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Painting my chrome wheel barrels


Active member
Jun 18, 2011
Dayton, OH
2003 Torch Red Coupe
I wanted a set of chrome C6 Z06 reproduction wheels for my 2003 Coupe. Bob at House of Wheels was able to supply the Factory Reproductions wheels I wanted, so I ordered them from him, and 5 days later I had the wheels.


When the wheels arrived one of them had the black discoloration shown above in the chrome of the barrel of the wheel. Unfortunately, the blemish was located where it was easy to see. I was told that wheels are not replaced due to chrome blemishes in the barrel of the wheel, and it was suggested that I buy some chrome colored paint and paint over the blemish.


I wasn't a happy camper, but I sprayed over the blemish with some chrome colored paint and afterwards the blemish was not noticeable. Great I thought, now as long as that chrome paint doesn't peel off I'm good - well, not really.

I took the Vette to a power car wash to blast off the brake dust that had accumulated on the wheels. As I sprayed the barrel of one wheel I noticed something odd, and on closer inspection discovered that the chrome in the barrel was peeling back like a scroll, as shown in the picture below.


The "peeling chrome" wheel was returned to Factory Reproductions and they shipped out a replacement. At that point I decided that the chrome in the barrel of the wheel, at least on Factory Reproductions C6 Z06 wheels, is likely to be a point of failure in the future, so I started looking into painting the barrels to protect the chrome.

I read that GM paints the barrels of their chrome Corvette wheels in order to avoid problems with water and brake dust soaking into the porous chrome and causing the top chromium layer to detach. I've read that brake dust is corrosive, at least the stock 2003 brake pads produce corrosive dust I'm told. So I replaced my stock brake pads with ceramic brake pads. This has resulted in a lot less brake dust, the brake dust is lighter colored, and I've read that the ceramic dust is not corrosive.

I Googled looking for information on applying paint over chrome, but could not find a lot of helpful information. One gem that I did find is this helpful two-part video by Demetrios at ponyrparts.com:

Part 1, Part 2

I emailed Demetrios and asked him what type of paint he used in the video. He said, "I used a rattle can of Rust-Oleum enamel and have had good success. The video was more to get people to think about painting the inside barrel. This is the area where most chrome wheels start to have problems over time. Peeling, pitting, and bubbling usually, but not always, start in the barrel and move to the face."

In my searching the only paint I found that specifically claims to do well over chrome is SEP 39144.

I posted a question on autobody101.com and KBS DiamondFinish ClearCoat was recommended. It can be sprayed or painted over chrome and seems to be practically indestructible. The KBS website says, "DiamondFinish ClearCoat is able to withstand the harshest of chemicals including fuels, solvents, Battery acid, Brake fluid, Ethanol, Methanol, MEK, Hydrochloric Acid, Fertilizers, and Acetone." If you are looking for something tough to use to protect your chrome barrels you might want to consider DiamondFinish ClearCoat.

But I was looking for something in black paint, not clearcoat. I asked the folks at KBS if they had something really tough, like the DiamondFinish ClearCoat, but in black. They recommended their "3 step system" of AquaKlean, RustBlast, and RustSeal, followed by at least two thin coats of KBS BlackTop to protect the RustSeal from UV damage.

I asked Demetrios if he had any experience with either the KBS urethane paints or the SEP 39144. He said, "I have heard good things about either of those products you found. I was going to use the SEM, but wanted to show people a quick and inexpensive method for coating the barrel. However, using either the SEM or KBS products would definitely be a better way to go (than using rattle-can Rust-Oleum enamel)."

I decided to use the KBS RustSeal and BlackTop in satin black. KBS sells a motorcycle frame coater kit that can cover 12.5 square feet. It turned out that the barrels of my wheels were about 12 square feet. After the motorcycle frame coater kit arrived I looked at the two 8 oz cans of RustSeal and BlackTop and decided I would get another 8 oz can of RustSeal to have in case I needed it (I didn't, and I put 3 thin coats of RustSeal on the wheels).

I also prepped and painted a piece of aluminum sheeting. I didn't have a chrome test surface handy to experiment with, and I wanted to be able to flex, poke and prod the painted surface to see how rugged it turned out to be. I found that the RustSeal is very flexible and tough and adhered well to the aluminum. I was a little disappointed that it was possible to use a hobby knife to separate the BlackTop layers from the RustSeal layers. If I did this again I would roughen the last RustSeal coat more than I did to help the BlackTop adhere well to the RustSeal. And I would add some Adhesion Promoter to the BlackTop as recommended by KBS. Somehow I forgot to order the Adhesion Promoter and that may explain my results.

Here are the steps I followed to paint the wheel barrels using the KBS system.

Scuff the chrome barrels with 320 grit (Demetrios used 220 grit) sandpaper. Clean with AquaKlean. Etch with RustBlast. Apply a minimum of two coats of RustSeal (I did three coats). Then apply a minimum of two coats of BlackTop (I did three coats). I applied the paint using inexpensive disposable foam paint brushes. If you spray the paint be sure and follow their safety instructions and use the proper equipment - apparently the paint is very bad to breath.

AquaClean - After sanding the chrome barrel with 320 grit, clean the chrome thoroughly with AquaClean. Be sure to wear nitrile gloves while you are scrubbing with the AquaClean since you don't want to get any oils from your skin on the cleaned chrome surface.

