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Rim Scratch Repair – Curbed Your Precious Alloys?

by Jordan Harris
Rim Scratch Repair

Whether you are or aren’t a car enthusiast, few things in the world are as pleasing of a sight as walking up to your car in the morning and seeing its shine glimmer in the dawning sun. What isn’t so enjoyable, however, is noticing deep scratches, marks, and indents being gashed into the side of your beloved alloys. You then wonder, what does a rim scratch repair service entail?

Scratching your wheels is a surprisingly common occurrence that’s likely to have happened at least once in your ownership period. In most cases, more than a few times of cyclical heartbreak at seeing your rims get dinged. With that being said, all is not lost, as rim scratch repair has continually been refined and honed in to effectively remove those nasty marks. So, what is this magical elixir?

What’s Caused Your Rims To Scratch, In The First Place?

It may appear robust and indestructible, but your car’s rims (aka wheels, or alloys) can be damaged quite easily. Remember, it’s not just there to give your tires a round frame to roll around with. But, it also has to support your car’s entire weight (as do the tires), as well as sustain constant rotations on your drive. That’s not to mention the countless obstacles that you’ll meet along the way.

These are hurdles that you’ll come across at speed, such as potholes, speedbumps, curbs, and so forth. Hit these hard enough, and even the most heavy-duty rims out there could suffer some intense breakage. Scratching it then is a relatively better off consequence to your rims. Nevertheless, it’s still an eyesore that needs patching up. Before that, you might be wondering as to what caused it.

Since you won’t be noticing scratches or damages to the rims until you get out of the car, you may be curious to find out what prompted the ruination of your shiny alloys in the first place. Well, here are some of the most common causes of wheel damage, thus necessitating rim scratch repairs:

1. Potholes

They’re by far and away the most frequent offender for scratched rims. That said, count yourselves lucky if all you’re getting out of a pothole is needing a rim scratch repair done. That’s somewhat a relatively “light” damage, as pothole-borne wear to your car’s wheels could be so, so much worse.

If you were to drive into a pothole at high speeds or a steep angle, that force could result in crucial structural damage to the wheels themselves. All the while, rim scratches are merely cosmetic in nature. But a pothole can leave your alloys bent or twisted, which may adversely impact your car’s handling.

2. Curbs Or Sidewalks

Another common cause of needing rim scratch repairs is curbed damage. This occurs as you’re driving a wee bit too close to the curbs, and have made contact by bumping into it. Should your car sit low to the ground, then you may also encounter paint or bodywork damage.

For the most part, though, you can expect badly scratched rims. As the pavement grinds against your alloys, it’ll strip much of the material away. That’s especially so if your rims are made of plastic or a composite material, instead of much stronger steel or aluminum.

Rim Scratch Repair

3. Flat Tire

The same applies to driving with under-inflated tires, or tires that have a very thin profile to them. It’s worth reminding ourselves that the tires are responsible for soaking up much of the bumps and imperfections on the road. Thus, preventing the wheels, suspension, steering, and more from wear.

But let’s say your tires didn’t have as much cushioning as before. Maybe most of the air’s escaped, or you’re driving on flat tires. If you were to encounter rough terrain, a tire in this state can’t absorb much of the impact. As a result, that shock goes directly to the alloys, possibly breaking them.

4. Road Salt

In this scenario, a rim scratch repair won’t be enough, at all. You’ll most likely need a new set of rims or some intense alloy repair. The wheels have to endure quite a lot of the weather and surroundings as it rolls around. The most dangerous of these is the road salt littered during the winter.

Road salt can cause corrosion, as well as eat its way into the rim’s structure. As your wheels rust, they may be more easily susceptible to bending or cracking as you encounter rougher terrain. The same oxidation effect might also take place due to brake dust, shaved off under braking.

5. Broken Pavement

While you may choose to be careful with spotting potholes or distancing your car from curbs, it can be hard to notice challenging terrain far up ahead. One example is the quality of the pavement itself. Some roads are rougher than others, presenting large cracks, or an abundance of lane markings.

Regardless, it’s these imperfections on the road that, after driving over them for a long time, could have a significant impact on the integrity of your wheels. They’re usually the case when tarmac was ripped up and poorly repaved. Similarly, be wary of driving off-road, as well.

