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Alloy Wheel Refurbishing Guide

By BCS Nottingham

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 are an Alloy Wheel Refurbishment Company in Nottingham and 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 own the Brake Caliper Specialists, also known as BCS. 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. 

When I was demobilised, I quickly got back to the business of refurbishing alloy wheels. I started Not Just Wheels, which soon became Not Just Wheels Limited. Getting back into refurbishing wheels was exactly what I needed, I already had several years experience and was very good at it. I think I was good at it mostly because I cared so much, I really wanted to deliver the best possible looking wheels to our customers.

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.

Why am I sharing this advice? What am I going to get out of it?

Well many of BCS’s customers today are refurbishing their wheels too, while they send their brake calipers to us. So we know we can help those people a little.

Here is the bigger reason. We are now able to offer alloy wheel refurbishments & custom painting again. The service has been put on hold for long enough. We moved into a HUGE new premises in January 2018 and we can once again offer a very high-end alloy wheel refurb’ service alongside our high-end brake caliper painting and [functional] refurbishment services.

Without an increased workload from one pulling at the other. In short, we can unquestionably offer great service, regardless of how busy our brake caliper services get..

Our alloy wheel refurb work is to be 100% diary run, so we can control the pull on our resources. However, the demand on the brake caliper side of the business is random and based on when customers decide to ship their calipers to us.

So you can take whatever you want from this guide. Whether it gives you the confidence that we know what we’re doing or, if it helps you to choose another company, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that you get some value from this. You might just choose us for your refurb, but if not, I’m still glad to help in some way.

Most of the 25,000+ people on our email list are located nowhere near us (we’re in Nottingham, UK) and at least 10% are overseas. But still, if that applies to you, then I hope this helps you if you ever do need an alloy wheel refurbishment service.

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

You want to know the wheel company is insured right?

Lots of people would ask “Have you got Public Liability Insurance?” In my head I’ll be thinking “Why? Have you fell over?”.

Public Liability Insurance doesn’t cover the company if your wheels fall off, because they haven’t tightened a bolt. Or any other kind of damage caused as a result of a defect in the service provided. This type of cover is if you were to trip over in the care of the business, something fell on you, or your car was scratched while they have it (maybe).

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

They may or may not wish to take your car for a test drive. Don’t assume one way or the other, make sure you ask them if they will test drive your car.

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)

This is a wheel balancer that has what is basically a rolling road built into the machine. This detects the hardest spot on the tyre (all tyres ever made are not even all the way around), and the ‘least round’ part of the alloy. This is achieved by scanning it with so many laser spots, not even Rain Man could count them.

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 lacquers on wet paint aren’t anywhere near as glossy as the new acrylic powder lacquers that are on the market today. I was impressed when I used to lacquer my customers wheels, but some of the powders are pure perfection.

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

People would ask me if I would take the tyres off and while I certainly did for full refurbishments, customers never really seemed to know why they wanted the tyres off. When I did ask why, the responses were often something along the lines of “I just want a proper job”. I’ll share with you the real reasons to ask that the tyres are removed. There are two great reasons:

  1. Getting the perfect seal for the tyre bead against the tyre
  2. 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.

You really need to make sure that the tyres are removed, so that these issues can be dealt with by way of shotblasting the inner rim and then having it painted along with the rest of the wheel.
So to be clear: taking the tyres off isn’t going to improve the quality of the finish on your wheels. When you collect them, you will have no way of knowing whether the tyres were taken off or not. Unless they masked them poorly and you can see overspray on the tyres.

Matching OEM (original equipment manufacture) Colours

Unless you actually care that the silver used on your wheel refurb is the exact same blend of silver the manufacturers used, then don’t stress over exact colour matching. If you just want silver, we’d recommend asking if they can show you samples of say a fine, medium, coarse and a mixed flake silver. Then take your pick from there.

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.

Corrosion doesn’t have to be visibly bubbling under the paint for it to be a problem. If it is present and it is left behind, it will rear its ugly head later on.

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!

With reference to my words above on the warranty. This is very easy to offer, ONLY if the refurb is done properly. The fact is, that if you ‘jacket’ the entire wheel, then so long as it has been fully stripped and vapour blasted, then it is a physical impossibility for moisture to naturally get under the coating and cause corrosion.

Warranty

Get the refurbisher to state in black and white, their word on quality, their handshake guarantee and all their reassurances that a good job is done. Get in writing how much confidence they have in their craft.

12 Month Warranty – What?     Only one year?!

Why? What Shortcuts Were Taken

If no shortcuts have been taken, why so small? To our knowledge at the time of writing, we can’t find ANY wheel refurbishment companies that offer more than a 1 year warranty.

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.

BONUS CONTENT

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.

Diamond Cutting alloy wheels nottingham
Or this
Cheep Alloy Wheel Diamond Cutting Nottingham
If you can’t see one, they probably don’t have one. Unless they subcontract this part of the refurb to another company, but there are few companies around with these machines.

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)

 

If you have managed to read this far, thank you! Our aim is to aim high on quality, high on service and always strive to be the best we can be. If you’re unable to get that from BCS, then at least now you know how to get that level of service nearer where you are.

 

If you would like to find out how much it would cost to have BCS refurbish your alloy wheels to the highest possible standard. Please email simply click the button below and we’ll get a quote over to you within 24 hours.