New Look for your Vehicle’s Wheels with CalChrome Fusion Coating

A Bit of Bling While Towing

Words by Richard Kratz
Photos by Richard Kratz and CalChrome

RAM 3500 Fusion Coated wheels and Toyo tiresMoparMax’s Project Hardworking Hauler RAM truck gets a new look thanks to CalChrome Fusion Coated wheels and Toyo tires.

One of the first appearance mods car and truck owners make is their wheels. Even though the OEMs are providing some really nice optional wheels these days, enthusiasts want their vehicle to look unique, to stand out from the crowd.

Back in the day when 400 horsepower street cars were rare and top speeds over 130 MPH equally rare, aftermarket wheels were subject to much lower levels of stress. Now, you can buy a 707 HP Hellcat at your local Dodge dealer and push 200 MPH top end speed and 1+ G cornering speeds. Same thing for trucks; a 400 HP/900 lb. ft. torque turbo diesel pickup truck is also waiting for you on the RAM dealer’s lot. This used to be the output of big rigs, and indeed these trucks come with tow and haul ratings that rate them at about half of a big rig.

Along with these new levels of power comes more weight. The Hellcat has a curb weight of 4,448 pounds, and our Project Hardworking Hauler RAM 3500 dually Cummins truck weighs about 8,500 pounds from the factory. We have extended range fuel tanks providing 85 gallons of diesel capacity. All fueled up with two people onboard the truck tops the scales at 9,500 pounds. And it is rated to tow up to 27,000 pounds.

Manufacturers like Dodge and RAM have to keep all of these weights and stresses in mind when they design and produce the wheels for our vehicles. You can rely on OEM wheels to have the strength you need. More than that, wheel and tire combinations impact aspects of a vehicle's handling; changes in width and diameter from factory specs can produce undesired changes in caster, camber, toe, and scrub radius. Increases in overall diameter of the tire can reduce braking effectiveness.

Gone are the days when you can just throw on some cheap, cool looking rims and not worry about anything. Sophisticated cars and trucks have sophisticated needs and great care needs to be taken when changing things. For truck owners, strength is paramount. Who knows if those cheap overseas manufactured rims were engineered correctly for your vehicle? Towing your race trailer on a downhill curve is the worst place to find out if they lack the strength you need.

We kept all of this in mind when we went looking for new tires and a new look for the Hardworking Hauler. As its name says, this truck works for a living. We didn’t want to risk increasing tire wear or stress on suspension and steering components, so we choose Toyo’s new Open Country C/T tires. We’re very happy with them; you can read our review on them in the October 2016 MoparMax issue

But what about the wheels? We wanted a new look, but like you, we’re on a budget. Sure, some big, polished billet aftermarket rims would be sweet, but we A) couldn’t afford them and, B) were pretty sure that the way we use our truck wasn’t compatible with something like this.

We looked at aftermarket wheels in our price range (read that as “inexpensive”) and weren’t impressed. We didn’t recognize any of their names, at least not on the very low end of the market, and we didn’t have confidence in putting them on our truck.

So what to do? Luckily, about six months ago at the March Meet at Auto Club Famoso raceway, we happened to set up our vendor booth next to a company called CalChrome. They had a lot of wheels on display in all types of finishes and colors. Hmm, what’s this, we wondered as we wandered over to their booth.

It turns out that CalChrome specializes in refinishing wheels. They talked about how they take incoming wheels, repair them to like new condition, use a proprietary method to strip off the existing finish without damaging any surfaces (for example bead blasting can round off square edges and ruin a wheel), then they refinish the wheels in just about any finish or color you can dream up.

The best part of the whole deal for us is that we would start with wheels we had already paid for, the OEM rims on our truck. What better way to make sure that our wheels were perfectly suited to our vehicle than to start with the ones that the factory engineers designed? And with CalChrome we could give our truck a whole new look as well.

