Do-it-Yourself: How I fixed my curb rash!

Originally, I wasn’t planning on taking on another Do-It-Yourself project. But, I was browsing Craigslist one day for parts for my Miata to kill some time. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just like to browse and see what piques my interest. In my search, I found a listing I had to read several times to make sure I didn’t misread:

2003 Miata SE Wheels – $80

$80 for a set of wheels that were offered on the top of the line Special Edition Miata in 2003? These wheels were what I thought a special edition Miata like the Shinsen should have come with! And here they were in a Craigslist ad for $20 a wheel! I messaged the seller that night and mentioned I had a Shinsen Miata that the wheels would look good on.

3 of the 4 wheels had some nasty curb rash.

He agreed, so we made plans to meet that night. An hour later, I had a full set of rare OEM wheels for my Miata! There was one caveat: The wheels were badly curbed. They might have been worse than the wheels that came with my car! But I liked the look, so I figured, “why not try my hand at restoring them?” It was time for another Do-It-Yourself Project!

Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding.

The first step to getting rid of nasty curb rash is sanding. This part is pretty tedious. You either have to put the wheel on a bench and rotate it or move around it while sanding. I ended up using an old stool since it was the perfect size for the rim. Also, it elevated the wheel to waist height, which saved my back. I cleaned the rim with soap and water to get the grease and dirt off. Then after I let it dry, I started sanding down the gouges and scratches with 220 grit sandpaper.

One of the wheels just before sanding. Notice the gouging around the edge of the rim. This wheel was probably the most curbed of the set!

The trick here is to sand down to the bare metal so that the outer edge is uniform all around. I had to take care to sand the outside of the rim as well. This was to make sure I wasn’t leaving any burrs that could shred the tire. I also had to make sure that I didn’t focus on one area too long so I wouldn’t have any flat spots that would show up after painting. After I was done sanding, I cleaned the rim again.

The name’s Bondo…

Next, was the fun part. And by fun, I mean tedious. It was time to bring out the Bondo! Fillers like Bondo are great for when you need to quickly fill some spots in a surface. It has a consistency between putty and modeling clay. So if you’ve done sculpting before, then you’ll easily take to using Bondo.

I used a fair amount of Bondo to fill in the gouges and scratches on the surface of the rim. The goal here was to make a uniform surface that could hide the imperfections so that I could lay down some primer. I stuck a few globs of Bondo on the edges and scraped away the excess material with the plastic mixing board. Later, I found that just laying on a lot of filler would be easier to sand off once it hardened, and without the risk of taking too much off from the holes the filler is supposed to fill.

After sanding, I filled in the gouges with some filler and then sanded the excess later.

Even more sanding, then primer!

The next step in the process was sanding off the excess filler from the edge of the rim and making sure that the surface was smooth. I took that same 220 grit sandpaper I used to sand the rim beforehand, and then very lightly sanded the filler. After sanding the surface, I used my hands to feel for any rough patches where I would have to sand some more or use more filler. If I was satisfied with the smoothness, I would move on to laying down some primer!

After cleaning the wheels again with a solution of water and dish soap and letting it dry, I started spraying on a few coats of sandable primer. I chose a sandable primer since it could fill in any imperfections on the surface of the rim. Also, it could fill in any mistakes I made when sanding away the filler. Once the wheel was primed and ready for paint, I washed it off again with dish soap and water.

The Main Event: Painting

This ended up being the most tedious part of the process, but not for what you might think. I had some paint I wanted to use lying around that matched the original finish of the wheels. After spending an entire can experimenting and painting a single wheel, I had to travel to four different stores to try and find the same paint! I eventually found it, but if I had sourced the paint beforehand, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. Lesson learned; make sure you have all of your materials!

Anyway, I used Rustoleum’s Custom Shop Wheel Paint to get a cast aluminum finish similar to the OEM finish, and I sprayed at least three coats of paint per wheel. This wheel paint has more sparkle than the original OEM finish, but since the Shinsen Miata has metallic paint, it works! The one thing about the paint though was its finish. Once it dried, the surface of the paint was very rough; not like the original finish at all. I tried to rectify this by polishing the primer before painting with high grit sandpaper, but it made no difference. I ended up color sanding each wheel with 2000 grit sandpaper to get that polished feel.

Better than new!

The result of my “little DIY project” was a set of wheels that not only looked brand new but almost was impossible to tell where the curb rash was from the beginning. In fact, the finish was so good, the technician who fitted the new tires I ordered on the new rims couldn’t tell where the original curb rash was! Not bad for a first-timer!

