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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
There are a number of threads inquiring about wheel refinishing, chrome shadow paint, shades of finish, etc. With so many new board members and the fact that many of even the best kept cars are experiencing blemishes to the finish from normal driving I thought it would be good to provide a summary of all things related to the finish on our OEM wheels. All of the information contained in this thread can by found by doing a thorough search of this board. Feel free to add additional info as you see fit.


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The Chrome Shadow Paint Process: BMW was among the first manufacturer to use this paint finish starting way back in 1998-1999. The alloy wheel is initially powder coated black and then baked under heat to allow it to flow and form a “skin like” base layer that is very durable. Once fully cured, a super thin layer of silver (chrome shadow) paint is sprayed over the powder coat base. The silver paint used by BMW comes from a company in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com
<st1:place w:st="on">Italy</st1:place></st1:country-region> called Color DEC and is a lead based paint.
Finally, a thin clear coat is applied as a final measure. The end result is a three-dimensional finish with a nice depth; one of the more striking features of the E39 M5.

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Differences in OEM Finish: One of the difficult, if not down right annoying aspects of the chrome shadow line of wheels for the E39 M5 are known differences in the appearance of OEM factory wheels. Because the chrome shadow paint is sprayed in such thin layers it’s possible for there to be differences in shade depending on the technician performing the work at the factory. As an end result, there are entire batches of wheels that will come out slightly darker or lighter. The following pictures are both OEM wheels; the wheel on the left is the original that came on the car and one on the right was sourced 3-years ago through Bavarian Autosport.


Wheel Refinishing: With in the last 5-years several refurb operations from mobile to specialty shops have been offering refinishing services for the chrome shadow wheels. The quality of the end result has improved noticeably over that time. Many share the opinion that a good operation can produce a finish that is almost exact to the factory (98-99%) with some reporting a 100% perfect match. There are a couple of key issues to understand with regards to refinishing a wheel. The most accurate refinished wheels use a process that mirrors that of the factory; powder coated base followed by silver paint and clear coat layers. There are many shops that substitute a powder coating process for a lacquer base layer as its less time consuming and presumably less expensive. Furthermore, since the original chrome shadow paint used by BMW is lead based it’s illegal for it to be used in many areas (but not everywhere) in the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">U.S.A.</st1:country-region></st1:place> As stated by Jclyman:

"The lead content issue is more interesting, though. It seems that lead paints are legal in some places here, but not in every jurisdiction. In <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Los Angeles</st1:City></st1:place>, for example, definitely NOT allowed to be sold. It seems to vary. Not even regulated by the particularly county involved. Hit and miss, if you will. I expect that since the Shadow Chrome paint maker couldn't control where the paint WOULD be sold, it was easier NOT to import in here, at all. PPG (a major automotive paint producer) still sells lead based paints for sale to body shops in some places."

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This means that many shops are using a paint similar to the one manufactured by ColorDEC but not the same exact one.

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Most operations I know of in the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">U.S.A.</st1:place></st1:country-region> will only repaint an entire wheel and will not do spot touch ups. Furthermore, most if not all suggest having all 4 wheels refinished simultaneously to ensure an accurate match from wheel to wheel. Having said that, I saw a mobile outfit based in the <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">U.K.</st1:place></st1:country-region> on this board: Wheels refurbished today (with pics!) which was able to do spot touch ups that were apparently 100% undetectable.

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Wheel Refinishing Operations: There are shops all over the country that will refinish wheels. I was initially going to list the more notable ones but the quality of the finished product is a hotly contested topic. It would seem that the general consensus indicates an improvement in accuracy of the finish over the years but rarely is a shop able to match an OEM 100%. This is not to say it can’t be done, just that it shouldn’t be an underlying expectation.
 

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When I got my two new OEM rear wheels from the dealership they had to have someone go through the warehouse and hand pick out two that matched the rest of the one on my car. Even the ones straight from BMW are not all the same.
 

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Touch up paint available from dealer

BMW sells a chrome shadow touch up paint that I used on my '02 M5 wheels after having new tires mounted to touch up minor scratches. From 3 feet away, you can't tell it was touched up. Very convenient to use.

Part number 51 91 0 427 958

Hope this helps.
 

