Dear Tom and Ray:
Although cars have always been just a means of transportation for me, and not the mainstay of my life, I can't stand to look at my 2009 Toyota Camry. It has been scratched and dented three times in parking lots. That isn't the biggest problem. The thing that really bothers me is that all four wheels look rusty. Every time I look at those rusty wheels, I can't seem to get beyond thinking that the car is a piece of junk. It has 68,500 miles on it. My mechanic says there is no danger. Another engineer said I should just spray-paint the wheels. Another mechanic says this could damage rotors and stuff. I am not prepared to buy another car, but I find myself wistfully checking out other people's cars in parking lots, and even old clunkers don't often look this bad. Any ideas? What should I do?
RAY: This is easy, Mary. I wish everybody's problems were this easily solved.
TOM: You have steel wheels, which means you have several options, depending on how much you want to spend.
RAY: Option No. 1 is to spray-paint the wheels. You can do that yourself. But before you paint them, you have to sand off the rust, which isn't very easy. And at some point, they'll start to rust again.
TOM: If you just want to do a "quickie" job, you could hand-sand them and paint them while they're on the car, as long as you protect the fenders and the tires from overspray.
RAY: But do be careful. You don't want to go from a car with rusty wheels to a car with nice-looking, silver wheels, but also silver tires and silver graffiti all over the fenders.
TOM: The best way to paint them is to have someone take the wheels off the car and take the tires off the wheels. Then the wheels can be bead-blasted or really sanded clean and painted well.
RAY: So spray-painting will cost you time, effort and a can of spray paint, or whatever you have to pay a local handyperson or repair shop to do the work for you.
TOM: The next step up would be to buy four full wheel covers for the car. We used to call them hubcaps, but they tend to be plastic these days, and they cover up that whole middle section of the wheel inside the tire. The only exception is the very outside edge of the wheel, which the wheel cover won't reach.
RAY: You can buy new ones, with the Toyota logo and everything, for something like $60 or $70 each. Or you can buy used or refurbished ones for half that price. Search online for "'09 Camry wheel covers" to see what's available to you.
TOM: Or if you want to start fresh, you can always buy yourself four new, steel wheels and replace those rusty wheels entirely.
RAY: Your mechanic is right that the rust isn't dangerous at this point. But if it's bugging you, and making you hate your car, make it go away.
TOM: Absolutely. An '09 Camry with 68,000 miles on it is a youngster, and it easily could last you another 68,000 miles. For $300-$400, you can have new steel wheels, with not a speck of rust on them. Those usually come painted black, if that's OK with you.
RAY: Or if you want to splurge a bit and upgrade, for a couple of hundred more, you can get a set of original, Toyota, seven-spoke, silver-alloy rims. Then you'll be stylin', Mary.
TOM: Or just go online and find another set of wheels that make your car looks sexy -- or at least sexier! If you search for "wheels for '09 Camry," you'll have an enormous number of choices, and you can pick something that'll make you smile when you come out to the parking lot.
RAY: Here's why we urge you to do something, Mary: If you hate your car (we can read between the lines here), you'll take lousy care of it. When you decide, in your mind, that your car is a piece of junk, you stop fixing things. Then you stop maintaining things. You subconsciously help it turn into a piece of junk so you can justify getting rid of it and getting something else. Several of Tom's wives have done that to him.
TOM: But that makes no economic sense in your case, Mary. For a fraction of the cost of a new car, you can have any of these solutions. So I'd say invest in the wheel covers at a minimum, and think seriously about some snazzier new wheels. Think of it as taking a second '09 Camry honeymoon!