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Painting Aluminum Wheels


Q. I have visited your great web site and found the FAQ section to be very informative. You guys have done a great job.

I just bought a set of aluminum wheels that had been chrome plated on the rims only. Unfortunately, the chrome on all of the wheels is badly pitted and on one of them, the plating has come off in large sections. Under the chrome where the plating has peeled away there is a black substance that looks like adhesive, since it peels off the aluminum when brushed with a wire brush. In other spots where the plating has obviously been gone for a while, the surface is white, but rough and brushes off fairly easily. Is this where the aluminum was zincated prior to copper plating or is an adhesive used to put the copper on?

I would like to clean the wheels and paint them. I don't really want to have them replated. My questions are:

What is the stuff under the plating likely to be. Is there an available chemical that can be used to remove it, or can it be removed mechanically (sanding).

Is it likely that the chrome surface can be sanded to provide enough "tooth" for paint to stick to it?

Is there a way to etch the chrome plating that will allow paint to adhere to it well?

Do you know of a primer that can be used as a coating between the chrome and the paint?

Must I have the plating removed electrochemically?

I appreciate any thoughts you might have on this. Thank you in advance.

Larry Robison


A. Yes, I think the black stuff you are seeing is the zincate layer which precedes copper plating if the wheels have real nickel-chrome plating. But there is also a PVD simulated chrome finish which starts with a black paint-like layer..

Chrome is easily removed with hydrochloric acid (follow safety precautions with this hazardous material), and it must be removed since paint will not adhere to it. Under the chrome will be nickel plating, which is not easily stripped, but which should prove paintable after light sanding.

However, I think the paint on these wheels will be vulnerable to chipping since you won't be able to apply a chemical pretreatment that works on nickel, bare aluminum, oxidized aluminum, etc. I think you'll make serviceable wheels, but not show wheels.

Ted Mooney, amadeya42.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Q. I have a similar question to the original about painting aluminum wheels. I have factory painted aluminum wheels that are less than one year old. I want to change the color but insure the paint is serviceable. Is sanding the surface adequate? Or do I have to strip away all paint? What type of paint and clear coat if any is the best to repaint with? Do you see this as practical or not worth the effort?

Thank you,

Doug McNames
- Hamilton, Ohio, USA


A. I refinished my wheels last winter and it was surprisingly easy and inexpensive. I went to Canadian Tire and picked up a can of paint that they sell specifically for wheels and a clear coat.
I sanded the wheels down with 180 grit and sprayed with light coats 2 or three times. they look great and have lasted the summer with many washes and many long trips with no chipping whatsoever.
All for about 20 bucks. You won't have a Canadian Tire store in Ohio obviously but an auto parts store should have the stuff somewhere. I've also heard of and seen wheels with just high temp paint and it worked well.

Connell Siddons
- Ottawa Canada

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Removing chrome from aluminum wheels and painting the nickel


Q. Hello,

I am a restoring a vehicle and I recently purchaced some aluminum wheels with peeling chrome. I purchaced them because I was planning on stripping the chrome off them with Muriatic Acid [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. I know that the acid will probably tarnish the nickel but that does not bother me. My question for you is can I prime and paint the nickel? If not, what are the steps I will need to follow in order to be able to paint them? Thank you for any answers that you can give me.

Vincent Capano
hobbyiest - Sarasota, Florida, USA

simultaneous (2007)

A. When I was active in the plating job shops, I would not do any work on guns or wheels because of the legal liabilities and the court systems in the USA. Be aware that anything that you do to strip the plating is voiding any claim you might ever have on the rims.(read accidents/failure) Anything you do will slightly (or worse) reduce the strength of the rim.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


A. Most custom chrome wheels have multiple coats of copper and nickel with a thin coat of chrome on top. Chrome seldom peels by itself. Usually one of the nickel coats or copper coats starts peeling, taking the top coating of chrome with it. Using muriatic acid will remove the thin chrome plating on top but not the plating that is peeling. Trying to apply any type of a paint or powder coat to a loose peeling surface is always a bad idea.
Getting the wheels to a texture that would be good for painting or powder coating requires having them stripped down to a non-peeling fairly smooth finish. Your best bet is to call around to some chrome plating shops until you find one that will strip your wheels down to the base metal.
Good luck.

Frank DeGuire
- St. Louis, Missouri, USA

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December 10, 2008

Q. Hi.

My name is John Terlecki. I live in Johnstown, PA. I have a 2004 Yukon Denali on 24inch chrome wheels. They are in alright shape. The Lady, believe it or not haha, that owned them before me kinda beat them a little, ran em in the winter an such. But my question for you is, what is the best/most suitable way to remove the chrome and prep them for painting.Im almost 100% sure they are Aluminum underneath the chrome plating. Not sure whether billet aluminum or pressure cast aluminum. When I say painting I mean the face of the rim will be painted a gloss black, while the lip of the rim will be painted the same color cranberry as the car. So basically the rims will be painted with the same kind of paint you may paint a car with.

Thank you for your help and I hope my question and details are clear!

John Terlecki
student - Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA

December 14, 2008

A. Stripping the chrome off of wheels can be done by most plating shops that do plating on aluminum. The biggest problem with wheels is that they usually have layers of copper and nickel underneath the chrome. So they have to be stripped in a nitric acid based strip bath. This is a very nasty, stinky process that can get a bit expensive.
When talking to a plating shop you must be specific about stripping them all the way down to the base metal (aluminum). If they just strip the chrome and leave nickel and copper on them you may have problems with the paint. If the nickel and copper left on the wheels is peeling, blistering or showing signs of corroding and breaking down the paint will not hold on well.

Frank DeGuire
- St. Louis, Missouri, USA

August 19, 2010

Q. I just bought a new set of aluminum wheels for my truck. The finish is a flat black paint. My truck is light silver with dark gray bumpers and trim, so I want to paint the wheels. I've seen various alloy wheels that were painted silver, but what really catches my attention are wheels that are a dark gray...I think sometimes referred to as black chrome. My question is regarding the prep prior to painting. I know they will have to be thoroughly cleaned, but since these are new wheels, is there anything else I need to do to get them ready for paint? Will the factory black finish act as a primer or should I completely strip them to bare metal? Thanks for the help.

Mike Mathews
- Thomson, Georgia, USA

A. Hi Mike. The thing is, real black chrome is not paint or powder coating, it's chrome plating -- something entirely different from the start. If you are satisfied with a somewhat reflective dark gray "simulated black chrome-look" powder coating, you can apply it to your black wheels. But if you want real black chrome plating, that's another story, and probably another price range :-)


Ted Mooney, amadeya42.com
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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De-chroming wheels and painting or powder coating

December 2, 2017 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Hello all,

I picked up a set of Maserati wheels which have been chromed and I'd like to return them to an original painted finish. They never offered these wheels in chrome finish from the factory so these have been done aftermarket. My question is; is it possible to have these acid dipped then either painted or powder coated in the original silver finish? Also, I understand that chrome plating a wheel can reduce its strength so I'm curious as to whether this would be a safety consideration by acid dipping them since their original integrity has already been somewhat compromised by chrome plating them. Thanks for any help!

Aaron Greenberg
mechanic - Cincinnati, Ohio USA

December 2017

A. Hi Aaron. We appended your inquiry to previous ones and their answers should help you. I doubt that the chrome plating process had any effect on the integrity of the wheels. Are they steel or aluminum or magnesium?


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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
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