CalChrome is located in Valencia, California, and we got to tour the facility, meet their staff and engineers and see their process for ourselves. Instead of going with a traditional chrome or black finish, we decided to go with a more custom job and selected their new Evo Grey Fusion Powder Coat, finished with a high gloss clear coat. Let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill, ordinary powder coating process that leaves an underwhelming impression of, meh.

Fusion Coat is a revolutionary advancement in powder coating technology. CalChrome’s proprietary process is a combination of eco-friendly clean pretreatment, enhanced application methods, and Pulse Power Technology. We got to see side-by-side examples of ordinary refinished powder coated wheels and CalChrome Fusion Coat. The difference is night and day.

CalChrome has every finish and color you can desire, as shown on the color wheel on their website. We chose New Evo Grey with a High Gloss Clear Coat.

We dropped our truck off at CalChrome’s facility in Valencia, CA. Beyond their finish work, they have the ability to dismount tires, re-mount, Road Force Balance, and nitrogen fill upon completion of their Fusion Coat process. Here’s how the truck looked before they started. For convenience, they also had the ability to securely store our truck at their facility.

If you don’t live near CalChrome, no worries, you can ship your wheels to them and get the same service and treatment that we did. CalChrome will be glad to assist you with details when ordering.


After removal from the vehicle, CalChrome catalogs the product for processing into their system by photograph and engraving. This ensures that your wheels (and tires if you send them) are tracked through the production process right up to shipping or pick up. Note the Toyo Tires being included in the photo inventory. Also, check out the custom copper plated wheels in the background.

All wheels entering the process are spin checked for trueness and run out on one of CalChrome’s Hunter Engineering GSP9700 Road Force balancers before processing. This is done to determine if any repair work is required before the finishing process starts. Sure enough, we did have one wheel with a flat spot that needed to be repaired; CalChrome has state of the art in-house equipment to handle almost any repair. This keeps your wheels progressing through the process without delay as many companies have to outsource these types of repairs.

Some shops will use a big hammer to straighten wheels (not the way to do it). Shown is CalChrome’s hydraulic pneumatic wheel repair equipment that not only has the ability to repair flat spots but also can repair wheels that are bent out of round and or bent at the hub. Sizes that range from 14 inches all the way up to 24 inches.

The Fusion Powder Coating process starts with the removal of the original finish when required. In our case, the truck wheels had some peeling issues that required complete remove of the current finish. CalChrome prefers to chemically strip the wheels as it provides a smoother finish to work with as opposed to bead/sand blasting to remove the base paint or coating. The downside of blasting is that it can round off the decorative edges and change the look of the wheel. After repairing and paint stripping, the wheels are spin checked again on the GPS9700 to ensure that they receive a passing grade and that the wheels are true.

FUN FACT: On our 2014 Laramie RAM truck, the “Polished Aluminum Alcoa” wheels aren’t really polished aluminum. While they are forged aluminum, the finish you see on factory Laramies is actually a special plastic chrome-look coating.

Almost ready to begin the Fusion Powder Coating process. But first CalChrome ensures that the wheels are 100% clean by placing the wheels in CalChrome’s wheel wash cabinet which cleans and removes all grease and contaminants. After the wash cabinet the wheels are bathed in an environmentally friendly pretreatment cleaner and adhesion promoter.

In the final step before coating, the wheels are rolled into the giant oven and pre-heated to eliminate any out-gassing. Without this procedure, there is a possibility that blisters might develop under the finish due to the porosity of the base substrate.

The wheels are suspended by fittings inserted into the tire valve opening as opposed to a wire wrapped around the wheel like many companies do which can lead to uncoated areas that can be prone to corrosion down the road. Then they are rolled into the Fusion Powder coating booth where the anti-gassing, self-leveling primer is applied. On the left side of the photo above you can see multiple fluidizing hopper canisters that are unique to the CalChrome system. These hold different colors which allow for immediate color changes as necessary, unlike a box feed unit which has a suction tube that has to be removed and cleaned before changing to another color. There are other benefits to CalChrome’s fluidizing hopper that we can’t reveal other than to tell you that it allows CalChrome to achieve a smoother and more even finish than we’ve ever seen on a powder coated wheel. After priming, the wheels go back into the giant oven to bake and cure the primer.

