Spray Paint Your Vintage Trailer Wheels

Tips For Using Aerosol Spray Paint cans to Re-paint the Wheels on Your Vintage Trailer
One of the easiest ways to improve the look of your tired vintage trailer is to restore the rusty, crusty, oil-stained wheels. Sure, you're planning to have your old trailer painted, and will have the wheels painted then. But honestly, it's going to be awhile before that happens. So brighten up your mood and your classic trailer's run-down look and restore the wheels yourself now. All you need is some sand paper, a can of lacquer thinner, a couple rattle cans of spray paint and a Saturday afternoon. Here's how:

1. It's safest to restore one wheel at a time. First wedge wheel chocks or blocks of wood, on the front and back edges of the wheel you're not going to paint now, so the trailer can't roll. Next, loosen the lug nuts slightly on the wheel you're going to paint. Now carefully Image shows an original rusty and grease stained trailer wheel that needs to be sanded and painted with spray paint position a floor jack under the trailer's metal frame (not under the axle) near the wheel you're going to remove. Slowly jack up the trailer, but don't raise the tire off the ground. Now loosen the lug nuts more. Finally, jack up the trailer so the wheel is off the ground, remove the lug nuts and carefully pull the wheel off the hub. Now would be a good time to slide a jack stand under the frame or axle so the floor jack isn't the only thing holding your trailer up in the air.

2. Now it's time to toss the wheel/tire in the trunk and head to the Tire Store. It's easiest to just have them remove the tire from the rim, but if you're keeping the tire on this rim, just have them deflate Get the rusty wheel ready for sanding and painting by using a utility knife to cut off the valve stem the tire and break loose the seal between the tire's bead and the rim. Masking off the tire for painting the rim is a pain in the neck, so it's a lot easier if the tire is off the rim or at least loose on the rim so you can easily push it away from the rim. If you have old lead weights on the rim you can have the Tire Shop pry these off, otherwise you'll have to mask them off which is very tedious and time-consuming. Have the shop remove the old valve stem, or you can remove it when you get home by cutting it off from the backside of the rim (see Fig. 1).

3. Time to get the wheel prepped for painting. If you know someone with a media blaster, they can do a great job of blasting away the rust and paint, down to bare metal. Otherwise, you'll be using sand paper and "elbow grease" to smooth up the wheel. Note that you can also use paint remover to remove the old layers of paint but we've found this to be a big mess and it won't help with the rusty patches. So first lay the wheel down flat on a raised surface like a couple of sawhorses, because kneeling on the ground will get old, fast. Picture shows how to sand the trailer rim from the edge inward, to remove the rust and loose paint before spray painting Next wipe the wheel down with paint thinner and an old paint brush to remove any oil or grease. Next it's time to sand the wheel (you might want to wear a respirator mask for this part, because you're going to be breathing a lot of - probably lead-based - paint dust. It's also a good idea to work outdoors so there's a lot of fresh air to breathe). If the wheel is not rusted and the old paint is in good condition (yeah, you wish!) then just sand the wheel lightly with something close to 150 grit sand paper. But your wheel probably has lots of rusted areas and peeling paint so you'll need to start with 80 grit sand paper to remove these imperfections. Sand radially around the rim (not at right angles to the edge of the rim) and just work on a small section at a time (like 1/8 of the wheel). I usually start sanding at the outermost part of the rim (see Fig. 2) and slowly sand my way toward the center. Photo shows how to sand the outside edge of the wheel before spray painting the wheel, because this edge will show even when the tire is mounted This sanding will be hard work but will be easier if you tear the sandpaper into a small square (like a 2" square, and then fold this so you're sanding with a 1" x 2" piece). You don't need to sand off all of the old paint. You just need to make the surface as smooth as possible by thoroughly sanding the rusty areas down to smooth shiny metal, sanding off any loose or flaking paint, and feathering the edges of the remaining paint so these patches have a smooth transition to the bare metal. If you're not going to use hub caps, you'll need to sand the center of the wheel too, but even if you're going to be using hub caps it's still probably a good idea to prep the center portion of the wheel that will be covered by the hub cap. Make sure you sand the outside edge of the rim (see Fig. 3), because you'll still see this thin outer edge, even with the tire installed. It's also a good idea to sand smooth the backside of the rim that the tire bead seats against, to insure an air tight seal. Next sand the entire wheel again, this time with finer sand paper (like 150 grit) to remove any scratches that were left by the 80 grit sanding. When you're done sanding, take a utility knife and drag it Image is a close-up view that shows how to use a utility knife to clean out the welded joints befotre priming and spray painting the wheel around the radial joints where the outer part of the rim is welded to the center hub (see Fig. 4). You don't need to dig too deeply - you just need to clean out this joint and remove any dirt, rust, paint flakes and dust. How thoroughly blow all the dust off the wheel (if you don't have an air compressor, pick up an aerosol can of "compressed air" from the Auto Parts store). Then use the utility knife to clean out the welded joints again and then blow off the wheel. Then fold up a paper towel and dampen it with lacquer thinner (don't use paint thinner or anything else here!) and wipe down the enter wheel, wiping radially around the wheel and turning and re-folding the paper towel often and re-dampening it with lacquer thinner until you've wiped down the entire wheel, including the outside edge. Work quickly as you move from area to area, so the lacquer thinner doesn't soften the patches of old paint. You're just trying to remove any residual dust and grease.

