The Cost of Refinishing Aluminum Wheels

It’s a fact that I don’t relish sharing: aluminum wheels are more expensive to blast and powder coat than steel wheels.

Customers who don’t understand the discrepancy will likely be frustrated by it. Let me assure you that our pricing is not arbitrary. There’s a reason – actually, there are three reasons – why aluminum wheels cost more to refinish.

The blast medium makes a difference.

Steel grit is our most aggressive, efficient blast medium. It cuts through rust and old coatings with ease, making short work of blasting steel wheels. Aluminum wheels, on the other hand, must be blasted with crushed glass – a gentler, more friable blast medium that is slower to achieve results. More time in the blasting booth means more expense to us and to our customers.

What would happen if we blasted aluminum wheels with steel grit, you ask? On one hand, we’d cut our blasting time down significantly; on the other, steel grit would embed itself in the aluminum substrate. Eventually, the steel grit would rust, creating orange pinpricks all over the part. Anyone committed to long-term quality knows better than to use steel grit on an aluminum substrate.

Aluminum wheels are rarely raw.

Customers often think they’re bringing us bare aluminum, but in my experience, aluminum wheels are rarely raw. There’s almost always a finish on them. If they’re coming from the factory, that finish is probably a clear coat.

Any amount of coating is tough to remove when you’re blasting with crushed glass (see point 1 above). But when the coating is new and well-applied (as it often is on aluminum wheels), it’s particularly resistant to removal.

Steel wheels, on the other hand, tend to be older parts with older coating. Most of the steel wheels we see are rusted and flaking – the coating is peeling up in chunks, making it easier to remove.

Aluminum wheels are prone to outgassing.

By the time we’re done blasting the factory finish off of those aluminum wheels, we’re left with a rather deep blast profile. This results in a higher likelihood of outgassing.

Outgassing is the release of trapped gasses as the part cures, causing pinholes in the coating’s surface. It’s particularly noticeable in glossy finishes. We mitigate this by spraying a second coat of powder, which adds to the time and material costs of the project. The likelihood of needing to apply a second coat is much higher with aluminum wheels than with steel.

Newer cars are far more likely to have aluminum wheels, and for good reason: aluminum is lighter – and more corrosion-resistant – than steel. Rest assured that aluminum wheels can certainly be refinished in the color of your choice, but don’t be surprised if it costs a bit more than your old steel wheels did. And as always, if you’re wondering whether your wheels are steel or aluminum, put it to the magnet test: if it sticks, it’s steel; if not, it’s aluminum. 

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