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Can You Paint Car Wheels? If so, how?

A close-up of a gorgeous, pricey supercar's painted, large alloy wheel.

When it comes to painting car wheels, you might wonder if it’s even possible. When painting car wheels, it’s not just about the look of the car.

The function after painting the wheels is important, too. I like to call my car “my wheels.” Of course, a vehicle is more than the four spinning circles attached to its underside. Still, without wheels, cars wouldn’t go anywhere. They’d just be large hunks of metal sitting in our driveways, rusting away.

Before trying any DIY paint job, it’s best to consult the experts. Thankfully, we have a good idea of whether or not you can paint car wheels. We’ll also explain how to paint car rims and more in this article.

Can you paint car wheels?

Depending on what you consider the “wheels,” you should be able to paint them. If you’re asking if you can paint the rims of wheels, you certainly can. In fact, many people like painting their car rim black nowadays.

It’s a trend that is popular with younger drivers and car enthusiasts. If you’re trying to paint your car’s rims, you should make sure the rims are able to take paint. Some rims might have finishes or materials that aren’t appropriate to coat in paint.

Some surfaces might not hold paint, while others could be damaged by paint. It’s important to figure this out before you start going to town with the spray can. Next, you’ll want to think about the best way to get the rims ready for their painting.

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We’ll discuss this further in the next section. For now, keep this question in the back of your mind. Finally, you’ll want to think about what color you intend to paint the rims. While this might seem like an easy question, it takes some careful planning.

Painting the car's basic body.

If your car is white, silver, or black, it should match most colors for the rims. At the same time, an off-white car might look odd with pristine white rims. Additionally, the color you love today might not be the color you love tomorrow.

If you go for a bold color choice such as bright ruby red or lime green, it might start to grow old as you keep seeing it. Some colors also might be harder to find. Since it’s a paint job, it’s liable to get scuffed or require a touch-up at some point. The last thing you want to do is choose a color that’s difficult to match.

If you do, a touch-up will turn into a full recolor paint job with the next easiest shade to find. To save yourself some trouble, put more thought into this than selecting the cheapest can of paint in the aisle.

If you’re trying to paint car wheels, you might mean trying to paint rubber tires. In this case, it’s not really easy or possible to paint car tires while they’re on your vehicle. Still, once your tires are old and worn out, you can repurpose them.

You could hang a tire swing from that towering oak tree in your backyard and live the American dream. Or you could use the tires to plant some raised flower beds near your porch. Also, you could use the painted tires as decorations in their own right.

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Whether you’re painting the tires for a tire swing, flower garden, or quirky lawn decor, you’ll use the same methods to paint them.

As jdpower.com shares, you’ll need the following items to paint your car rims: “Wheel cleaner, Wire brush, Sandpaper (extra-fine and super-fine grit), Steel wool, Rubbing alcohol (paint thinner or mineral spirits work, too), Painter’s tape, Something to cover the tire (plastic or newspaper is best), A drop cloth, Clean rags to clean up the mess, Paint respirator mask.”

Worker with light alloy car wheel disk rim and man bodybuilder working on vehicle wheel.

It’s a long list but having all of these materials before you start the project means no interruptions during it. There’s nothing worse than being invested in the middle of a paint job and having to step away because you forgot that one little item.

When you’re painting your rims, you can’t paint them while they’re on the vehicle. Although it’s not illegal to paint car rims while they’re attached to the body, it’ll guarantee shoddy results. If you want to get the job done right, take the time to take the rims off.

It’ll save you cleanup time and judgmental looks from anyone passing your car on the highway. Once the wheels are off, you’ll have to keep your car supported. Using a car jack and working on painting one wheel at a time might be the best way to do this. Make sure to place wheel chocks behind wheels still on the vehicle as a safety measure. 

After the car wheels are chocked and supported, unbolt the wheel you intend to paint. Take it off of the car. Then, thoroughly clean and degrease the rim with great attention to detail.

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Once you’ve removed all the grime from both sides of the rim, scrub off any rust or damage with a wire brush. Then, sand down the spots where you scrubbed with extra fine sandpaper. Go over the sanded area again with super-fine sandpaper after that.

Finally, polish the rim off with steel wool. Now you have a smooth, clean canvas that’s almost ready to paint. After you’ve buffered away any rust or imperfections, you can clean the rim a second time. Once you’ve finished degreasing and cleaning again, dry the rim off.

After it’s dry, wipe it down with rubbing alcohol (or whichever substance you choose as a substitute). Once it’s clean and smooth, you’re ready to paint.

Spray painter painting a light alloy wheel.

When the rims are reattached to the tire, use painter’s tape to secure the plastic or newspaper to keep paint off the tire. After taping the newspaper or plastic around the whole rim’s perimeter and pressing paint under the rim’s lip, it’s time to start painting.

Spread a drop cloth under the rim in a well-ventilated area. For extra precaution, use a paint respirator mask to avoid inhaling toxic fumes. Similar to painting the body of a car, you’ll need several layers of paint.

You’ll start off with the primer layer, which is three light coats of self-etching spray primer. Then, you’ll add a spray paint formulated for car wheels as a color. Finally, you’ll spray on a clear coat to finish the job.

For the colored layer, you’ll want to follow the can’s directions to avoid messing it up. With every layer, let the paint dry fully in between coats to avoid running or caking. 

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Once the last coat of clear coat is dry, it’s safe to take off the painter’s tape and plastic or newspaper. Then, you can reattach the wheel to your car and repeat the step with the rest of the wheels.

What’s the best way to paint a rubber tire?

As durabakcompany.com explains, “To increase the durability, you’ll want to coat your rubber material with an exterior primer before painting. This enables the paint to adhere better for longer life. Then, allow the primer to dry completely before moving on. The nice thing about working with exterior paint is that you could spray, roll or brush it on.”