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How to Paint Hubcaps

Updated on April 7, 2017
painted!
painted! | Source

Painting Plastic Hubcaps

Hubcaps are not my style; neither is shelling out a thousand dollars on a nice set of wheels for my sedan. Over the summer I resolved to do something to make my wheels look better without costing me a small fortune. My solution was painting my hubcaps. I had to rock the steelies for a while, but it was all worth it in the end. Now, it’s been a year since I painted the hubcaps and they still look stellar. Since this was an experiment on my part, I’m sharing my experience below in hopes of helping out other Do-it-Yourselfers.

Shopping List

  • Dawn dish soap
  • Stiff bristled scrub brush
  • Microfiber rags or wash rags
  • 3M scouring pad
  • Sandpaper (320, 600, 800, and 1000 grit)
  • Automotive Primer (sandable)
  • Automotive Paint
  • Automotive Clearcoat (gloss or matte)

sandpaper i used
sandpaper i used | Source
from left to right: clear coat, gloss black enamel, primer
from left to right: clear coat, gloss black enamel, primer | Source

General Steps

  1. Remove
  2. Clean
  3. Prime
  4. Paint
  5. Seal
  6. Rock 'em!

Step 1: Remove

In order to paint your hubcaps they need to come off your car. Make it happen however you need to. Use your own tools, take it to a shop, ask a mechanically inclined friend- whatever works.

Step 2: Clean

Once you get the hubcaps off, wash them really well. I used a bunch of Dawn dish soap, a few microfiber rags, and a stiff-bristled scrub brush. On the more stubborn areas, like scuffs and nicks from a random curb-check, I used a green 3M scouring pad. After you give the caps a good rinse and a quick dry you can move on to priming.

Clean Hubcaps

clean and ready for prep
clean and ready for prep | Source

Step 3: Prime

This part is just as important as the actual painting, so don’t skimp on the details. The last thing you want to do is spend hours sanding and painting your hubcaps to perfection just to have it peel right off. In order for the paint to adhere to the plastic, it needs to be roughed up. I used some 320 grit sandpaper and lightly sanded the entire area, making sure to get into all the grooves. That curb check area I mentioned earlier got a good sanding as well to make it as smooth as possible. Then, take a damp microfiber cloth and wipe away any dust particles that may be stuck to the hubcaps’ surface. Again, take careful notice of any grooves in the caps since that’s where most dust seemed to collect. After they’re dry inspect your work and re-sand if you missed anywhere; if everything’s in order then it’s time to break out the spray can of primer.

After Lightly Sanding

prep sanding with 320 grit sandpaper
prep sanding with 320 grit sandpaper | Source
lightly sanded hubcap
lightly sanded hubcap | Source

I used Rust-oleum Fast Drying & Wet Sandable Automobile Primer. Since I was painting my hubcaps black I chose to buy the gray primer. Resist the urge to paint heavy layers, and spray on the primer in light coats. It will dry quicker and reduce blotchy patches. Hold the can about 12 inches away from the surface of the cap and spray on an even coat moving your hand back and forth steadily. The first coat of primer should be ready to sand in about 30 minutes if it’s warm where you’re painting. Using the 600 grit sandpaper, give the cap a gentle sanding. Blow or wipe off the dust and re-coat. Primer will not only give your paint a solid foundation to stick to, but also work to fill in any scratches and small imperfections in the caps. In total, I coated my hubcaps three times with primer, sanding in between each coat.

Primered Hubcap

After the first coat of primer.
After the first coat of primer. | Source

Primered Hubcap

This is after the final coat of primer. Ready for paint.
This is after the final coat of primer. Ready for paint. | Source

Step 4: Paint

Time for the transformation! Grab your paint and get to work. Using Rust-oleum Automotive Enamel in gloss black I sprayed the first coat of paint and waited about 45 minutes for it to dry. Again, I’m a fan of spraying light coats, so depending how thick you layer the paint it may take longer to dry. I went back with my 800 grit sandpaper and polished out any imperfections I noticed in the paint, dusted it off, and sprayed another layer. After the second coat of paint I stopped sanding between layers. I was happy with the way the paint looked and did not find it necessary any longer, though your experience may differ. Keep in mind that each time you apply another coat of paint, the dry time will increase. For example, after the second coat I waited about an hour and 15 minutes before coating the cap again. Better to wait a little longer for your paint to dry, than have to mess with sanding out fingerprints. In the end, I sprayed four coats of black enamel before I was happy with the coverage.

Painted Hubcap

Hubcap drying after paint
Hubcap drying after paint | Source

Step 5: Seal

To protect the paint you’ll need to seal it. I used Rust-oleum Automotive Protective Clearcoat in gloss and layered on the product a bit thicker than I did the primer or paint. If needed, you can use the 1000 grit sandpaper to polish in between clear coat layers, however, I didn’t see a need for it. I just gave it plenty of time to dry and slapped on another coat. I wanted my wheels to have that brand-new-shiny-stiletto look, so I ended up applying three layers of the clear coat. After I was completely finished I I wanted to give the paint time to fully harden and cure, so I let the hubcaps sit for a full week before I put them back on the car.

Glossy Perfection

Finished hubcaps. 3 coats of primer, 4 coats of paint, and 3 coats of clear coat later.
Finished hubcaps. 3 coats of primer, 4 coats of paint, and 3 coats of clear coat later. | Source

Step 6: Rock 'Em

Stick those sick looking hubcaps back on your car and take a moment to step back and admire how much better your car looks!

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      Tommy2015 2 weeks ago

      H, I just purchased a 2015 Altima and used your guide to paint my wheel covers. They look a lot better. Thanks for the guide as it really helped.

      It took a while with the sanding and priming(3 days total) but it was worth it. I let my wheel covers dry for 3 days and no problems so far. They have been this way for about 2 weeks and I get a lot of compliments. One of my friends thought I purchased custom wheels! I created an account on this site jus to say thank you.

      I used nearly all of the same supplies except for the clear coat. I got my clearcoat form autozone because I the Rustoleum clearcoat had a lot of bad reviews.