Alloy Wheel Refurbishing Guide
By BCS Automotive – 2022
An honest guide to choosing the right firm for your precious alloy wheel refurbishment.
When you search for an alloy wheel refurbishment’ company, I would be willing to bet my left testicle that you were only really concerned about how nice your wheels will look when they’re done. We want to help you choose the right company for you, wherever you are in the world.
Just educate yourself first… Although, this guide should go a long way to doing that and I’m happy to help.
But first, I’ll tell you why I’m in a position to give you advice…
Some Background on Me
My name is Richard Munt and I owned the BCS Automotive. However, I didn’t always just specialise in brakes…
In 2003, I started a company that refurbished alloy wheels, but in 2007 I had to either fold or sell in a hurry as I was mobilised for a tour of duty in Iraq. I was a reserve soldier in the Royal Engineers.
I was attached to 35 Royal Engineers Regiment in Germany where we trained for 3 months, then I spent 6 months in Basra, Iraq chasing after bad people on boats, finished and did another couple of months in Germany and then went home. Back to reality.
I could tell you more about Iraq, but that’s a book to write for another time.
Oh and here is a photo of me driving a boat in Iraq. I could drive a boat and handle a weapon and build this website single handed, but couldn’t change the date on my camera.
Almost two years into the business, I had to stop doing wheels once again, this time it was nothing to do with the shocking foreign policy of the British Government at the time.
We had a new service; Brake Caliper Painting. We were swamped with work. We couldn’t continue to do both brake calipers and wheels and do a good job on both, we had to choose one or the other. I decided to go with the relatively untapped niche of refurbishing brake calipers. I put all my effort into this and we’ve ended up with a great service, although, we’re still learning, tens of thousands of brake calipers later.
We were one of the first companies in the world to professionally refurbish brake calipers for the end user and trade. This has been the business model for the last 7 years.
In summary, I have a solid six years of experience in refurbishing alloy wheels for high-end and performance vehicles in my own companies. I made all kinds of mistakes in the early years, but I was keen to improve my services after every mistake I made.
Just a reminder of the things we are going to cover in this article
- Professional Liability Insurance – This is different to Public Liability Insurance
- Road Risk Cover – Are they insured to drive your car if they need to?
- Balancing The Wheels – Getting this wrong will absolutely cost you money, be careful
- Powder Coating vs Wet Painting Alloy Wheels – The pros and cons of each
- Will They Take The Tyres Off – Deal with hidden corrosion on the rim while you can, if not you’ll get to your car one morning and find your tyre deflated
- Matching OEM Colours – If you just want ‘silver’ then matching isn’t a problem
- Removal of All The Old Paint – How to tell if this will happen or not
- Warranty – So they’re good are they? Get them to put it on paper
- Cash or Card – You pay your taxes don’t you?
Alloy Wheel Refurbishment Professional Liability Insurance
Lots of people would ask “Have you got Public Liability Insurance?” In my head I’ll be thinking “Why? Have you fell over?”.
Professional Liability Insurance (or Professional Indemnity Insurance) is the kind of insurance that covers a business if you have an accident with damage ranging from slight damage to the wheel(s) or writing off yours and someone else’s car. Or at its worst, an insurance payout for injuries or death caused. Public Liability Insurance is useless for these scenarios.
Make sure the company you choose is properly covered for all eventualities. As unfortunately, while humans are still fulfilling the role of fitting your wheels (or calipers too in our case), then one day, statistics tell us that something is eventually going to happen somewhere in the country, where wheels haven’t been properly fixed or tightened to the correct torque setting.
Just search on Google for “wheel fell off car”. It really does happen.
Road Risk Cover
If so, ask to see their “Road Risk Policy”. Check that it is in date and look for any limitations. i.e. Many insurers don’t like to insure imports on Motor Trade Policies. Is the cover sufficient enough for your vehicle?
If your vehicle is worth £65k and their cover only goes up to £10k, then while they are still legally allowed to drive your vehicle, where is the other £55k coming from if they wrote it off.
Believe it or not, I have heard of wheel refurbishers driving customers cars albeit ‘legally’, on their third party cover for their personal car. Knowing full well that their insurance wouldn’t cover a stone-chip, let alone an accident of any sort.
Balancing The Wheels
This is very important. So much so that I have spent a while on this. This doesn’t just apply to wheel refurb companies, but of course tyre retailers and garages too.
I won’t lie to you, ‘back in the day’ when I was more naive than I am now, I had a £300 wheel balancer and my tyre changer was about the same value too. My word I had some nightmares and I’m too honest for my own good.
My wheel balancer was okay, but not much better than pretty much every wheel refurbisher in the UK. Every 4-5 wheels or so, the following happened when balancing a customer’s wheel.
My machine would spin-up and tell me where to put the weights, I’d apply the weights and perform one more ‘final’ check-spin to make sure everything is fine. Only for it to tell me to put some more weights on, which I did, then check-spin and what?! It would tell me to put more weights on and the process just keeps on going and going.
Many wheels are impossible to balance properly without a diagnostic wheel balancer.
