Do you need to replace a car’s damaged wheel? Not if it’s cosmetic or superficial damage, such as from scraping a curb. If your car has steel wheels, you might just have a damaged wheel cover; if the underlying steel rim is sound, you merely have an aesthetic problem and might choose to repair or replace the cover. It’s a similar story for alloy wheels, which don’t have covers: If a scuffed rim is still round and has no bent sections or chunks of metal missing, it’s likely the problem is merely cosmetic — but it’s wise to keep an eye on any wheel that has sustained curb rash to ensure that the tire doesn’t develop a slow leak over time.
On the other hand, if the wheel is bent, dented, cracked or structurally weakened from hitting a massive pothole, running over a steep curb or some other mishap, it may need to be replaced, though it could possibly be repaired. A dented wheel may not be able to maintain a seal with the tire bead, resulting in consistent slow leaks or blowouts, and it will be difficult if not impossible to balance so that it doesn’t vibrate at speed. A wheel with structural damage could eventually break apart. When in doubt about the severity of damage, a mechanic experienced in assessing wheel damage should inspect the entire wheel with the tire removed.
Whether to repair or replace a bent wheel is often a judgment call, but because it involves safety as well as cosmetic concerns, the best course is to err on the side of safety and avoid a delay.
Repair services that promise to restore badly damaged rims to like-new condition might be able to remove dents and bends to make a rim look great again. However, there are no federal vehicle safety standards that apply to refurbished wheels, so you’ll be taking your chances as to whether they’ll still have their original strength and integrity.
Repairing more than superficial rim damage will not be an easy do-it-yourself project. Heat and specialized machines are used to straighten bends, and a complete refurbishment involves removing all paint and protective coatings, repairing corrosion and physical damage, then applying new paint and clear coat.
The repair cost will vary by rim size and the type and amount of damage, and it might approach the price of a new or used replacement. Many original-equipment aluminum wheels can cost hundreds of dollars to replace — or even thousands in the case of luxury and sports cars, which combine larger wheels with low-profile tires that provide less protection. So buying a used one can save money. However, it might be hard to determine if a used wheel had prior damage and is refurbished.