Even though my 2018 WRX is only about 3.5 years old, there are a few parts which are starting to show their age. While a majority of the car has held up incredibly well, some of the more “heavy use” parts were in need of a refresh.
Specifically, my summer wheels - a set of Rays Gram Lights 57DRs - were getting a bit worse for wear. I had purchased them used from a friend of mine, so they came with a few light knicks and scratches.
Realistically, these imperfections weren’t super noticeable. But after a year of quarantine and not driving the WRX much, I was itching to make some improvements on the car. I decided to start by bringing the wheels indoors (it was still winter after all) and attempting to clean them up a bit.
Unfortunately, once I got them under the lights in our basement I realized just how many swirls and scratches there were in the satin black paint. In addition, one wheel had some minor curb rash and a chip where I dropped the lug nut key tightening them after rotating last year.
Even with touch up paint and a good clean, I just couldn’t stand the idea of putting them back on the car in that state. To make matters worse, the brake rotors on the WRX had some corrosion starting to show, making for a pretty ugly combination.
After some thought, I decided buying new wheels outright wasn’t feasible or really the direction I wanted to go; I love the look and design of the Grams too much! Instead, I decided to look into getting them refinished.
Paint vs Powder Coat
There’s two main options when it comes to finishing wheels: paint or powder coat. Having had little experience with the latter, I decided to do some more research on the process and cost.
Put simply, powder coating uses an electrostatic charge to “stick” colored powder particles to metal objects. The process is much cleaner and safer than traditional painting - with no harmful gases or need for expensive pollution control equipment. Unfortunately, because of the specialized equipment needed, it’s not something the average Joe can do in their garage.
One of the primary reasons powder coating is so popular for wheels is its durability. Powder coating creates a finish that has a much stronger resistance to chipping or scratching than paint.
In addition, powder coat can be applied more evenly and requires fewer layers to get complete coverage. There’s also virtually no risk of overspray or paint runs, so less “cleanup” is required after spraying!
Cost can be highly dependent on the size of the part to be finished, but in my experience powder coating seems to be the more expensive option. In the case of my wheels, I paid $125 per wheel - which included un-mounting, remounting, and balancing the tires.
The biggest con of powder coating is that touching up a damaged finish isn’t as easy. Whereas most auto parts stores sell OEM-specific paint sticks that you can use to fill in any chips or scratches in your cars paint, powder coating (being more of a specialized process) requires a professional to either refinish the entire piece or mask and repair the area.
How Does it Work?
The first step is to strip the original finish off the part. This is done by soaking them in a stripping solution to remove any paint, dirt, rust, and oils. Once the part has been stripped down bare metal, it can be sandblasted to remove any lingering defects or contaminants.
Next, any damage to the part itself is repaired with a sander/grinder. In the case of my wheels, the curb rashed areas were leveled to allow for a smooth finish.
Then the parts are transferred to a spray booth/oven where the powder coat is applied. After application, a short baking process “cures” the powder coat and hardens it to a smooth finish.
Was it Worth it?
100% yes. I was nervous that the finish of the wheels would somehow look “cheap” or obvious that they were redone. But I’m happy to report that the powder coat looks AMAZING.
It’s like they just rolled off the factory floor back in Japan! To compliment the fresh look, I picked up a matching set of Rays aluminum lug nuts and Project Kics valve stem caps.
I want to give a huge shoutout to Mirror Image Coating in Racine, Wisconsin for their awesome work on my wheels. Not only was their pricing competitive, but they are able to remount and balance tires in-house, making them a one stop shop for wheel refinishing!
They were so helpful with explaining the process and giving me updates along the way. If you’re in the southeastern Wisconsin/northern Illinois area, be sure to check them out and let them know I sent you!
I’m so happy I took the plunge and had a like-new set of wheels to install back on the car this spring. The final piece of the puzzle is to refresh those rusty old brake rotors… But that’s a story for the next post!