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I just had all 4 of mine refinished, and I have to say the place that did them nailed the OEM finish. They use a base black powdercoat, bake that, spray with a silver paint, then powdercoat it again with a clear. Very happy with the results.

Wheel Medic in Columbus did them, very cool guys that do great work. I also had them do my SSR GT3's, and they came out perfect. They will do shipped in wheels if you don't have a local wheel refinisher.

I'm not sure how much is was, (but I think it is around $160 per wheel) since I had them done for free due to a local tire shop scratching a rim during a tire repair. They picked up the bill to have all 4 done so that they match! :biggrinbounce:

Link to Wheel Medic:
Home Page
 

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Nice write up and fantastic refinish job. I certainly would use that shop if I were in the area.

I accumulated an extra set of 4 rear wheels for track use, which I got refinished at Velvet Touch in Escondido. They did a very nice job - same 3 stage process although I'm not sure whether the black layer was powdercoated. Nominal price was also $160/wheel but they are probably open to negotiation.

Doesn't seem to matter that much whether the bottom layer is powdercoat (and is powdercoating heavier?) because if you scrape down to black, you're hosed appearance-wise. Having a tough black finish that doesn't scrape all the way to the silver metal might actually accentuate the appearance of the scrape since you have a nice black mark.

Your pictures look close to the older shadow chrome, which was more chrome (and more unique) than the later versions. Pair of new OEM wheels I got last year have less of a chrome look than the original wheels.

Pics below show unfinished wheels with tires mounted next to refinished wheels with no tires. Refinished look much lighter, but I think that's partly because there's not a black tire surrounding the wheel. Wheel on car is a new wheel (mid-2008), less "chromey" than original. Wheel with tire not on car is the original front wheel (early 2003).

EDIT: This web page display enhances the chrome appearance compared to the original pic's.
 

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I'm not sure whether the black layer was powdercoated.
If they were done at Velvet Touch, the black is powder coated. Their finish is definitely more silver than what my original wheels were, but I like the look on my Ti Silver car.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
BMW sells a chrome shadow touch up paint that I used on my '02 M5 wheels after having new tires mounted to touch up minor scratches. From 3 feet away, you can't tell it was touched up. Very convenient to use.

Part number 51 91 0 427 958

Hope this helps.
Thanks for this, I knew about this but forgot to include it. Do you think you could snap a few photos and post them? I'm sure there are many of us that would like to see what this paint looks like once applied to a wheel.
 

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Forgot to add this - my original rears were rashed by the original owner, but just on the lips. Met Son Tran up in Costa Mesa and he redid the lips. Did a great job perfectly blended in with the original finish. 3 years ago, still looks good. 1 of the wheels that I just got refinished was really bad off and I wanted it completely redone - that's why I went to Velvet Touch. (Plus it was easier than driving up to OC.)

Google "Son Tran wheels" or something like that to find him if you're in LA or OC and just have rash on the edges.

Note also the $36 price for the 51910427958 "Paint Stick".
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Hawkwind,

Those wheels look really good with no signs of refinishing from the photos. What I don't understand is why is it that some technicians can do spot touch up and have it come out flawlessly while others won't even attempt it? For example, I contacted Wheel Collision in Bath, PA and they would only be willing to refinish an entire wheel by stripping it down and powder coating, spraying, etc.

Not only is it economically irrational but seems stupid to re-do an entire wheel for small localized defects.
 

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I don't have a clue why a shop that can do the whole process wouldn't just do the edges. They must have plenty of business to be turning down easy jobs.
 

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Any suggestions for a wheel refinisher in the Atlanta area. Thanks.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I did some research on Son Tran (wheel refinisher from SoCal that did Hawkwind's wheels) and his work has garnered quite a following across many forums. The pictures on here show that he is able to fix curb rash with out having to have the whole wheel re-done. His color match looks impeccable, one of the few who can really do spot touch up and make it look like OEM.

Since he is mobile, I'm not sure whether he would accept wheels being shipped to him nor do I like the idea of taking the wheels off my car for an extended period of time. I guess I would have to jack the car up over the winter and have the work done then. Unfortunately we just don't have any wheel refinishers on the East coast that are willing or capable of this level of workgrrrrrrr.
 

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