What Are The Types Of Rim Damage That Needs Repairing?

Given the variety of potential causes that may result in damaged rims, they’ll also correspond to ever-worsening types of wheel damage. To be clear, the term “rim” specifically points to the outer edge of the wheels. Still, it’s worthwhile going on a tangent to discuss the consequences of what happens if you were to drive into something a bit too hard. Rim scratch repair may look trivial in comparison.

The entire wheel itself could suffer significant damage. Some of which are incredibly dangerous to simply keep calm and continue driving on. With compromised structural rigidity, it can have a severe impact on your car’s handling and performance. With that in mind, here are a few other common types of wheel damage that you should pay close attention to:

1. Bending Or Twisting

As we spoke of earlier, coming across an imperfect bit of road too quickly can result in your wheels bending or twisting out of shape. Typically, this occurs by the inner lip of the wheel, closer to the car. Yet, serious bends could appear on the outer lips, but the rim.

Moreover, your wheel spokes could twist too, if the impact was that heavy. The only solution is to double-check for any fractures on the wheel. If none are found, the wheels can be straightened, and subsequently balanced to make sure it won’t affect the steering.

2. Rim Scratches

This is the subject of our discussion today, pertaining to rim scratch repair. It’s otherwise referred to as “curb rash”, as a result of grinding and direct contact between the rim and a curb. Or, perhaps a different object entirely, such as road debris.

Driving on a flat tire can cause this, as well. You can fix this sort of damage – as we’ll dive deep into later on – by ironing out the scratches. Once that’s done, it can be primed, painted, and if you want to, have a protective coating applied on top of it.

Rim Scratch Repair

3. Corrosion

Rust is undoubtedly one of the worst sorts of harm that could befall your wheels. Simply put, and if not repaired in time, the corrosion can quickly eat its way through the rest of the wheels. This can, ultimately, compromise the wheel’s structure.

Corroded wheels can be caused by road salt, as we’ve hinted at earlier. On top of that, rust can form if the wheels were exposed to chemicals, an excessive amount of brake dust, tire sealants, general aging due to moisture such as rainwater, and so on.

4. Gouging

Gouges are in a similar league with rim scratches. Unlike bending or corrosion, for example, gouges on your wheels are mostly surface-level damage. Nonetheless, and when compared to rim scratches, wheel gouging penetrates much deeper than simple grooves.

This is what happens when you hit something with immense force. To fix, extra material may need to be machined out and then welded in to fill in the gouge. Should the gouging be too deep, then what structural damage that may have left might call you to replace the whole wheel, instead.

5. Cracking

Cracks appearing on your wheels are an immediate sign to stop the car. Primarily, the only incident that’s forceful enough to crack your wheels would be an accident. However, high-speed collisions with road debris, potholes, or curbs can still cause this to appear.

These cracks, even hairline ones, always expose worrying signs of your wheel’s breaking point. At this stage, cracked wheels can still be fixed by welding them together. Although, most experts would likely recommend, for your personal safety, that a replacement is a better alternative.

What Should You Do If You Notice Scratched Rims?

Having discussed the types of wheel damage you might suffer while on the road, these should get us more acquainted with what sort of rim scratch repairs might be suitable. Or, and if the injury of your wheels is too serious, necessitate a more professional solution. Perhaps, even replace the entire unit altogether. Therefore, we should be fully aware by now that wheel damage can be petrifying.

If let’s say, you just spotted that your wheel is scratched, the first thing you should do is inspect the wheels. Check the damage, and see just how bad its condition is. Should the matter be a scratched rim, then this cosmetic issue wouldn’t impact your driving experience. But look more closely, and see what other mark it’s left behind. If it could hit the rim, it wouldn’t have missed the tires.

Should the tire suffer even the slightest amount of that impact, then it’s a significant danger to you and others on the road. So, take a breather, and look at the tires for any damage:

  • Seeing a bulge or blister on the sidewall of your tires should be an immediate red flag. It warns you of consequential damage to the inner structure of the tires and needs replacement.
  • Even if you only spot scratches and surface-level marks on the tires, it would still be a good idea to have it inspected at the local tire shop.
  • Tearing, deep grooves, or gouges that removed large chunks of rubber should be taken gravely. As the sidewall is the weaker side of the tire, a lack of supportive material can compromise its usability.
  • Damage on or near the tire beads is another major warning sign. Weakened beads can result in the tires more easily popping off the wheels while you’re driving.

