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Need information about chrome peeling off of automobile wheels

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I have a problem with a set of chrome wheels I purchased brand new about 1 year ago. After about 6 months of use the chrome started peeling so badly it was coming off in sheets. The wheels came with a three year finish warranty, but the company I purchased them from is denying the warranty telling me that "brake dust" caused this damage and that there was no problem with the chroming process. After researching this topic I am led to believe that they are giving me the run-around and that the wheels are in fact defective. I have since filed a law suit against the company that I purchased the wheels from. I need advice as to what I need to do to convince the judge that the wheels are indeed defective. I want to do my homework and need the expert advice that this board offers.

Thanks,

    Eric Nicholls
HOBBYIST - Buffalo Grove, IL, USA


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Aluminum alloy wheels are one of the most difficult substrates to reliably plate onto, so it is not surprising if there are occasional failures. But it is not the consumer's fault, and repair or replacement is part of the cost of doing business. If they can't afford the warranty claims they should get out of the business.

No matter what sympathy we may have for the wheel manufacturer/plater, based on the difficulty of the process, most of us in the industry have no sympathy for not owning up to defective plating. The plating is defective and that's that.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


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I have four chrome rims that I bought from a custom shop for my 03 Mustang Cobra. These rims are less than six months old and the chrome is peeling (like paper) on the inner part of the rims, and the outside of the rims have blistering. Am I doing something wrong? I wasn't given any special instructions for caring for these rims. I am considering going back to the custom shop that sold them to me, I just need another opinion before I do so. Please help!

Elaine Duggan
chrome rims - Worth, Illinois, USA


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Mr. Mooney,

I had written you in letter 29693. I was wondering if you could write some kind of statement about why chrome should never peel and the causes when it does peel. I know you are one of the leading experts on this subject and your opinion would be very credible in front of a judge. I have a court date against a company that claims the peeling of the wheels I purchased from them is my fault. I would greatly appreciate your help.

Thank You,

Eric Nicholls (returning)
Hobbyist - Buffalo Grove, IL, USA


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If this is a small claims court issue, you may not even see the judge, Eric. Here in NJ the judges are incredibly busy and will pass you to an arbitrator (usually a law student) and only see you if the arbitrator could not get you and the defendant to a resolution.

If this was not disposed of in small claims court, but actually went to a civil trial, you would need a lot more than a letter. I've been an expert witness several times, and "expert testimony" is only accepted after quite a detailed (and expensive) process involving depositions, challenges, etc. I'm just preparing you for the fact that the judge may not give as much weight to an internet opinion as you might like.

But for what it's worth, we printed your inquiry, including photographs, on finishing.com and I offered my comments, based on a 35 year career spent in the plating industry. They have so far gone unchallenged on the world's most visited metal finishing site.

Chrome plating should not peel. It is used on critical engineering applications, such as in continuous casting in steel mills, where a peeling failure could easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. You have no doubt seen chrome plating on truck bumpers that hasn't peeled after decades of service.

When chrome does peel, it is a defect having to do with improper preparation of the substrate. I have been involved in several such investigations.

Chrome plating of alloy wheels starts with preparation of the aluminum substrate. Aluminum is an "active" metal that oxidizes instantly, and it is not possible to plate on an oxidized surface. So a critical step in plating on aluminum is the "zincating" process. In this process, the aluminum wheel is dipped into an alkaline solution of zinc and, if all goes well, an immersion deposit of zinc replaces the aluminum surface. This is similar to the high school chemistry project you may have seen where steel items are placed in copper sulphate and acquire a copper 'skin'.

The zincating process is not easy, and if not done exactly right, the subsequent plating layers will peel either because the thin zinc coating doesn't adhere to the aluminum correctly, or the subsequent plating layer doesn't adhere to the zinc properly. After zincating, the wheel will either be copper cyanide plated or electroless nickel plated. After that, it is nickel plated and finally chrome plated. The chrome layer is exceptionally thin (millionths of an inch), so what you really see peeling is the nickel layer or layers, which will be a few thousandths of an inch thick.

In plating shops a number of "adhesion tests" may be conducted. The adhesion should be so good that adhesive tape tests never fail--but tape isn't strong enough to prove adhesion. Test panels are 'chiseled', bent around cylindrical mandrels, etc. to try to break something loose. The test panels can be baked to see if the heat can make the plating 'blister'.