As I’m an honest kind of guy, I would then discount the job enough to cover them going to our local Kwik-Fit and get it balanced again there.
I thought I would overcome this problem when I purchased a Snap-On wheel balancer, at almost £3k. But it did exactly the same thing and just as often.
I soon learnt that this was down to the fact that almost all wheels are slightly buckled and used tyres are not all 100% round, or the same weight all the way around. No standard wheel balancer can overcome this combined problem.
I would have at least one complaint each week due to poorly balanced wheels, even if my machine didn’t ask me to fit more weights after the check-spin. FYI – I say complaints, these weren’t raging customers at all, quite friendly in fact and many almost apologetic for telling me about the vibrating their car did at 80mph. But even a small complaint is a complaint nevertheless.
The Solution To The Wheel Balancing Problem
Basically, buying the following machine is going to solve literally any wheel balance issue and give the smoothest drive a car could ever have. Along with improved grip, reduced tread wear and improved fuel economy.
I must stress though, please don’t moan at your wheel refurbisher or tyre bay for not having this machine!! It is very new to the market, it is the only machine in the world that can solve the problems mentioned above and it is VERY EXPENSIVE, or rather, i’d prefer the term ‘carries a premium price tag’. Expensive infers that you’d be paying more for the machine than the value it delivers. With that in mind, i’d call it reasonably priced.
Hunter Road Force Elite
This will cost an Alloy Wheel Refurbishment Company £21,000 (or at least 10 holidays)
The Hunter Road Force Elite has a built in rolling road to simulate the wheels in motion. Plus more lasers than a 90’s rave, to measure every part of the wheel and tyre, including tread. The best method of balancing alloy wheels can only ever come from what is known as a Diagnostic Balancer.
The purchasing power of a small start-up and most wheel refurbishment companies is of course severely limited and probably can’t afford to spend £30,000 on tyre machines and diagnostic wheel balancers. I sure know I couldn’t afford it 10 years ago. For many though, even if they could spend that money, I think most people would prefer to buy 10 holidays instead.
If your car is more of a run around and you’ll rarely see 70mph at best, then your wheels being balanced on a standard balancer isn’t dangerous, far from it, so don’t worry. But your tyres are likely to wear a little quicker compared to being diagnostically balanced and force matched and balanced. You may also have wheel judder that a standard balancer can’t fix.
HOWEVER, If you track your car or you do 80mph+ on the motorway, then poorly balanced wheels can be very dangerous (yes, let’s not ignore reality, people do 100mph+ on the motorway still. I think we’d all prefer their wheels were balanced properly).
If you think that Road Force Matching might be taking things a bit far. Take a look at this great article on “is road force balancing is overkill or not“.
Powder Coat Alloy Wheels vs Wet Painting Alloy Wheels
I’ll be honest, they are both good. But wet-paint requires some incredible skill on wheels with complex shapes and spokes that are close together. I am an experienced painter and this isn’t a problem for me, but I would have to spend quite a lot of time getting this as perfect as I can.
Time that could have been spent forcing even more quality into the job.
Also, the self-levelling properties of powder coat compared to wet-paint powders are incredible too. Because the powder is polymer based and it is simply melted, the [what is known as] flow-out of the product is gorgeous, better these days than when I used to spend 4 hours rubbing away at primer to level it out nicely, in such a way that the base-coat (the colour) sat perfectly on top before the lacquer was applied. If the flake sits nice and flat, the paint will look far better when the refurb is complete.
Dry paint in tight areas. This is the worst part of refurbishing wheels where the spokes are tight together. To get wet paint to stay nice and glossy in these areas, you have to put a lot of product on the tight areas, but this causes excessive product to land on the very visible areas around the tighter areas. This causes runs, which can be polished out later, but this takes time too and rarely looks as good.
The other option is to keep the tight areas a bit drier, which means less product and a slightly rough finish which will be difficult to keep clean. But at least there won’t be any runs.
With powder, this doesn’t happen. Because the wheel is electrostatically charged, it is attracted to the part of the wheel which has the thinnest amount of coating on, because the powder insulates the electrostatic effect meaning it is easy to get an even coating, even in tight areas. The dry powder melts to a perfect gloss when baked, no matter how tight the area was to coat.
Will They Take The Tyres Off
- Getting the perfect seal for the tyre bead against the tyre
- Don’t let corrosion spread to the outside of the wheel from older corrosion inside the wheel
When a tyre is pushed back away from the bead of the wheel (called breaking the bead), any paint that has poor adhesion to the alloy can be ripped away by the tyre. So you have some flaking paint stuck to the tyre and parts of the wheel with missing paint.
The causes of this can be bad prep or corrosion bubbling form the alloy and even (ironically) the bitchumen type compound called “bead sealer”. It’s really horrible sticky stuff and if you ever had a slow puncture in the past, but the garage couldn’t find a puncture, they will have certainly plastered the bead with bead sealer and solved the problem.
FYI – There is nothing wrong with using bead sealer, i’m not hating on garages that do this, sometimes it is the only option as a tyre fitter.
