather incoming sea salt.

It turned out the bakkie earned its keep in a very short space of time. Karien had just bought another house that she would renovate extensively. Over the next 12 months, that little Nissan more often than not had its rear wheel arches scraping on the tyres as it hauled rubble, collected bricks, timber and building sand, and generally proved to be as staunch as all Nissan 1400s are rightfully known to be.

"That little bakkie effectively built my new house for me," Karien said affectionately.

Do you have home remedies or DIY tips for getting your vehicle 'back in shape'? Email us with your tips or use the comment section below.

Nissan 1400
Refurbishing a Nissan 1400's rims

Heading south to the Garden Route

When my good lady and I were planning a quick holiday break in this charming coastal resort between George and Mossel Bay, my brother-in-law Piet (who lives in Pretoria) hinted that it wouldn't be a bad idea if I considered sprucing up the wheels on his sister's bakkie.

"Sand then down first, and paint them white," he said in his no-nonsense style that reminds me of one of the cops that busted me for general hooliganism in my youth. But, it should be noted, a cop that you could become friends with. "Also," said Piet, "the engine cuts out on idle, so have a look at it if you get the chance."

When I first spied the wheels in real life in Karien's backyard, I could see what Piet was talking about. At least 20 years of brake dust and sea salt had combined to give the wheels a sort of finish that you would expect from a tidal pool covered in barnacles.

Nothing tells people more loudly and clearly that you don't care a fig about your car or bakkie than to run around with wheels in this sort of condition. I reckoned the least I could do was give them a quick makeover, while the women-folk did what sisters do when they haven't seen each other in many moons. Like, mainly, talk!

But this wheel job was going to be more complex than simply roughing the rims up with heavy-grit water paper and giving them a coat of white aerosol paint! A closer examination of these fetid rims revealed that they were once a rather sought-after brand of alloy aftermarket rims. I had expected a set of those steel 'bakkie mags' that are so often fitted to Nissan half-tonners, but these wheels once had polished alloy rims with contrasting centre spokes. A quick blow-over with white paint would do them an injustice.

Nissan 1400
Refurbishing a Nissan 1400's rims

Well-equipped tool shed

Luckily, Karien is a demon handy-woman and has a rather well-equipped tool shed that included a powerful electric drill. So it was off to the hardware store to score a couple of rotary wire brushes, one large one and a smaller one for tricky areas, such as the one near the valve stem.

I soon ascertained that there was no way I was going to achieve a gleaming polish finish on these mag wheels. Also, I rationalised, a semi-rough used finish would fit much better with the rest of the Nissan 1400, which had plenty of rust bubbles, paint-peel, and a driver's door that looked as if it had argued with a Mack truck at some stage.

Working with the drill and rotary wire brushes, it took me most of a day to remove the rims' grime. The spoke sections needed just a light brushing, but those rims had brake dust, and corrosion deep etched in their surface, so plenty of muscle power was required. As you would expect, though, the rear rims were much less gunged up than the fronts, because the brake drums at the rear prevented brake shoe gunk from doing its worst.

When I had the rims looking in a reasonable condition, and had given all the spokes a light sand, it was time to mask off the rims and tyres for a coat of paint for the spoke sections. I had chosen a satin black colour from the array of aerosols at the Groot Brak hardware store because straight gloss black would have been too shiny, and matt black would have encouraged new despots of brake dust and salt air to get their tendrils into the wheels in a matter of days.

The masking process takes time, as you need to get a consistent ledge where the spokes join the alloy part of the rim. The fact I was working outside Karien's house on the lawn for two days in a cross-legged position made me appreciate the benefits of yoga.

Nissan 1400
Refurbishing a Nissan 1400's rims

Some points about masking off alloy wheels:

  • Buy the best-quality masking tape you can. Generally, at hardware stores, you get two kinds of masking tape: the type that sticks, and the type that falls to the ground like a piece of old pasta after two minutes of giving hope. Get the sticky stuff!
  • Do the edging carefully first with tape. Only once you have created the perfect line you are after, with tape should you consider adding newspaper to cover the rest of the area you want masked.
  • Use doubled-up paper, which you should apply in small sections all around the wheel, to cover the alloy rim areas and tyres. Single sheets of paper, when working in a coastal area like Groot Brak, will normally fly off in the direction of the Outeniquas, as you are about to paint, because squalls of wind are a constant factor in these places (wind-free old Gauteng does it have its good points!)

Some points about applying the paint:

  • Make sure the surface you are painting is clean and free of any oily or greasy substances.
  • Apply the paint slowly by misting it from a distance. Don't try for perfect coverage in one run.
  • Make sure not to dwell on one spot for too long, or you will get runs. Keep that can moving!
  • Keep the nozzle of the spray can an equal distance away from the area you are painting.
  • Let each coat dry properly before applying the next.
Nissan 1400
Refurbishing a Nissan 1400's rims

After some two decades of hard labour, these wheels were never going to be Concours d'elegance winners, unless you sent them off to some re-finishing company that could professionally fill in all the scrapes and grooves and polish them to a machine-finish.

For me, the finish I achieved was in perfect keeping with the rest of the rather beat-up bakkie, which some enthusiast had sprayed in a racy metallic blue about ten years ago. I didn't want to make the wheels too smart, because that would have highlighted all the rest of the bakkie faults.

Well, at least, that's what I told my sister-in-law. For me, the bakkie now looks as if someone cares about it, and Karien was now delighted with her new set of… wheels!

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