4. Almost time for paint. This is such a small job you can easily use Photo shows how the wheel should look after sanding off the rust and loose paint, before priming and spray painting aerosol spray cans and paint the wheels yourself. Buy some high quality rattle cans from the Auto Parts store or Home Depot, Lowes, etc. We've had good results with the Rust-Oleum, Krylon and Dupli-Color brands. Buy one spray can of primer and one spray can of "gloss" final coat in white or the color of your choice. For best results try to stick with one brand for both the primer and "gloss" color spray cans.

5. To mask off the wheel use newspaper and blue "painters" masking tape. If you had the tire and lead weights removed, there's nothing to mask off. If the tire is still on the rim, push the side walls down and away from the rim and insert pieces of newspaper in between and tape them together to protect the tire from overspray. If you left the weights on, brush each with a wire brush to "brighten" them up and then carefully cover each with masking tape and use a sharp utility knife to trim off the masking tape around the edge of the weight where it sits on the rim. Ideally you won't paint the beveled shoulder around each lug nut hole where the lug nuts seat against the rim (you could try masking off these beveled shoulders, or set an old lug nut into each hole to cover the beveled area). To get ready for paint, try to find a place where you can lean the rim against a wall or post at a 45° angle, so you'll be able to hold the aerosol can in a mostly vertical position. Laying the rim down on a horizontal surface is less desirable, because the rattle can will have to be held close to horizontal and will be prone to shoot more air than paint. If you can setup the wheel outside, that's preferable because the light is better, you'll have lots of fresh air to breathe and the paint will dry faster. But with painting outside you run the risk of dust, leaves and bugs landing on your wet paint. Whether painting inside or outside, take steps to protect the surrounding area from overspray by covering everything with newspaper or an old sheet. You should also wear a respirator.

