Not all trends need to make a comeback. Thankfully, bellbottom pants, 8-track audio tapes, even the mullet have not returned to pop culture. However, the automotive enhancement trend of powder coating wheels is starting to climb back into the culture.
Powder coating has traditionally been the go-to protective material of choice for industrial or heavy-duty metals since the 1940’s. In fact, more than 40 percent of steel used in the construction of bridges built shortly after World War 2 in the United States can thank the electric infusion of powder as the way they block rust from forming.
But, is this industrial-protectant a good idea on wheels for your car? There are several pros and cons about powder coating wheels for protection against corrosion and other forms of damage.
Let’s explore some of the facts about powder coating for wheels and discuss some alternative methods of keeping them safe from oxidation, corrosion, and eventually the development of rust.
Exploring the History of Powder Coating
There was a time when powder coating and paint fought for corrosion-protection supremacy. This was during the 1950’s, about a decade after the first form of powder coating called macromolecules in a powder form were sprayed onto metal.
As the 1960’s introduced a free-love, environmental-conscious awareness platform, this method of powder coating ceased to exist.
The new powder coating application was an electro-static spray powder that infused onto a grounded material via electrical charge. Today’s powder coating is a similar process, with the spray solution becoming even more environmentally safe.
Powder coating is still used for corrosion protection with industrial materials. However, the growth of ceramic coatings, and other anti-corrosion sprays has seen a steady decline in powder coating in many industries – including the automotive segment.
In the automotive world, powder coating gained momentum in the off-road racing world. This paint-transfer process was the protection method of choice for those who raced in desert series – such as the Baja 1000, mainly due to it’s ability to protect bare metal from larger rock strikes and blowing sand at higher speeds.
Several motorsports teams in NASCAR and Drag Racing used powder coating for treating rear end housings, suspension parts, even full chassis in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
However, as weight savings became more critical and correlated to performance gains, several teams stopped using powder coating, and opted for bare chassis that would be treated with water displacement fluids – Yup WD-40.
Where Can Powder Coating Be Applied?
Powder coating is essentially an electrically-bonded powder that sticks to materials via a process called electrostatic attraction. As the product is sprayed onto a surface, it provides an initial bond, which is then enforced through heat in a kiln for the lack of a better term.
When powder coating was swapped from it’s older macromolecular method it gave ‘painters’ and other coating specialist an environmentally-conscious solution that reduced the emission of VOCs.
There was a time when many automotive experts believed powder coating would surpass paint. However, in the end, the bean-counters at manufacturers realized this was not a cost-effective solution.
Powder coating is mainly used as a decorative finish that provides protective properties as well. It’s used in military, boating & marine, and agriculture – but also still used in automotive. What’s not commonly known is that powder coating is also applied to medium-density fiber board (MDF) and plastic materials.
Why Do Car Owners Use Powder Coating?
There are essentially two reasons why a car owner would consider powder coating for their rims. Powder coating is much heavier than paint, vinyl, and especially ceramic coating. So, assuming that performance is one of the reasons would be a hard “no”.
It basically breaks down to protection against corrosion. When powder coating bonds to the rim, it is very thick and durable, which reduces the potential of water, salt, road grime, chemicals and other oxidizing causing substances from penetrating to the bare metal.
While paint can be applied in multiple layers or coats, it still is not as robust as powder coating. Some powder coating options are aesthetic, but you’ll get more bang for your visual buck with matte finishes via paint made specifically for wheels.
How is Powder Coating Applied?
So, if you’re thinking about using powder coating to protect your wheels, it’s important to understand the process. It basically breaks down to four steps:
- Selecting the right material and color
- Preparation for coating to ensure it bonds correctly
Tips for Choosing the Right Powder Coating for Your Application
There are two types of powder coatings that are often used in conjunction with car rims – Thermoset and Thermoplastic coatings. The main difference is that thermoplastic is a powder coating that can be removed – allowing you swap colors. Thermoset, as implied by its name, is ‘set’ or a permanent coating.
Now, let me be clear, by permanent we don’t assume or mean to imply that it’s a lifetime guarantee. It just means you can’t remove it through melting or heat treatment like thermoplastic.