The finished wheels, painted and color sanded!

The best part about successfully finishing this large project was the fact that I managed to get everything done the day before the 30th Anniversary Miata Reunion! I set about this project with the goal of having something new done to the Miata, and I managed to pull it off!

What’s next?

Now that the wheels and tires are finished, the next step is taking on another Do-It-Yourself project I’ve been putting off: Repainting the front bumper. Since I bought the car, the front bumper’s paint has been peeling in places and there are huge scuff marks under the bumper from the previous owner’s Auto X sessions. It might be worth replacing the front valence altogether with a new one, but who knows? Maybe I could save the whole thing and keep the car as original as possible?

Let’s see what happens!

The new OEM wheels mounted on brand new Firestone Firehawk Indy 500s!
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A lesson in DIY car modification: Part 2

The newly drilled shifter knob being threaded.
After drilling out the old threading in my new knob with the correct drill bit, I took my threading tool and got to work!

At first you don’t succeed…

In one of my recent posts, I wrote about how sometimes buying a pre-made aftermarket part is a lot less of a pain than taking on a DIY car modification project. I had tried to take a surplus aluminum industrial knob and then adapt it to my car’s shifter for a fashionable, DIY shifter knob.

Unfortunately, I made some mistakes in the small project that basically ruined the knob, and I was forced to concede that it might have been easier to just buy aftermarket. Had I been a little more careful, I wouldn’t have ruined my project.

Well, after posting this story on Oppositelock, the community jumped onto the post and the comments started flying. Each commenter had an idea on how I could salvage the project and offered me encouragement to continue the project. One even suggested that I was lucky because it was “an inexpensive lesson.”

Thanks to that community and their ideas, I regained my confidence and decided to try again!

The newly threaded aluminum knob.
The newly threaded aluminum knob.

“…Try and try again.”

I had several options laid out to me. First, was the relatively simple method of filling the bore with JB Weld and letting it harden overnight. When it was hardened, I could take the correct-size drill bit and then drill another hole. Then, I would re-tap the hole with the thread tapping tool and voila; knob fixed! The only issue would have been making sure that the plug stayed in place during drilling, and making sure that the drill was perfectly center on the plug.

Second, I could buy some Helicoil and re-thread the hole to the needed thread size and pitch. This would have been much simpler than the JB Weld method, but I would need to buy a specialized toolset in order to do it. Seeing as the needed coil was just part of a standard toolset, I wasn’t about to shell out more money for something I was going to use only once or twice.

The third option was the simplest option: just but another knob and try again. The knobs themselves weren’t that expensive. Plus, they were less expensive than the other two options. So, I ended up just buying another knob to try again.

Getting ready to fit the newly threaded knob on the shifter.
The moment of truth: Getting ready to fit the newly threaded knob on the shifter.

Patience is a virtue

When the new knob arrived, I was ready. I had already gone to my local hardware store to exchange the drill bit I was sold. Luckily for me, they were more than willing to take the old bit back and give me the correct size! I had set up the workspace and made sure there were no shavings from the last attempt to mar the finish on the new knob. Also, I had slipped on some covered for the vice I was using so that it wouldn’t damage the knob.

Then, I got to work. The used the new drill bit and bored out the old threading from the knob, backing out every now and again being careful not to let the drill catch. The drill only caught once or twice, but thanks to the covers over the vice, there was no damage done to the knob when it decided to “walk.” It was slow and painstaking, but I managed to pull off drilling everything out!

Lastly, I took the thread tapping tool and gently threaded the fresh bore inside the knob. This part took even longer because I didn’t want to accidentally cross-thread the bore. My patience paid off though: I successfully re-threaded the knob!

Now, was the moment of truth. I practically ran toward my car and threw the door open. I swiftly unscrewed the old shifter knob and threw it into my glove box. Then, I held my breath and gently screwed the aluminum knob onto the stick.

IT FITS!
IT FITS!

It fits!

I finished screwing the knob and then stepped back to admire the work. It was then that I noticed that the new shifter knob accidentally matched with the chrome rollbar that came with the vehicle. At first glance, it looked like the knob was meant to be there! Ecstatic, I hastily put my tools away and went for a spirited drive through some of the country roads nearby to test the new knob.

I have to say, shifting is a joy with this car now with the new aluminum knob! Also, even at 100 degree days, the knob tends to stay cool so long as I park in the shade!

