An Easier Way to Mask off Rims & Tires for Painting

Happy Independence Day!

‘Recently bought a little old ‘beater’ 4×4 pickup truck (loved the one easy payment!), and its once shiny and bright aluminum rims are in really sad shape. Their clear coat has deteriorated completely, and what’s left of it’s as flaky as Madame Pelosi. 

I’ve just finished cleaning and painting two of them using a fine wire wheel in the angle grinder, and replacing their chrome hubcaps. And wow, did that make a difference! 

Anyway, I’ve painted rims before, always taken off the vehicle, but the biggest pain has always been masking them off so I’m not painting the tires. I used to cut a carefully measured round hole in a large sheet of plastic, then tediously tape it to the tire with blue painter’s tape. Takes way too long, and it’s easy to miss a spot there and there and get paint on the tire.

This time, I cut a piece of aluminum roof flashing from a standard 14″ wide roll, first to the 55″ circumference of the 15″ rim (plus a few inches overlap), then down the middle to yield two 7″ wide pieces. I believe you could cut them even narrower, to 5″ or 6″ or so, but this width kept paint off the tires and still allowed the spray cans to remain fairly upright. And you end up with two identical pieces, so you can pull and paint two rims in one shot if you’re feeling ambitious. 

After sanding and tacking the wheel (removed from the truck), let the air out of the tire by unscrewing the valve ‘gut’, then push the bead down a bit, working the flashing just slightly into it. There’s no need to break the bead, just push it apart a bit so it grips the edge of the flashing. Clamp the top overlap with a spring clamp, or even a couple of clothespins, to help ensure it stays in place.

I like to spray paint horizontal surfaces, just to reduce runs, so lay the tire down for this. An added benefit: while a coat of rim paint is drying, the vertical flashing allows you to clean and spray the tire with blacking without getting any on the rim. I really like Meguiar’s aerosol ‘Hot Shine’ for tires, but there are tons of different brands of this stuff. It’s a bit silly for our tires here, as one trip out our dirt road and back coats them with tan dust, but hey, they look good in the driveway, and I rarely go anywhere anyway.  

A few photos of the project (click a photo to enlarge it):

Rim Before 




‘Masked’, ready to paint



3 coats of wheel paint, clear coat, tire black, new hubcaps


Notes: Using the angle grinder and fine wire brush (12,000 rpm – wear face protection!) it took well over an hour per rim to clean these. I just picked up a can of Rustoleum’s ‘Aircraft Remover’ spray at Auto Zone, advertised to remove clear coat and other finishes. Hoping it saves me some time and aggravation with cleanup of the remaining two rims. I’ll let you know. 

I got this idea from buying a pair of reversible plastic cones years ago, sold for this purpose. It was a great idea, but they just didn’t work. After using the above method, though, I wish I’d saved them and tried them with no air in the tires. Oh, well. 

I do hope that’s helpful to you. 

God bless, 


Psalm 2:2-12


About Dave Harnish

I've been an appliance repair tech since 1972, with interests in most everything, including Bible study (I'm one of those KJV-only geezers), old Sunbeam Mixmasters, Maytag wringer washers, the outdoors, birds, hunting, metalworking, firewood cutting, and most anything going on outside on our mountain here in N. PA's 'Endless Mountains'.
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