You’ll find thermoset powder coating mainly used for industrial products. Thermoplastic is popular with the automotive world due to its flexibility and strength. So, if you’re going to powder coat your wheels, it might be a better idea to use a thermoplastic coating.
What Prep Work is Required for Applying Powder Coating on Wheels?
Prep work makes the dream work – and this is quite applicable to powder coating application on car rims. Powder coating is electrically-bonded to wheels. However, if there are any imperfections, greases, oils or contaminants, the coating will not fully stick.
There are three specific steps that a professional powder coating expert will complete before applying to vehicle wheels.
The Bead Blast: Sandblasting or bead blasting is a process that involves spraying silica or sand through a high-pressure hose to remove debris on a solid surface.
Manual Removal of Sharp Edges: While sandblasting will remove a lot of surface contaminants, it doesn’t always remove pits and sharp edges that are found on wheels. The professional powder coating installer will manually remove sharp edges with a polishing wheel. This also helps to smooth the surface.
Acetone Soak: The final treatment is soaking the wheel in a special acetone solution. This removes any waxes, grease, polishes, oils, or other ‘stuff’ from the wheel, ensuring a perfectly clean surface.
Application Process for Powder Coating
Powder coating isn’t exactly a DIY project. In fact, the equipment needed to correctly powder coat wheels can cost more than many new cars. The application process for wheels is best described in this video – so give it a watch to learn how it’s done by experts.
Curing of Powder Coating
After the coating is bonded to the rims, the installer uses a ceramic pot or industrial oven to cure the coating to the surface. Temperatures can approach 400 degrees, but the curing time is relatively quick – less than 20 minutes in most cases.
Once it’s done, the rims need time to cool and finally cure. Most experts recommend at least 24 hours of cooling time, prior to the customer picking them up.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Protecting Wheels with Powder Coating?
Now it’s time to really determine whether powder coating wheel is the right option for you. Here are some pros and cons to consider:
Durability: When a powder coating has cured to wheels, it becomes incredibly strong. It can help protect rims from dings, scratches, and surface damage.
Cheap: Well, compared to paint – powder coating is becoming more affordable than ever. This is mainly due to the increasing amount of better wheel protective solutions entering the market, which impacts the whole supply and demand thing.
Environmental Conscious: Again – compared to painting your wheels, powder coating is a better option for those looking to minimize their carbon footprint.
Quality: The powder coating industry is filled with some installers that simply shouldn’t offer this service. It’s just like any other service offering, it’s important to do some homework to ensure the company has a proven record of producing quality results.
Heavy: If you’re looking for performance gains with your wheel – powder coating isn’t the best option. In fact, it’s much heavier than any other protectant.
No Hydrophobic Properties: Powder coating is made for strength and protection – not visual appeal. However, it also does not produce hydrophobic properties. This means that brake dust is going to stick more than a non-protected surface, more cleaning, more washes, and uglier wheels.
Why a DIY Ceramic Coating is a Better Wheel Protectant
The biggest myth about powder coating wheel is that it’s going to prohibit all rock chips, dents, or damage. That’s not even close to reality. Powder coating will help reduce minor pitting, and small scratches, but if you strike a curb or hit a pot hole the wrong way, your wheels are going to be damaged – regardless of what you’ve got on them.
So, if you’re wanting to protect your wheels, suspension parts, exhaust tips or other parts from exposure from road grime, dirt, brake dust, and more – why not apply a DIY ceramic coating – like Armor Shield IX?
A nano-ceramic coating can be applied to any type of wheel – including chrome, alloys, carbon fiber, steel, and more. It can also be applied on top of powder coating, to improve hydrophobic properties – which keeps them cleaner and easier to clean.
The prep work involves cleaning the wheel from any surface debris, and application is a matter of minutes. In fact, this video above shows how easy it is to apply Armor Shield IX to custom wheels.
Wrapping it Up
Powder coating still has a home in the automotive world – as it’s a great solution for protecting raw metal. It also makes a great coating on chassis, rear end housing, large suspension parts, and even motor mounts. If you’re going to invest in a powder coating, why not top it off with a DIY ceramic coating?
A DIY coating will fill in those missing gaps that powder coating simply can’t produce. It’s cheaper than you’d think, and with the ability to protect your wheels for up to 3 years, you simply can’t find a more cost-effective solution to keep your wheels clean and shiny.