Rusty Wheel DIY from RNR

Dear Bree,

I have some great chrome wheels on my car, but unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to really take care of them the way I should.  Now, they’re getting rusty and not looking so hot.  Got any tips for making them pretty again them without replacing them or spending a small fortune to have them detailed?

Dirty in Dallas

 

Dear Dirty,

The easiest way to make your chrome wheels last is to take care of them, right? Regularly clean brake dust and salt from roads or your environment off, etc.  But sometimes, we all lose track of time–when was the last time I polished those rims?–or we’re just so busy that it falls by the wayside all together.  Then, all of a sudden, you look at your wheels one day and see spots of rust, and you think, “Now, I’ve done it.  I have to buy new wheels.”  Maybe not.

Some rust can be fixed up, buffed off, and your wheels shined up to look like new.  Since summer is coming on fast and we know you want to look your best out there, here are a few tips to clean up your rusty, winter-stained tires in time for some sun and fun!

One simple method we found involves things you more than likely won’t even have to leave the house to find.  Grab some tin foil and a bowl of water and get ready to scrub!  Tear your foil into small, manageable pieces (about 3 by 3 inches) and dip them in the water, then rub the foil over the rust spots on your wheels.  You’ll feel the surface get smoother as you scrub.  There will be spots where you’ll have to rub a little harder, where rust is heavier or a little deeper, but here’s a tip: Use a bigger piece of foil; the edges will help smooth out the pits.  Every six to eight inches, stop and wipe down the area you’ve cleaned.  Don’t spend too much time scrubbing away on that first pass; you can create a first “paste” with the water and foil on your first cleaning, then wipe it off, and get a new piece of foil with water for a second round for a really good shine.  If you want a super-fine finish, use more water.

This way of cleaning removes the rust chemically and creates its own little polishing compound, so even if your chrome plating has begun to peel a bit, this should help to feather off those peeled edges and prevent more peeling in the future.  Wondering how this little chemistry experiment works?   Check this out: Rust is oxidized metal, metal that has acquired extra oxygen atoms, right? The friction of rubbing the aluminum on the chrome produces heat and this heat will cause some of the aluminum to oxidize, producing aluminum oxide.  Aluminum has a higher reduction potential (a tendency to take on electrons and break itself down in the process) than chrome, so in the process of rubbing, the aluminum will leech oxygen away from the rust on the chrome.  Once that oxygen is removed, it changes the chemical properties of the rust and breaks it down.  And voila! The rust is removed!  As far as the polishing goes, it works this way: The microscopic grains of aluminum oxide created during the cleaning process create a fine metal polishing compound, and when you mix those particles with water, a paste is created  that smoothes and polishes.  It’s like a little science experiment in your garage!

Some people use steel wool to remove rust, and while that does work, it can also scratch and leave you with a dull surface.  The aluminum foil method isn’t scrubbing the rust away like steel wool would; it’s chemically breaking it down to remove it, and it leaves few, if any scratches.

When you’ve finished, apply a coat of wax or polish to protect the surface.

NOTE:  If you have large areas of rust or deep pitting, you might want to have a professional look at your wheels.  Deep pitting probably means that the rust has gone all the way through the chrome to the bare metal, and while the above-mentioned method will remove the rust, it won’t make your wheel look brand new.  It will smooth the edges and polish it a bit, but it’s not a miracle cure.

This method also works on steel rims, but you won’t magically have a shiny, chrome-like surface when you’re finished.  If your wheels weren’t shiny in the first place, this little rub-a-dub isn’t going to make them that way.

Hope this helps bring back your sparkle for summer, but if you’ve let your wheels go so far to the dark side that you can’t bring them back, come see us at RNR.  We’ve got a huge inventory of wheels and tires!  We’ll get you dressed up and back on the road in no time!

 

Bree