How Can You Get Scratched Rims Repaired?

We’ve highlighted earlier that rim scratches are comparatively minimal if you look at the other types of damage that your wheels could suffer. For the most part, those grooves and dings could be patched up easily. At the end of the day, they’re mainly aesthetic in nature, without leaving behind a deadly side-effect on your wheel’s function. Best of all, rim scratch repairs could be easily done.

DIYing this at home is effortless, and won’t require that much time at all. And, there are a couple of approaches that you can take, which have proven to be fairly effective. So, here are all the ways in which you can perform a rim scratch repair with ease, and without breaking the bank:

1. Rim Scratch Repair Option 1 – The DIY Approach

What you’ll need for this rim scratch repair method:

1.1. Prepping And Cleaning For Rim Scratch Repair

  1. First up, get some wheel cleaning solution, and wash down your wheels. Focus especially on any dirt or grime that might get in the way.
  2. Once that’s done, grab some paint thinner to clean the rim with. That’ll help get the most stubborn dirt out of the way. Dip a washcloth with paint thinner, and apply a thin veneer across the wheel.
  3. As a precaution, it’s wise to wear gloves and a respirator while applying paint thinner.
  4. Then, dry out the wheel with a lint-free microfibre towel. Or, let it air dry if you have the time.
  5. Now, get some masking tape, and cover the tires to prevent any collateral damage. Start behind the rim, and surround an area of around 1 to 2 inches of the tire closest to the wheels.
  6. Up next, you can start sanding away the scratches, dings, and other dents on the wheel with 240-grit sandpaper. Keep rubbing until you feel the scratched surface is smooth to the touch. Periodically, be sure to wipe down the shavings with a dry cloth.

1.2. Filling In Start A Rim Scratch Repair

  1. You can’t level out the scratches entirely using only sandpaper. To fill in the tiny gaps, grab a bottle of metal-reinforced spot putty, and apply a small blob to the putty knife.
  2. Spread it around gently on the damaged areas. As a finishing touch, run your fingers over the applied spot putty to make sure it’s thoroughly covered with every tiny indentation.
  3. Even out the putty, and remove any excess material that you don’t need. After that’s completed, leave the putty to dry for up to 2 hours. Depending on the specific brand and mixture of putty you bought, some can dry out in less than 30 minutes.
  4. Once the putty’s dried out, you can start sanding it down to create a mirror-smooth finish. This will require a finer grade of 400-grit sandpaper. Sand down until the raised blobs of putty sit flush with the rest of the undamaged areas of the rim.

1.3. Adding Primer For A Rim Scratch Repair

  1. At this stage, we can begin repainting the rims to their original finish. For starters, you’ll need some protective equipment, such as a pair of goggles, a respirator, and gloves. You’ll be handling paint from now on, so be careful. In addition, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Our first step would be masking up the rim to cover up the intact surfaces. You can wrap the areas you don’t want to touch up with kraft paper and hold it together with masking tape. This should encompass those spots you didn’t sand down beforehand.
  3. Start by coating the affected spot of the rim with the bottom-most layer of paint, the primer. To be specific, metal alloy primer, which allows the paint to stick onto the rim better. The primer spray can or gun should be at least 6 to 8 inches away from the rim. Now, keep painting in sweeping motions. Just a single coat should be sufficient.
  4. Give 30 minutes to an hour for the primer to dry. The waiting time may differ based on the primer you bought. Wait until it’s completely dry.

1.4. Repainting For Rim Scratch Repair

  1. Now, you can prepare to paint the rim with metallic spray paint, matching in tone with the rest of the rim. Double-check the exact shade of paint to prevent it from looking out of place. Once again, paint over the primer in a sweeping motion. This time, hold the spray can at least 10 to 12 inches away from the surface.
  2. Allocate another 30 minutes to an hour for the basecoat metallic paint to dry. Prevent any contact to avoid leaving marks on the paint.
  3. Once it’s dried, repeat the previous two steps of repainting another 2 or 3 layers of basecoat metallic paint. In short, spray one coat of metallic paint, and thus wait for it to dry for another 30 minutes to an hour. After that, apply another coat, and one more on top of it if necessary, until the paint finish appears seamless with the rest of the rim.
  4. Finish off with a clear coat, or in this case, a simple paint lacquer. Spray a fine mist over the final layer of metallic paint, and then wait between 8 to 24 hours for it to dry completely. Depending on what lacquer you’re using, the waiting time will vary. Regardless, a lacquer will help to provide a protective coating over the rim.

