My company, Wheel Collision Center, was one of the first in the country to bring alloy wheel repair to a commercial level on a national basis, having been in business since 1990. We have a patented process for straightening damaged aluminum wheels backed by over 2.5 years of metallurgy studies by Lehigh University's Materials Research Center. This allows us to return wheels with known levels of damage to factory runout specifications without significantly affecting the metallurgy of the wheel. We do warranty work for General Motors, have been written up in Car & Driver, Road & Track, Popular Mechanics etc. for the quality and propriety of our wheel repair/refinishing work. Vice President George Herschman has 30 years of machine design, build and operations experience, and holds five (5) U.S. Patents. I have a BSME from Cornell University and a Harvard MBA. It is from this basis that I offer the following comments:
1. Straightening structural bends in aluminum wheels can be done safely based upon the severity of the damage, and the nature of the aluminum used to produce the wheels. Our validated repair process has defined parameters to allow us to guarantee the structural integrity of the wheel. And this means that in some cases, that we may consider a wheel unrepairable that we could make round, but that we might weaken or soften in the course of the repair. Some levels of damage are not repairable on some wheels.
Companies that haven't had materials testing completed may or may not be affecting the metallurgy of the wheel in their repair process … the problem is that they don't really know what they are doing to the metal, independent of the size of their company. And almost every wheel repair company in the country repairs some level of structural damage to the wheel, independent of claims otherwise. So, is their finished product safe?
2. Another problem in wheel repair is the issue of metal removal … how much is too much? When the finish is stripped from a wheel using steel shot or similar, the surface layer of the aluminum alloy is removed with some level of coarseness created. This rough surface, when refinished will have to be machined or polished to the original finish specification. In order to do this, the surface has to be machined or polished to the deepest level of "pitting" created by the blasting process. So, quick and less expensive methods of blasting the wheel result in more metal being removed. You can imagine, that in a wheel that is inherently soft, or a 2 piece wheel, for example that has a "thin lip" in the first place, that removing more metal than necessary cannot be prudent. Wheel Collision Center uses acrylic media (looks like plastic sand) to remove the finish from wheels which does not significantly degrade the surface finish of the alloy in order to minimize metal removed during the refinishing process.
Secondarily, the issue of the actual roundness of the straightened wheel can also affect the amount of metal removed in the repair process. In the case of machined aluminum wheels, after the wheel has been straightened, it is commonly remachined on a CNC machine or a wheel lathe. If the wheel has not been trued up sufficiently, when the wheel is machined, more metal may be taken off of one side of the wheel than the other. So, a wheel repair company's ability to guarantee that a wheel has been straightened sufficiently can affect its ability to refinish the wheel without possibly removing more metal than necessary.So, how much metal removed is too much? These are just a few critical issues that one should consider when choosing a company to repair or supply reconditioned aluminum wheels. We believe that Wheel Collision Center has unique qualifications to supply a guaranteed, warranted, documented refinished wheel to our customers…. does yours?
Daryl L. Robbins, President
WHEEL COLLISION CENTER of Bath PA
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