BMW Magazine Article

Words and photography by Andrew Dale

What do you call a bespoke wheel refurbishing service that is not that expensive? Pristine Wheels seems to be the answer. 

So what makes Pristine different to any other wheel refurbisher? The answer seems to be in owner David James' overall approach to his work. The focus is on quality and customer service.

Some refurbishers will come to your home and grind out the defects and then cover the area with paint. This may weaken the wheel and also leave unsightly dips and hollows in the wheel body or, more importantly, the wheel rim.

Other refurbishers will use “copy lathes” to automatically trim your wheel back to “original” specification regardless of whether this might leave parts of the wheel and rim dangerously thin. Some companies use thick powder coating and lacquer as a finish but as Club member Ron Parish found out this thick covering can stop wheel bolts going through the original holes and make the fitting of wheel caps impossible as the gaps and tolerances are lost because of the thickness of the coatings used.

Every wheel that comes in to the site is checked visually and then “spun-up” on the balancing machine in the tyre-fitting bays to check for any significant out-of-balance or obvious warping. Each wheel is then stamped and coded for traceability to ensure that you get your own set of wheels back.

Defects are also stamped with a hidden code to signify where damage was prior to any remedial work being undertaken. From there the wheels are taken to be chemically stripped. Current EU legislation means that David is now having to dispense with his old chemical system and introduce new products as well as having to purpose-build buildings to accommodate new Health and Safety legislation.

Once stripped, each wheel is fed into an automatic blasting machine to remove any final residue. Unlike some companies that use sand or iron to blast (too rough and can get imbedded in the aluminium) David has sourced a secret formula of fine ball shot that peens the surface as well as removing paint and corrosion.

Wheels are inspected again for any damage and alloy welding is done at this point if necessary. Dimensions of each wheel are taken and the wheel is then placed in a lathe so that any welding can be machined off and the faces, rims etc are brought back to manufacturers’ specification but taking into account the “settle” that each wheel will have experienced during its time in use. In this way, the customer is assured that each wheel rim will NOT be machined in a way that leaves any part of the rim too thin. You can see from the picture the very fine shavings of metal removed.

Once machined the wheels are all chemically pre-treated. This is the essential part of the process to slow down the re-occurrence of fili-form corrosion (spider webbing), as laid down by the paint manufacturers. Some companies’ powder coat or spray directly on to the aluminium base of the wheel but aluminium
will corrode unless it is properly treated first.

After drying they are taken into the paint bay where primer, top coat and lacquer are applied followed by several minutes in a conveyor oven to bake this on. If part of the wheel finish is diamond turned (polished appearance) then the wheel goes back to a lathe, is then chemically pre-treated again, followed by lacquer and baked for a second time. There is an almost infinite range of paint finishes and an additional specialist spray department can cater for your needs – whatever they are! Airborne contamination can be a real problem and there are air filters all over the place at Pristine Wheels. On top of this there is one guy whose
job is to go round and mechanically clean all the floors during the lunch break and after work.

Quality checks are carried out at all stages but after refurbishment there is a very close check made and any minor defects that can be rectified manually are done now. Even the tiniest defect will result in rejection but in the few wheels awaiting re-treating it was very hard to see some of the defects – such is the high standard that David imposes. Unfortunately there are some wheels so heavily corroded and damaged that to remove all the corrosion would be impossible. They can only then do what the wheel allows.

“A number of car manufacturers recommend Pristine and use them for their after sales service”

Off to packing and once again those getting your wheels ready to be sent back to you check
finish to ensure that nothing goes out that does not meet their high standards.

Work comes in from many private customers but work also comes from agents (covering the mainland, from Inverness to Cornwall), car dealerships and manufacturers. Far East companies are represented in the huge storage shed on site as well as some from Germany and some from nearby in Newport Pagnell. A number
of car manufacturers recommend Pristine and use them for their after sales service.

David James

David James came to England from Belfast in 1967. He started Newport Pagnell Tyre Services and quickly
expanded to Stony Stratford, Bletchley, Bedford and Woburn Sands…. I think you get the idea! David was looking for a catchy name for the group as whole. This eluded him until on the way back from a golf competition in America in 1971 (David’s passion is golf). An American on the plane recognised him but did not know David’s name so he just said “hello Fred” and so Fred The Tread was born. His family thought he was mad to choose this name but the group grew rapidly until the recession in 1990. Customers now wanted everything cheap and David’s high level of service (he used to send out people to pick up customer’s cars) was no longer what customers wanted. Business became cut-throat and David started selling off the Fred The Tread sites.

Many of the wheels David had in were suffering from fili-form corrosion (the spider-web pattern that forms under the lacquer and David felt sure that in the future nearly all cars would have alloy wheels and that this would be a major problem that he could find an answer to. Golfing friends included a chemical treatment specialist and an engineer.

David’s first alloy wheel job was done by him driving a set of wheels to the treatment specialist for stripping
and chemical treatment. A phone call to David and he drove over to pick the wheels up and take them to the engineer who lathe-machined the surfaces. Another phone call and David was back in his car to pick up
the wheels and take them to a painter. Once finished another phone call for David to pick them up. This carried on until the painter could not cope so David set up his own paint shop. The engineer could not cope so David bought him a lathe. In 1991 David moved his premises from Newport Pagnell to Woburn Sands and brought everything under one roof in the last remaining Fred The Tread depot. Now with 47 employees the company is still a “family business” as his wife Phyllis does the accounts and his daughter Linda manages the office team. Linda’s husband has recently joined the team on a “new project”.

Date: 09/06/2012