Compared: Wheel Repair vs. Wheel Refinishing

Structural damage versus cosmetic damage determines the price and difficulty of repair.

Bent car wheelShutterstock


The terms "wheel repair" and "wheel refinishing" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they aren't quite the same thing. One process involves fixing structural damage while the other focuses on returning your wheels to their factory-fresh condition.

The main differences between these two terms concern repair complexity and price.

Wheel Repair Can Save You From Bigger Car Troubles

Wheel repair involves fixing bends or cracks. Wheels can bend or crack as a result of impact — whether your car hits a deep pothole, collides with another vehicle, or encounters an obstacle on an off-road trail. A bent rim can create a vibration during driving that can lead to further damage to your suspension components, tires, or the wheel itself if left unchecked. The rim also may no longer seal to the bead of the tire, allowing air to escape and potentially leading to a blowout.

Repairing a bent rim typically involves a combination of heat and pressure. Some repair shops use a hydraulic press, while others use specialized equipment that massages the metal from multiple angles until it's rounded back into shape.

A crack in a wheel rim — which also can result from impact or extreme stress — requires a more complex type of repair. A cracked wheel must first return to its original round shape. Then additional metal is welded into place to strengthen the wheel and to fill in any gaps. Generally, only small cracks can be fixed this way. Major cracks will likely require wheel replacement.

Wheel Refinishing Is Cosmetic Repair

Wheel refinishing is essentially a subset of wheel repair in that it also involves fixing a wheel that's damaged. The main difference is that refinishing addresses cosmetic rather than structural damage.

It's common for wheels to become scratched or gouged in everyday use, whether from hitting rocks or gravel, scraping against a curb (also called curb rash), or simply by being mishandled in the garage. Sometimes wheels are pitted after prolonged exposure to the elements, especially in regions where road salt is used during the winter months.

Refinishing can repair these cosmetic problems — it is similar to a body shop service but for your wheels. Refinishing might involve sanding, repainting, powder coating, or even rechroming rims until they look new.

Repair and Refinishing Costs

Repairing a bent wheel typically costs between $50 and $100. A cracked rim, depending on the material, can cost as much as $150 to repair.

Refinishing a wheel can be a more expensive proposition. While steel and alloy wheels might cost between $50 and $150 to refinish, rechroming a scratched or pitted wheel can push the price per wheel to between $200 and $500. At those prices, it can be more cost-effective to buy replacements.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.