Failure of adhesion on aluminum wheels is not uncommon, as several letters here indicate, but that doesn't relieve the plater of the obligation to provide satisfactory plating. You have a 3-year appearance guarantee, and it should be the seller's obligation to advance a fully plausible explanation of what you did wrong that voided that guarantee. If brake dust has something to do with it, which doesn't sound terribly plausible, there should be specific instructions on what you should have done about it, and they should have to prove that you did that. If they allege that you exposed these wheels to some incompatible chemical, they should be obligated to say what it was and how it caused peeling. Peeling is widely known to platers as a phenomenon that indicates improper preparation and consequent poor adhesion, not improper environmental exposure conditions.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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I have visited this site many times in the past searching for information on metal finishing. I have now encountered a problem and am asking for any help.

I have had similar problems of chrome plating peeling off Aluminum wheels. I had four BMW wheels plated by a company and after six weeks the plating began to peel severely.

The company offered to re-plate the wheels, although they refused to pay shipping charges back to their facility. I agreed to send them back anyway. I received the wheels back after re-plating and was extremely disappointed. Flaking and blistering had already begun to occur before they were even taken out of the boxes.

Ted, I would like to reference your comments in this thread about peeling chrome plating. I need an opinion to aid my argument in proving that they have not correctly performed the work. I am not willing to give this company another chance; I just want my money back.

Ted, If you have additional comments please forward them to me. Thank You.

Andrew Randazzo
- Lansdale, Pennsylvania, USA


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This page is publicly viewable, so I think it's fair use to print it out if you wish.

I've responded with 11 paragraphs already, but I'll summarize it if you wish: peeling chrome is almost always the result of improper preparation of the substrate. Other professionals have said the same in letters 3885 and 8490.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 22, 2008

Mr. Mooney,

You talk about a "three year appearance guarantee", does that apply to all wheels or only the manufacturer of the original writers wheels?

My wheels are Panther, I have had them for 2.5 years. On their website, they say they have a 2 year chrome warranty. A few days ago, I removed my snow tires and put my summers back on. One wheel has the chrome peeling. Do I have any recourse. The other 3 have no problems, no peeling whatsoever - is it a matter of time or does this just prove it was a manufacturing problem?

I can guarantee that these wheels have never seen snow. (Which I can prove with receipts every time tires/wheels have been switched out).

Anything on where I can go from here is what I am looking for.

Thanks in advance.

Jodi Murray
- Spokane, Washington


March 27, 2008

Hi, Jodi. Eric said that his wheels came with a 3-year finish guarantee; I didn't make a claim to that effect. If the guarantee on your wheels is 2 years, I'd say that's what it is. Sorry. As we've noted repeatedly, peeling is virtually always a manufacturing defect, not a failure due to chemical exposures, but if the warranty period is over it's probably over. Good luck trying though.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 29, 2009

The chrome on my Infiniti I35 Rims is peeling and looking terrible. Can I re-chrome these rims or somehow have the original chrome taken off...or are these rims destined to find a place in the junk yard?

Chris Macaulay
Buyer - Waverley


April 29, 2009

Had rims for 3 days and chrome is peeling! I am just wondering what is the process to get a new rim as quickly as possible, it's horrible! I can't believe that they just started peeling! we haven't even put any product on them to clean them, I just need some help!@!@!@!

Ashley Lane
buyer - Plattsburgh, NY,


May 1, 2009

Hi, my name is Steve. I have a pair of high-end chrome plated rims on my truck. They have 39,000 miles (2 yrs.) on them and are absolutely perfect on the outside. By that I mean, no scrapes, rock chips, yellowing, delamination, etc.... beautifil! They are the type of rim that also show the inside of the rim too. The inside of the rim has delamination that appears like it is from the inside out, i.e. star looking formations protruding outwards, and you can see the different colored substrate and metal grooves through the chrome. It has the appearance as that of very thin chrome with little shine. The dealer told me it was from brake dust and wear and tear. I replied, " If it is brake dust, why is the outside of the rim not damaged? And wear and tear is out of the question by looking at the outside of the rim. I noted that if the rims were beat up with rock chips, etc..., something that would compromise the outer coating and thus promote delamination from the outide-in, we wouldn't even be talking. I am a 20 myear journeyman painter in the auto industry and have seen my share of product delamination whether it was from human error or product error. I am curious to learn about the chrome plating do's and dont's to educate myself for battle. Please help! Thank you.

