Of all the parts switched out in the pursuit of modifying cars, never has there been a community formed around one particular component quite like there is with wheels. These self-proclaimed wheel fiends are out there buying, selling, trading, and hoarding wheels like they’re going extinct. Fueled in part by the constant desire to keep a build fresh, wheels can be one of the easiest ways to change up an aesthetic. This has meant that bringing worn out examples back to life is a popular pastime, to revert either the wear and tear sustained under previous ownership or damage that has occurred while in the line of duty. We don’t need to tell you that wheels take a beating on the daily, especially on New Zealand roads, and when it comes to a component you rely upon so heavily for handling and safety, it’s not something you want to ignore or get wrong trying to bodgy up yourself.
So, when it comes to damage such as bends, buckles, and cracks, it’s better off left to the pros who have been specializing in such wizardry for a good amount of time. And even a simple task such as changing up a wheel colour, while doable in the garage at home with a rattle can from your local parts shop, is almost always better achieved by those who have the experience and know-how to lay paint down with the proper equipment.
MATC can turn over a repair within a short space of time, and for those that need to keep the car mobile, they have over 250 loan wheels available
We linked up with Nigel ‘the wheel guru’ Stickland, and son, Dan, from Manukau Auto and Tyre Centre (MATC), who have been dealing in wheel repairs and servicing for over two decades, to get the low-down on what it means to repair wheels the professional way, and to take you inside a legitimate wheel repair workshop to see what your wheel does when it goes through the process.
IDENTIFYING THE ISSUE
First things first: you need to know what you’re dealing with before you start attacking the damage. This generally involves tearing off the rubber and giving the wheel(s) a serious eyeball. Every job is going to be different — the most common repair is curbing, or curb rash, to the lips and/or faces.
“Some damage may be very visible, like a big bend in the lip or barrel that means the wheel is buckled, and depending on where and what it is, it can be either a serious or minor fix,” explains Nigel.
Dan adds, “However, there are cases where the buckling is almost invisible to the eye but a lot more serious than what you can see, and this can often cause other symptoms such as cracks, so it’s important to thoroughly inspect, and later measure, the wheel for further damage.
“There can often be multiple cracks that are hard to see by eye, and some which appear small can actually be worse under the surface, only visible once the repair has started. This can lead to discovering that the wheel cannot be repaired safely and needs to be scrapped. It’s all down to having the experience to know what you’re looking at.”
This is also the opportunity to mark out any gouges and curbing that will require filling and machining to finish.
As the wheel needs to spin true at the end of the process, it’s important to accurately measure the damage (e.g. more than just an eyeball) for the safest repair possible — after all, slapping a badly repaired example back on the car and hoping for the best is never going to end well.
The team at MATC make use of a repurposed balancing machine fitted with a micrometer dial to spin the wheel up to identify the high and low spots. And while it may seem like a simple method, it’s all down to the operator understanding where the factory tolerances are, and what is an acceptable measurement for the wheel to fall under.
“This allows for proper measurement of the wheel’s roundness. The operator can identify by how much the wheel is buckled and where the areas of concern are before attempting to correct any damage visible to the eye, as there is often much more that you simply cannot see,” Nigel tells us.
“The process isn’t just about the machine; it’s about the engineering experience of the operator. The machine is only going to give you the essential information. It takes someone who knows what they are doing to interpret and apply it correctly.”
PRESSED AND PATCHED
The press used is a specialized unit that utilizes a buck and some force to literally press the wheel back into shape. However, applying pressure incorrectly can further warp the wheel — in some cases, to the point that it is only good for scrap. A solid understanding of the material you’re working with and knowing how it is going to react is key. Overworking the material can create weakness, so it’s a delicate process that requires a lot of back and forth between the measuring machine and press.
“This process is repeated until the operator is happy that the wheel is within a safe tolerance on each wheel to ensure they’re all equal and safe — a measurement honed over the last 20 years of experience within the industry,” explains Dan.
When it comes to welding cracks, the same focus on material is applied, as Nigel explains: “You must use the right grade of material, and know what settings you’re working with on the TIG. Using incorrect filler rod can result in a weak repair that is likely to reoccur in future, affecting the safety of the vehicle and its occupants, or even cause further damage to the wheel in the repair process.”
And it’s important to note that while most failures can be repaired, damage such as cracks on the spokes or major buckling mean that the wheel is only good for one place — the scrap pile. Both Nigel and Dan stress the importance of not allowing these examples back on the road.
TICKLE AND PAINT
Not every wheel going through the MATC workshop is a big repair, and one of the more common jobs is addressing the damage that every single driver fears most — curbing. Yep, the dreaded curb rash can ruin a set of wheels faster than you can say, “Not my lips!”
“We can sometimes use our lathe to fix minor cosmetic curb rash on the outside lips of wheels. It’s a fast and relatively inexpensive option to quickly make the wheels look good again,” explains Nigel.
Dan added that the lathe is only to ever be used for cosmetic repairs and never for addressing buckling. “In some cases we come across repairs where a lathe has been used and up to 4-5mm has been shaved off to remove the appearance of a bend, dent, or buckle. The problem is that the wheel is still buckled underneath the surface, so not only is the issue not corrected, but the wheel is significantly weakened.
“For a piece of material that started out at only 8-10mm thick, shaving a further 5mm or more off is terrifying.”
This stage also allows the customer to either return the wheels to a factory look or further customize the wheels’ appearance. MATC have a New Zealand-built and certified spray booth for repainting wheels to the colour of your choice, and the lathe can be used to add a machined finish lip if that’s your flavour.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
When it’s all said and done, the original tyres can be refitted or replaced with new rubber in-house, before being bolted back to your hubs and driven away looking fresh.
Wheel repairs are not an overly complicated process, and of course depends on what is required with a specific set. However, the importance of experience and the understanding of what can be done plays a pivotal role in getting it right. And when it comes to your safety and handling, it’s best not to gamble on unfit wheels.