Lesson Learned

After my first attempt, I gave up a little too easily. I blame it on being frustrated that “my brilliant plan” didn’t work out the first time around. But, making mistakes is a great teaching tool. I had learned that if I took a step back and realized what went wrong, I would have the knowledge to succeed the next time around. All I needed was the encouragement from more knowledgeable people to try again.

So thanks Oppo! I’m enjoying my new shifter knob now!

A lesson in DIY car modification

Aluminum ball knob
The aluminum ball knob the day I got it. I was going to use it for my car’s shifter! It would have looked really cool…

Sometimes it’s just easier to buy aftermarket

I wanted a new shifter knob. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my current knob. It’s very well designed. It’s just that I wanted to refresh my car’s interior a little bit. The problem was that I didn’t like the look of any aftermarket offerings, so I decided that I wanted to make one myself. I wanted to try some DIY car modification!

I found this really cool aluminum ball knob on Amazon for a decent price: $16. It was close to the thread size I needed, plus it wasn’t over-sized and loudly colored like some aftermarket gear knobs I’ve seen. I figured I could buy this knob, and then make the necessary modifications needed in order to have the knob fit my shifter rod. The end result would have been a cool, Di-It-Yourself gear knob!

At least, that’s what I thought I was going to end up with. Instead, I’m writing about how sometimes it really is just easier to buy a damned aftermarket part.

Wishful thinking

I had the knob, which was a beautifully polished aluminum. I was told that the natural weathering would make the knob look even better after some heavy use. It was perfect for some DIY car modification! The only issue was that the knob didn’t fit outright, despite the closeness of the measurements. I would have to drill out the excess aluminum and then tap it with the needed threading. So, I went down to the hardware store for a drill bit and an M10 x 1.25mm tap.

I asked an associate for some help, and he gave me the tap and a 25/64 drill bit. Since I was making a new threaded hole, he thought that I could use this bit since it was very close to 10mm (9.9mm). I bought the tools and then I was on my way! After cleaning up the workspace and then prepping the tools, I fastened the aluminum knob to a vice, and then got to work with the drill.

Aluminum ball knob in vice
The aluminum ball knob in the vice I used.

Then, I made a mistake. I was tired of the protective covering slipping when I fastened the knob, so I removed them. The first few seconds drilling out the old threads, the drill caught and wrenched the knob out of the vice. My beautiful polished aluminum ball knob now had a gash because I removed the protectors. I let my frustration known with a string of expletives. But on the bright side, I had been thinking about finishing the knob with a brushed finish instead of the polished look. I could still salvage the project!

Measure twice, and then measure again

After I had the old threads drilled out, I went to my Miata and then tried a test fit. The now drilled-out knob slid right over the threads. I became nervous. Did I just completely ruin my project? I went back to the tool and brought out the thread tap, and simply used a crescent wrench to drive it in. It actually worked well, up until I tried screwing the newly-threaded knob onto the gear shift shaft.

The drilled-out aluminum knob
After finished drilling out the aluminum knob, I went to try it on the car’s shifter rod. As it turned out, the drill was too big.

My fears were pretty much confirmed when the knob simply slid down the shaft without gripping. My DIY car modification was completely ruined. I ended up throwing DIY shifter knob hard enough to break Delta-V and went back inside the house for a beer.

Test-fitting the aluminum ball knob
I tested the ball knob on the shifter and found that the hole and the threading were too big. You can also see the deep gouge the vice had made on the ball.

What went wrong?

I made several mistakes on this project and it ended up costing me the entire thing. First, I didn’t make sure that the drill bit I used was exactly what I needed. As it turned out, the tap had a recommended drill bit size, but neither I nor the associate caught that. Personally, I think this was the associate’s fault because he didn’t make sure either. Secondly, I didn’t take the proper precautions when fastening the knob with the vice. I had removed the protective covers on the vice because they kept shifting during the drilling process. Removing them not only marred the finish of the knob but ended up causing some damage that I wasn’t completely sure I could polish out.

Lastly, the cost of the entire project ended up missing the point of having an aftermarket-style knob, to begin with. I ended up spending almost $40 for a DIY solution when I could have gotten an already finished, brushed aluminum knob for around $20. Had I decided to simply look for something already available, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.

Lesson learned

So, let this be a lesson to you if you’re planning on taking on a DIY project for your car: Make sure you have an idea for what you’re doing, don’t rush, and most importantly, don’t make something more complicated than it needs to be.

Now, I have to figure out if I can refund these tools so I can get that $20 shifter knob!