Steve Strable
auto refinishing - Lake Stevens, Washington


May 9, 2009

When you are talking the back of the wheel, you're into different territory, Steve. The back side of bumpers is never deliberately plated, there is just wrap around that gives some varying amount of coverage. I think wheels are often the same way.

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

December 5, 2011

I had a pair of chrome door handle covers put on my 2011 Camaro SS by a auto dealer. I noticed there was an area about 1 inch in length that has a "copper
look to it. I appears the chrome has flaked off in that area after one wash. What is your best analogy that caused the chrome to flake off in this small area? I'm guessing the area wasen't properly cleaned before the chrome was applied?

Regards,
William

William Carte
- Hillsville, Virginia

April 12, 2012

Q. I have a 1999 Cadillac Escalade with chrome wheels and they look perfect. I recently purchased a 2008 Lexus ES 350 which has after market chrome wheels that are peeling. I've been told that chrome wheels will only last about 5 yrs.

Is there a difference in the chrome wheels that come from the manufacturer, i.e. my Escalade, and after market chrome wheels, i.e. my Lexus?

Troy Hunt
- Mandeville, Louisiana, USA


April 16, 2012

A. Chrome plated wheels *might* last only five years if they are subject to serious wear and tear from stone damage, road salt and other abuse. For most folks, they will last longer.

OEM wheels are plated to a very high standard.

Aftermarket wheels are an unknown quantity. Some may be as good as OEM, and some may be garbage.

jeffrey holmes Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
- Spartanburg, South Carolina

April 16, 2012

A. You are answering your question. The difference between OEM chromed wheels and aftermarket ones is they last longer. To know why is another story that takes books to explain.
G. Marrufo-Mexico

Guillermo Marrufo
Monterrey, NL, Mexico



June 1, 2012

Q. Hi My name is Tony, I purchased a set of replica Chevy wheels from the states in November 2011. On receiving the wheels I couldn't wait to see them, and they looked better than I expected. I had the tires mounted, and delivered the wheels to a workshop, who was converting my Chevy Suburban from LHD to RHD in December 2011. The wheels were stored in the office until just recently because of delays in the conversion. We mounted the wheels on the car on May 28 2012 and that's when we noticed bad blistering on 2 of the wheels, and some scattered blisters on the other 2.
I have contacted the supplier and he asked me to email some pictures, which I did. His response was "some kind of damage other than bubbling". He has asked me to send wheels back so he can get them tested in a lab in Los Angeles at my expense ($450.00 freight)! Then if the wheels are his fault he will replace them but if it's my fault he will destroy them! He suspects acid may have caused this damage.
These are some pictures of the blistering; I would appreciate your professional advice on what you think has caused the blistering.

29693-4thumb 29693-5thumb
Click on photos to enlarge.

Tony Bertuccio
- Sydney, N.S.W, Australia


June 1, 2012

A. Hi Tony.

Sorry to say that, unless I'm misreading the photos (which isn't hard to do when viewing a highly reflective object), this doesn't look like blistering to me. It does look like some kind of acid damage. I'd be interested in what other readers think since I can't say I've seen anything like it.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 2, 2012

I'm having problems taking a clear picture of damage without any reflection! I've just realized why you have never seen anything like some of the pictures I sent you last time. Most of the pictures have got the reflection of my fingers in them making it look like a pinkish effect because they were taken close up with my phone. The wheels have no discoloration whatsoever, they just have the blisters which look like the web page I sent you.

29693-6 29693-7

Thank you very much and sorry to bother you again

Regards Tony

Tony Bertuccio
- Sydney, N.S.W, Australia

June , 2012

Hi again. Ever see those optical illusions where your mind can't decide if you're looking at the outside corner or inside corner? 

29693-8

When I looked at the pictures before, somehow (and I can't explain my reasonably experienced mind being so dumb) it looked like pits/holes in the base metal.

29693-4thumthum-8

But now I can see that it's just typical every-day blistering/flaking. Weird.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 2, 2012

A. Hi Ted, this is Tony from Australia again. I was searching the internet for images on chrome blistering and found this company called Calchrome who specialize in chroming. They have images on their website which show blistering and that's exactly what my wheels look like. Maybe my pictures were not taken on the right angle or too much reflection.

Thank you once again for your help

Tony

Tony Bertuccio
- Sydney, N.S.W, Australia

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