6. First we'll apply the 4 coats of primer (remember that multiple thin coats are much better than several heavy, run-prone and slow-drying coats). Grab the rattle can of primer and shake it well for at least 60 seconds. Then gently blow on the rim to remove any dust that may have settled on it. Now spray a thin "fog" coat of primer over the entire rim. Start with the hardest areas to reach (like the thin edge all around the outside of the rim) and work towards the more visible areas so the last area you spray is the most visible area (like the shoulder section all around the rim just outside the hub cap area). Image shows the trailer wheel after the 4 coats of primer have been sprayed, but before the gloss finish paint coats were sprayed on To get even coats when using a rattle can hold the can close to vertical, about 12" away from the rim and slightly to one side, then push the nozzle button down and hold it down while you spray onto the rim in an even sweeping motion in one direction, then release the button. Then move on to the next section and repeat. The important thing is to always keep moving while your spraying, otherwise paint will start to puddle and likely run. This first prime coat will barely cover the rim but make sure all the bare metal areas get fogged. Most primers dry quickly - some as quick as 5 minutes. Once this fog coat has dried, shake the aerosol can of primer again and spray coat number 2. This coat will be heavier and you should just barely be able to discern the rim's prepped surface of bare metal and old paint underneath the primer coats. Don't be surprised when the glossy sheen of the primer turns "flat" as the primer dries - that's what it's supposed to do. After this coat has dried, shake the primer spray can again and spray on the 3rd coat. This coat should completely turn the rim "primer colored" but keep moving so you don't spray to much in one spot and cause a "run". After this coat has dried, shake the rattle can of primer again and spray the final coat of primer. The goal of this coat is to cover any "thin" spots and leave a nice, smooth, even coat of primer. Move quickly so you don't create a "puddle" or "run" before the primer dries. Generally, we let the primed wheel dry overnight before applying the color coats. But if you're painting outside on a warm day and you've still got 4 or 5 hours of daylight, just leave the primed rim alone for several hours and it may be fully dried and ready for the color coats. But don't leave a primed rim outside all night - the nighttime dampness won't do you any favors.

7. Before applying the 4 color coats, check the rim and make sure the primer is thoroughly dry. If the dried primer has slight imperfections (dust specs, a hair, a bug, etc.), or is rough, you should consider sanding the primer lightly with 180 to 220 grit sand paper. Be careful that the edges of the small piece of sand paper you're using don't gouge the primer, and change sand paper often as it "loads up" with patches of sanded-off primer. Usually, the prime coat does not need to be sanded, but Photo of the trailer wheel after we sprayed on 2 coats of the gloss white paint going over the more prominent areas with a light sanding with 220 grit will usually give better final color coat results. Whether sanding or not, make sure to thoroughly blow off the rim before starting to spray the color coats. Now thoroughly shake the aerosol spray can containing your "gloss" color paint. Spraying the 4 color coats is very similar to spraying the primer coats (i.e., the first coat is a very light "fog" coat, the next coat strives for just barely full coverage, etc.). The main difference now is that each color coat will take a lot longer to dry than the primer coats did. The other big difference is with the application of the final color coat. With this final coat, you want to spray quickly as always, but spray each area just long enough that the paint turns very glossy, then immediately stop spraying that area and move on. The other tricky thing about this final coat, is that spraying one area will sometimes inadvertently shoot "overspray" onto the area you just sprayed, reducing the sheen of that previous area. To minimize this overspray effect, you may have to get strategic with the direction you aim the spray can nozzle as you move onto the next area. You can also try spraying the final coat on just one part of the wheel (e.g., the center hub area that will be covered by the hub cap) and letting it dry, and then coming back and spraying the final coat on the next area (e.g., the shoulder ring all around the rim, just outside the hub area). Remember that the most prominent area, should be the last area you paint, so it's the glossiest part. Note that if a hair, bug or piece of dust lands on the wet painted surface, you could try to remove it immediately with a precision pair of tweezers, otherwise just leave it alone because most of the time it can be easily flicked off after the paint has thoroughly dried.

8. After drying for a week, the painted wheel should be ready to have the tire re-mounted. But before heading to the Tire Shop, check the paint for any areas that got "dulled" by overspray. You can usually smooth and polish these "fuzzy" areas by Photos shows the fully restored trailer wheel after we sanded and primed it and spray painted it using aerosol spray paint cans lightly rubbing them out with a damp rag dipped in polishing compound (not rubbing compound), and then a quality wax. At the Tire Shop, point out the fact that you just painted the rim and request that they not scrape the edge of the rim with their mounting tools as they pry the tire back on the rim. Most tire mounting machines can easily sweep along the edge of the rim without actually touching it, so make sure to request this.
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