How to paint plastic wheel covers

Written by dan ketchum
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How to paint plastic wheel covers
Spray paints allow users to colour their wheel covers in almost any fashion imaginable. (spray image by Dragana Petrovic from

While most hub caps are made of aluminium or alloy, plastic wheel covers provide a lightweight and affordable alternative. Automotive enthusiasts can paint plastic wheel covers, customising them to suit virtually any look. Spray paint provides the most suitable option, as it is able to cover the entire surface with a uniform texture. Try chrome or metallic paints for a traditional look or accent your car's trim with any one of the hundreds of available spray paint colours.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Slotted screwdriver
  • Dish soap
  • Water
  • Nylon brush
  • Spray prep solvent
  • Lint-free towel
  • 180- to 320-grit sandpaper (optional)
  • 600-grit sandpaper
  • Grey fine scuff pad
  • Dust sheet
  • Spray adhesion promoter for plastics
  • Aerosol primer spray paint
  • Aerosol basecoat colour spray paint
  • Aerosol spray clearcoat
  • Rubbing compound

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  1. 1

    Remove the wheel cover by prying it off with a slotted screwdriver. Pry around the diameter of the cover in a circular motion until it loosens.

  2. 2

    Scrub the wheel cover thoroughly with dish soap, water and a soft nylon brush. Allow the cover to dry completely.

  3. 3

    Spray the cover with prep solvent, and wipe it with a clean, lint-free towel.

  4. 4

    Sand out any scratches or surface damage on the cover with 180- to 320-grit sandpaper.

  5. 5

    Sand the entire surface of the wheel cover with 600-grit wet sandpaper until its surface is dull and smooth.

  6. 6

    Scuff the wheel cover with a grey fine scuff pad.

  1. 1

    Place the wheel cover on a dust sheet in a well-ventilated, preferably outdoor, area.

  2. 2

    Spray two light coats of adhesion promoter for plastic parts over the surface of the wheel cover.

  3. 3

    Shake the can of aerosol primer spray paint thoroughly, and apply at least three smooth, even coats. Allow each coat to dry for five to 10 minutes between applications.

  1. 1

    Sand the primed wheel cover with 600-grit wet sandpaper once the surface is completely dry.

  2. 2

    Clean the sanding dust off the cover's surface with water and a lint-free towel. Allow the cover to dry.

  3. 3

    Apply a colour spray paint basecoat to the primed surface of the wheel cover. Apply as many coats as necessary for colour matching and coverage. Allow each coat to dry for five to 10 minutes between applications. Allow the cover to dry for at least 30 minutes.

  4. 4

    Spray on an even application of clearcoat. Wait five to 10 minutes for the clearcoat to dry. Apply three to four coats.

  5. 5

    Apply a rubbing compound to the surface of the wheel cover 24 hours after the clearcoat has dried.

Tips and warnings

  • When using aerosol spray paints, use a fine mist rather than a heavy spray and shake the can often.
  • Temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit make for ideal spray painting conditions.
  • Test the paint on the underside of the wheel cover to make sure the colour is what you're looking for.
  • Clean the nozzles of sticky aerosol spray cans by running them under a hot water faucet.
  • Look for spray paints that are specifically designed for plastic surfaces.
  • Wear eye protection and a face mask when spray painting.
  • Take frequent breaks from the fumes.
  • Avoid spray painting on windy days.

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