2. Rim Scratch Repair Option 2 – All-Included DIY Repair Kits

If you’d rather not acquire all of the aforementioned materials one by one, you could opt to get an all-in-one wheel repair kit, instead. These kits include everything you’d need, which are all similar to the ones listed up above. The process too, from start to finish, is mostly the same… You’d start with the thinner, sanding it down, adding putty, a layer of primer, and then a coat or two of paint.

They’re relatively cheap, as well. Most wheel repair kits cost anywhere from $30 to $50. You could even find them for half as much if the damage isn’t too severe, and you need only minor rim scratch repairs. Here are a couple of the best ones that we’ve found:

  • Eastup 80005 ($39.99, or $29.99 without wheel paint) – This is suitable for patching up deeper curb scratches.
  • Wheel Scratch Fix ($15.99) – Available in a variety of colors, this is best for minor scratches and can be patched up more rapidly.

3. Rim Scratch Repair Option 3 – Professional Repair Jobs

The one downside with all-in-one kits or DIY rim scratch repairs is needing to put the effort and hours into perfecting its appearance. But if you’re more inclined to a hands-off approach, you could get a rim scratch repair the best way possible, in the hands of professionals. Mind you, they will cost a lot of money, but at least you can rest assured knowing that the results will be utterly spotless.

Granted, the rim scratch repair costs will vary based on what type of wheel you have:

  • Steel Wheels ($50 to $150) – Steel rims are incredibly tough to leave marks on. Thus, repairing them is also quite straightforward, following the same process as we’ve gone through before.
  • Aluminum Or Alloy Wheels ($50 to $150) – These types of wheels are typically painted, and have a clear coat on top of them. The material is generally softer but still fixable. The cost may be higher than steel wheels, as you’ll need to match with the original color.
  • Chrome Wheels ($200 to $500) – Scratches on chrome-plated wheels will expose the underside. Hence, fixing it can be pricy, since those wheels need to be sandblasted down and then re-plated with chrome. It’s probably cheaper to replace them.
  • Plastic Cladding (?) – The issue with using plastic covers on wheels is that they’re not easily fixable. Rim scratch repairs don’t usually work, and always necessitate replacing the entire cover.

Rim Restoration Facts:

  1. It’s important to know what kind of rims you have and the severity of the damage before trying to fix them.
  2. Light scratches and swirls can be fixed at home, but severe damage requires a visit to the auto repair shop.
  3. Use a specialty cleaner and a gentle wheel sponge or brush to prep your wheels for restoration.
  4. Use a polish that’s compatible with the kind of rims you’re working with.
  5. Before fixing scratches and swirls, start by prepping your wheels and tires using a designated wheel cleaner.
  6. Make sure your wheels are cool to the touch before beginning the restoration process.
  7. Perform a test spot with your polish to ensure it’s compatible and gives you the results you want.
  8. Apply polish to the damaged area of your rims to fix scratches and swirls, using light, circular motions.
  9. Use masking tape to section off areas you want to correct to avoid transferring polish to other parts of your wheels and tires.
  10. Buff your rims to a glassy finish using a separate microfiber towel, blending out any patches that look smoother or shinier than the surrounding areas.

Final Thoughts On Rim Scratch Repair

In all, that’s a good place to wrap up our look at rim scratch repair, and the 3 primary avenues you have for a repair job. A simple DIY job is fairly simple to do when it comes to ironing out the scuffs, dings, and scratches on your wheels. It takes little to no time at all and is manageable even if you don’t have sufficient DIY skills or knowledge. The tricky part is matching the paint.

Should that not matter too much, then DIYing a rim scratch repair is our suggested course of action. Moreover, you can easily find ready-to-use wheel repair kits online for only a small investment. But if the damage is too severe, or you’re just not that bothered, the pros are always happy to lend a hand. Albeit, they do cost quite a lot of money, in return for a seamless repair job.

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