We often refer to our vehicles as a “set of wheels.” And nothing seems to improve the look of our wheels like, well, a new set of wheels. Tire shops do a pretty good business selling spiffy wheel and tire combinations to those that want a quick and easy upgrade for their ride. A new set of custom, chrome rims and some tall tires would look great on Project F-250, but there was no budget for anything as frivolous as that. So, the only other choice was to make the most of what we had.
Get out the spray cans
To give the existing rims and hubs a fresh look, we grabbed some spray cans off the shelf at the local hardware store and set to work. Yes, we’ve sunk so low as to use rattle-cans on this project. But before you flip the page in disgust, take a look at what we accomplished with a $20 investment in paint and sand paper, along with a little elbow grease.
Originally, the F-250 wore shiny silver hub caps as part of its factory-original look. But hubcaps are no longer in vogue, to say the least. They were dumped in the corner of a storage shed last year when I couldn’t bear the sight of them any longer. The standard steel rims, though, were a faded grey, and exposing them didn’t really add a lot to the truck’s overall appearance. Repainting the rims with a semi-gloss black will give them a bolder appearance, and they will fit in nicely with the truck’s finished look.
Semi-gloss paint is the standard for chassis components on vehicles, so using it on the rims and hubs will give them the right appearance. A gloss finish just wouldn’t look right. If you can’t find semi-gloss paint, matt is the next best choice. I’ve used it before on other projects and it’s a passable alternative.
Start with elbow grease
As with any paint job, preparation is key. Wash the rims and hubs thoroughly then hit them with a good wax and grease remover. Next, scuff them with 320- or 400-grit sandpaper or a red automotive Scotchbrite pad. (You can pick these up at an auto parts store.)
When sanding something with as many contours as a tire rim, you’ll have no choice other than to do it by hand. So roll up your sleeves, turn up the radio and get to it. Get the paper into every contour. The tiny sanding scratches you create give the new paint much better adhesion. Just spraying paint over a smooth, unsanded surface won’t yield very good results. You’ll find chunks flaking off in no time. Sand until the existing paint has a dull appearance. If you see any shiny spots remaining, hit them again.
The hubs on Project F-250 were noticeably pitted with rust. You could sand all day and not remove those deep pockets of oxidized metal, so we chose a paint designed to cope with rust. You could also apply a special rust neutralizing coating before painting, such as POR-15, which would provide longer-lasting protection.
The truck was placed on jack stands and the immediate area around the hubs was masked with old newspaper. The studs were masked off as well to eliminate a build-up of paint on the threads. And, of course, you want the lug nuts painted too. A piece of scrap rod was inserted through the centre of them to make it easier to apply paint to all sides.
Protect from overspray
To protect the tires from overspray when painting the rims, you could mask each one with paper, but that’s a lot of work. Instead, we ran one piece of masking tape around the tire bead next to the rim and used a cut-out piece of cardboard to shield the rest of the tire. Just hold the cardboard mask in the appropriate location as you paint around the rim.
To get the right radius when cutting out the cardboard mask, lay it overtop of the tire and press it into the edge of the rim, which will create a groove. Then cut along the groove with a pair of scissors and, presto, you have a shape exactly matching the rim’s edge. Be sure to spray the rims from different sides to avoid missing any hard-to-see spots. Use several light coats rather than one heavy one. That will prevent runs.
If you think spending this much time sprucing up the wheels on your truck isn’t worth the effort, just imagine putting on your best suit and wearing an old pair of work boots with it. Think of this as shoe polish for the truck’s final look. †