RustBlast - This step etches the chrome for good adhesion of the first layer of RustSeal. Apply liberally FULL-STRENGTH to DRY surface. Reapply often and as needed to keep the surface wet for a minimum of 30 minutes. DO NOT allow the surface to dry. After treatment, rinse thoroughly with water and then allow the surface to dry completely. Use nitrile gloves and eyeware. Ideal temperature is 55-82 degrees. I hoped the painters tape I applied to the front chrome face of the wheels would keep the RustBlast off the chrome face. It was difficult for me to prevent some RustBlast from running off the barrel and over the blue tape on the face. I suspect some RustBlast may have seeped through seams in the tape and come in contact with the face, because afterwards I could see a few spots where the chrome seemed just a bit less shiny. All I can recommend at this step is to be careful.

RustSeal - Apply two or more thin coats. I used three thin coats. The average cure time is 2-4 hours. You must apply each coat within 6 hours of curing (dry to touch) of the prior coat. Ideal temperature is 55-82 degrees. The relative humidity must be less than 60% (thin 10% with #1 Thinner only to allow humidity up to 80%). I ended up thinning around 10% to help the paint to flow and smooth out. Use nitrile gloves and protective glasses - if you allow the urethane paint to harden on your skin it is there till the skin wears away since no solvent will remove it.

BlackTop - Apply within 4 days of RustSeal using a minimum of two thin coats. I used three thin coats. The average cure time is 2-4 hours. You must apply each coat within 6 hours of curing (dry to touch) of the prior coat and within 24 hours of the prior coat curing. Add some Adhesion Promoter to each coat to help the BlackTop adhere to the prior coat. The relative humidity must be less than 70% (thin 10% with #1 Thinner only to allow humidity up to 80%). I ended up thinning around 10% to help the paint to flow and smooth out. Use nitrile gloves and protective glasses - if you allow the urethane paint to harden on your skin it is there till the skin wears away since no solvent will remove it.

RustSeal and Blacktop are both water cured urethane paint. The paint hardens by reacting with the humidity in the air, that's why there is an upper limit on how humid it can be while you are painting. Once you open the paint can you must put some flexible food wrap between the lid and the can after each coat to prevent the paint from sealing the lid permanently to the can.

Here are some pictures of the preparation and painting of my chrome wheel barrels.


I used blue painters tape on the front face to help protect against any paint that got away from me, and to protect the front face from the RustBlast.


A wheel barrel after sanding with 320 grit.


Cleaning a wheel barrel with AquaKlean.


Painting the barrel of a wheel. I glued an old coffee cup to the board to prevent me from tipping it over. Initially I poured paint from the can into the coffee cup and painted from the coffee cup. For the final coat I painted straight from the can.


After each coat of paint cured I lightly sanded with 320 grit prior to applying the next coat of paint.


The wheels waiting for the paint to cure so the next coat can be applied.


After all six coats of paint.

You might think that wheels with black painted barrels would look a lot different than wheels with chrome barrels. But there is really not that much visual difference. On my car at least, the chrome wheel barrels reflected the black wheel well liner, so most of the time the non-painted wheels appeared to have black barrels.


Here is my 2003 Coupe with Factory Reproductions C6 Z06 wheels and black painted barrels.


Now as long as the paint doesn't peel off the chrome barrels, and the chrome on the face of the wheels stays good, hopefully I'm good-to-go as far as my chrome wheels are concerned. The center caps shown above are not the ones that came with the wheels - I bought those GM C5 center caps on eBay.
Painted my barrels silver

Products used:

PPG DX330 (Wax and grease remover)

SEM 39683 (Self-etch primer)
SEM 42013 (Gray high build primer surface)
PPG DBC916293 (Silver basecoat color)
USC 3680062 (Spot 2K clear)

1) Wash wheels with soap and water and thoroughly dry.
2) Clean with DX330 wax and grease remover.
3) Sand barrel with 120 to 180 grit sandpaper. Don’t worry if you remove some of the factory coating down to the bare chrome. Blow off sanding residue and wipe with tack cloth.
4) Mask wheel barrel and tire appropriately.
5) Clean again with DX330 and wipe with tack cloth.
6) Spray 2-3 light coats of SEM 39683 self-etch primer (only enough to achieve hiding). This will insure proper adhesion to any bare sanded chrome. Let dry per directions.
7) Optional - Spray several coats of SEM 42013 primer surface. This will fill and level the factory grind marks in the barrel. When dry, sand with 320 to 400 grit sandpaper. Blow off sanding residue and once again clean with DX330 and lightly wipe with tack cloth.
8) Spray 2-4 coats of basecoat(color of your choice) allowing about 5 or so minutes between coats. Allow to dry per directions before clear coating.
9) After sufficient dry time, lightly wipe barrel with tack cloth.
10) Spray 2-3 medium wet coats of USC Spray Max 2K Clear allowing 10-20 minutes between coats.
11) Allow to dry overnight, unmask and enjoy the results.

Note: Allow the clear to completely cure (about one month) before having your wheels balanced, otherwise the weights will probably pull the finish off the next time they need to be removed.

This process and list of supplies can be a little pricey (professional quality products) however the results will net you a finish as durable as the exterior of your vehicle. Check with your local automotive paint jobber to see if they can package the color of your choice in SEM spray cans.

Level of skill necessary: Beginner to intermediate.

Always use safety precautions such as: Goggles, gloves and respirator.

For obvious reasons, I cannot guarantee your results however after many years in the automotive refinish business, I'm comfortable with it.



Self-etch primer:

Finished product:
Last edited:
Products used:

PPG DX330 (Wax and grease remover)

SEM 39683 (Self-etch primer)
SEM 42013 (Gray high build primer surface)
PPG DBC916293 (Silver basecoat color)
USC 3680062 (Spot 2K clear)

Thanks for the great writeup on your painting process. It's always good to hear from a professional. If I had read your post prior to painting my wheels I'm sure you would have gotten a bunch of questions from me.

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