But when the tyre is then reinflated, the seal of the tyre is nowhere near as good and you’ll almost certainly have a slow puncture.
Matching OEM (original equipment manufacture) Colours
If however, you own the kind of car where potential buyers (later on) might be able to tell that the wheels aren’t original and for that reason might not buy your car, or offer you less. Then this is incredibly important.
Although, as a paying customer, you are also entitled to just care yourself too. If you want original then in our opinion, you’re entitled to it.
If you do want an OEM finish, see if they have any colour chips (samples of paint codes) that fit your original colour. If they don’t, then how on earth are they going to match your paint? Although, very standardised colours from core manufacturers, for example Ford, use a standard formulation of silver on almost every wheel that ever goes on a car. They’ll probably have these formulations ready mixed anyway, BUT CHECK ANYWAY. It’s your money, your wheels and they’ll get pleasure of some kind from your money, so ask!
Removal of All The Old Paint
I can’t stress how important this is. I speak from thousands of hours of experience. If they do not have a shot-blaster, have no paint stripping tanks and are not Time Lords, then they will be leaving most of the old paint on the wheels. And, unless they have superhuman sight and can see underneath the paint, they can’t check for the early corrosion underneath the paint.
My Word To You
BCS will be giving a lifetime warranty on all its alloy wheel refurbs, without exception. While we can’t warrant the wheels from you kerbing them or stone chips from your Colin McRae experience. But for the entire time you own your car, we guarantee ZERO corrosion and ZERO paint fade. In fact, we guarantee ZERO defects, ever. If we ever fail, we’ll do all four wheels all over again for FREE”. Even if it is in TEN YEARS!
12 Month Warranty – What? Only one year?!
Why? What Shortcuts Were Taken
That said, most refurbishers don’t offer a warranty at all, least of all nothing in black and white, it’ll be a “if you have any problems, give us a shout”.
If you’re being offered a 1 year warranty, then at least they are doing their bit to set your mind at ease that you’re getting at least some value from your cash.
Cash or Card
I can’t help myself here. As a company we pay over £100k in taxes to HMRC each year. If we and other companies didn’t, how the UK pay for the things we hold so dear and perhaps take for granted.
I can’t help but feel a little bitter when smaller companies don’t do their bit and commit tax fraud. I hate paying taxes, I really do, but we all have to play our part. Businesses and business owners should be leading the way in setting an example.
You’re entitled to pay cash, just ask for a receipt.
As a bit of a theoretical ‘armchair’ economist myself, I feel that if everyone paid taxes, things would be much easier and my tax bill (and your income tax) would certainly be lower. But, perhaps something else for a book in 20 years or so.
Don’t work hard, work easy and do better.
Most wheel refurb companies are scared to invest and the preferred model is to use the money to fund their lifestyle.
But with substandard kit, it is easy to lose the passion for the job as it will remain hard work. I spent years being able to squeeze the end of my fingers and be able to have blood seep out where my fingerprints used to be, because I’d do everything by hand.
I had to work so hard to compete on quality to get anywhere near the level of other companies that had the kit that made refurbishing alloy wheels a breeze.
BCS has invested more than £250,000 in some incredible kit and a facility that will force more quality into our service, while making it really easy for us to perform the service of refurbishing alloy wheels. This way, we can concentrate on delivering excellent service and solving problems. We’ll have time leftover for research and development and also training our staff.
We even have a special amazing (and expensive) water filter that filters out 100% of the impurities. Just so that when we wash and rinse your car, we don’t have to rush to leather it dry before the water spots appear. With this, we can take our time and concentrate on quality.
We hope that the refurbishers that fear investing into kit like this will eventually see the light, rather than staying up till 11pm correcting errors and dealing with reactions in the paint. I’m talking from bitter experience again and believe me, I may have suffered, but no matter how hard I tried to recover before my customers were aware of problems, the quality still suffered in the end anyway. Whether in longevity or lustre.
Diamond Cutting or Imitation Diamond Cutting
If you have diamond cut wheels and you need them refurbished, then it’s going to cost you more.
This is a fact you can’t get around if you want the real thing. There are some talented wheel lads around that can work a DA (dual action sander) in such a nice way that they can blend bare metal into the original diamond cut, then lacquer over.
There is nothing wrong with this if you are aware of it, happy with it and are looking to save yourself a bit of cash. But, if you’re told that you’re getting diamond cut, then the company will have something that looks like this.
If they do, then hopefully it isn’t one of the Chinese machines like the blue one above. The best machine on the market is the Haas ST30, but weighing in at £65k +VAT, there are plenty that have bought £15k Chinese machines off Alibaba and they have damaged many wheels.
The End… (almost)
Painting brake calipers and wheels at the same time often happens. Many of our customers send their brakes to us, timed with getting their wheels refurbished too.
The above guide is a demonstration of our ethos. We’re all about having the best equipment and having the most motivated and best trained staff using that equipment to get the best results possible.
If you would like to find out how much it would cost to have BCS refurbish your brake calipers to the highest possible standard. Simply click one of the buttons below and we’ll get a quote over to you within 24 hours.
If not, we hope you found value in this guide.