After the primer has cured, careful sanding is performed to smooth the primer and prepare it for the base color coat.

Base Coat Pulse Power Technology. The wheels now go back to the booth to apply the base color coat. CalChrome selected Parker Ionics equipment for their Pulse Power technology which provides superior Faraday cage penetration and transfer efficiency. Normal powder coating equipment has difficulty getting the powder distributed evenly where there are small openings, such as wheels have around the wheel stud holes and especially on the intricate designs of some modern rims — the powder tends to build up thickly on the edges of the small openings and only thinly on the inside. CalChrome’s equipment ensures even coating everywhere with no buildup or thin spots.

Also shown on the left of the above photo is the distribution manifold which allows the technician to select from which fluidizing hopper the desired color is to be applied, which in our case was “New Evo Grey.” After the base coat is applied, it’s back to the oven again to partially cure the base coat.

Ah, finally we start to see what the wheels are going to look like, at least the base color. Here we see the technician applying the optional high gloss clear coat that we chose.

Back into the oven one last time for final curing. Continuing to show CalChrome’s concern for the environment, these ovens are state-of-the-art and newly introduced in 2014. These meet government standards on required low NOx emissions. You’re looking at a numerically controlled 800,000 BTU oven. These units ensure that the most consistent parameters for baking and curing are followed.

The Fusion Powder Coating finish is complete. Damn, who knew that factory RAM wheels could look so great? Our wheels joined others heading to the final quality assurance inspection.

Installation. What we also like about CalChrome is that they have the ability to do all of the mounting installation, road force balancing, and nitrogen inflation in-house making for a one-stop shop.

Here our new Toyo Open Country C/T tires are being installed by a technician using one of CalChrome’s many touchless Hunter tire changers. These machines do just what their name implies: mount your tires without ever touching the wheels ensuring no scratches or damage.


Now our mounted wheels and tires are road forced balanced on the Hunter GSP9700. This unique balancer has a large roller that presses against the tire and wheel assembly simulating the road surface and forces. Measurements are calculated so that the high (tire) spot and low (wheel) spots are mated together to provide the most concentric and true wheel-tire assembly.

Our new wheels and tires are installed back on the truck and torqued to factory specs. Then CalChrome takes the vehicle for a test drive before returning the keys to us.

 

All done. We LOVE the way our truck looks. We could have gone in a traditional chrome or black direction, but we like how the New Evo Grey color is light enough to easily tell where the wheel stops and the tire starts, yet dark enough to have a sort of wicked look. Our Laramie trim truck has a LOT of chrome on it. We could have chosen to have the plastic hubcaps painted too as closely as possible color-match the new wheel color. But since A) it’s not always possible to get an exact color match by even the best paint shops, and B) we have so much chrome on the truck anyway, we chose to leave the hubcaps Chrome. We’re glad we did, it’s a great look and we get a lot of compliments.

Total processing time for what we had done is only 3-4 business days. You can see for yourself how much care, labor and time goes into ensuring that the wheels are finished to the highest quality standards. The folks at CalChrome have refined what they do to an efficient science. If you want to have them Fusion Coat your rims, at the time this article was written the price starts at only $150/wheel. Add the high gloss clear coat like we did and it will add $25/wheel. If you want your new tires mounted with CalChrome quality like we did it costs $25/wheel. This may be the best bargain we’ve found this year.

We’ve had time to live with these wheels and tires for a few months now and we’re as happy with them now as we were on Day One. The CalChrome Fusion Coating is holding up great in the real world, through gravel roads and truck washes, they still look brand new. The Toyo tires ride smoothly and should provide long mileage, and their aggressive tread design compliments our new rims. Thank you to everyone at CalChrome.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

CalChrome

Website: www.CalChrome.com

Phone: 661-294-0170

Address: 24850 Avenue Rockefeller, Valencia CA 91355