Originally Posted by TimSullivan
My wheels are desperate for attention so I thought I would get out my 6" orbital polisher and a foam circular pad dabbed with some Mothers' aluminum polish and giver her a whirl. Any other approaches or polish that you would recommend to do this labor intensive process?
Well Sir, first off, if what you're using is what I think you're using, a "Random-orbital" polisher,?, It's a very poor tool for you to use, to accomplish the results you'd like to see. The actual tool needed is a rotational pad, not random-orbital. The speed is the key here. Random orbitals are for application and removal of wax on paint jobs and, sanding in other situations.
The Mothers ball and other brands, on a drill motor is what most of these folks are talking about.
You see, aluminum, as in what is the majority of the chemical makeup of your wheels, oxidizes as we speak. When allowed to go un-checked, it becomes more and more dull and, the surface becomes more and more "course" as time goes on. So, by polishing the surface, you rid that surface of the aluminum oxidation and, you are making the surface finer and finer.
Picture it as "Mountains" when you start with really badly corroded wheels. Then, as you work at it, you come to "Valleys". Now, as you keep on at it, you eventually end up with a lake with no wind on it. Otherwise known as a "glass" surface. And that's when it ends up like the pictures below.
Without a doubt, IT'S LABOR, PERIOD! There is no magic elixir in making alloy wheels have a mirror finish. So, there's a number of products out there help with the process. Power is nice, if you have the correct tools and rouges, polishes, pastes and the lot. I've done a few zillion miles of aluminum polishing and, the effort put into it, shows in the end result. I've used Semi-Chrome, Mothers, Zepher-40 (Costco online product at the time), and a whole host of other metal polishes.
As for those that have coatings, there's not much anyone can do about those. If the coating becomes chipped, which is a pretty hard thing to do, and, you'd like to do something about it, "patching" the coating is almost frivolis because once air is introduced into or, under the original coating, it will continue to travel under the rest of the coating, slowly, but it will continue. So, there are chemicals out there that are alloy safe (Aircraft in particular) that will remove that coating and then, you've taken it upon yourself to keep that wheel polished.
Once a wheel is polished to an ultra-high luster, (Mirror finish) it will last considerably longer in between polishing sequences than if it weren't. Of course, that also depends on the atmosphere you reside in. Obviously the closer to the sea, i.e. salt air and saltier conditions, the more rapid the deterioration will progress.
So, in the end, get the right tools, the right pastes, polishes, liquids etc. and, take your time. The results will definitely be worth it. Oh, and one more thing. Removing the wheels for this service is by far, the best way to get the most efficient polishing done without the hinderance of the lug nuts and hub centers in the way. But, not many guys have the tools and equipment to remove those wheels and re-install them with the proper torque on the lug nuts etc. Those that do have the proper tools, know how valuable not having those components in the way while polishing is. Good luck.