Wednesday Wheels: Volkswagen Steel Wheel Refinishing 101

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If you live anywhere with poor weather and road conditions over the winter, you’ve probably already started thinking about swapping on your winter wheels. When I purchased my current Passat, it came with a spare set of steel wheels with horrible Tire Rack issued hub caps. From previous Volkswagen steel wheel ownership, I knew that getting OEM hubcaps was an expensive option; at the same time, I always loved the Corrado steel wheel option that many swap onto early cars. I decided to try to make my own set of “steelies”, and after some research found the materials and paint I needed – I also found some rare factory option Tiguan steel wheel centercaps that I thought would give a different Euro look to the family wagon. So for a change of pace, here’s a writeup of how I refinished the wheels and some products to do it with – if you need steel wheels to start, the picture above links to a steel wheel auction and they’re pretty plentiful at low prices.

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I started by doing a light sanding of the wheels. The lips of the wheels had some corrosion from the retaining clips of the hubcaps, and while I didn’t get all of it I removed most. Afterwards I utilized a surface prep cleaning solution to clean and remove grim, grease and sanding particulate. Since my wheels had tires mounted, I used some cardboard coupons that I was going to recycle to cover the tire. They were reusable and easier than using tape. I simply overlapped them and slipped them into the bead of the tire as shown. I decided to use a self-etching primer to give the silver paint (which is more expensive) a good surface to bite to. I also made sure to tape up the valve stem! Once they were all primed, I moved onto the paint. Wurth paint, lacquer and surface prep is linked below:

You can paint fairly well with a rattle can if you take your time. The important aspect is to not stop and to release the trigger on the up stroke. Give time for each coat to dry properly and follow the directions on the cans. I did 3 coats of silver, then 4 coats of lacquer over it. The lacquer is more difficult to apply without pooling, so be really careful not to overspray one area. You can lightly sand in between coats to get imperfections out if you’re really picky, but make sure to re-clean the surface before the next coat and allow it to dry properly. Take your time, and the results will be close to factory:

Next step was getting the Tiguan steel wheel centercaps. I had never seen them in person on a car, only in a few images online, but I took the plunge and dropped around $80 on a set. They can be had today for about the same amount. They have a neat “Volkswagen” imprint around the lug caps and are one piece. The picture below will take you to an auction for the caps:

The end result was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. It was unique and different for steel wheels on a budget. The Tiguan caps worked perfectly and give a unique Euro flare that I still haven’t seen on another VW. Best part is they’d work on pretty much any 5×112 steel wheel, so if I find a deal on a 16″ winter steel wheel setup later, I can keep the caps and redo the wheels again:

Ultimately I used 1 can of primer, 1 can of silver, and 1 can of clear for 4 wheels. I spent about 4 hours redoing the wheels, and let them sit for about a week before mounting on the car. They held up well and although a little rust crept back through the seams, they mostly look the same a year later. Best part was that I had enough silver left over to redo the centercaps on my wife’s Subaru winter wheels which had discolored. It was actually a fun project that was easy to do and cost effective to achieve a different look!

-Carter

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4 Comments

  1. I just wanted to post and say I like the new posts about wheels, parts and other stuff that one owning a vintage german car might need or want. And I just bought one, the 87 Audi coupe GT special build that u guys posted a while back. Thanks a lot, Its a pretty cool car, I’m getting a kick out of parking next to new Audi’s, and getting asked if it’s a Quattro (well once.) but still here in the Motor City I’ve never seen one, and I might have to roll up to the classic car shows next summer, and be the total oddball.

  2. Thanks, AP! We’re trying our best to keep it fresh and fun. Great news about the Special Build! If you’re interested, I’d like to do a little reader-ride writeup on your purchase – just let me know, and I’ll send you an email!

    Best,
    Carter

  3. I would be willing to do a little writeup about the Audi GT, It would give me a good excuse to bottle brush the wheels, and take some good beauty shots. Let me know what your looking for in a reader-ride report, and I’ll see what I can put together. Alpine White looks goods with fall color.
    thanks AP

  4. Thank you so much for your great post and pictures are really very awesome. Great post.

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