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Chrome Plated Wheels: Technical questions answered

(2004)

Q. Hello,

I was looking for technical information on the common Chrome Plated Wheels. Unfortunately you can't get too much technical information from the manufacturers; they just want to sell them. Questions that I have are:

1. What process are most companies using to plate the wheels?
2. Is it chrome or nickel-chrome material?
3. What is the Porosity of the Plating? Will it absorb water ?
4. Does the Chrome plating process reduce the fatigue stress of the wheel?
5. Are there other disadvantages to having your wheels Chrome plated?
6. Lastly, about how much does it cost to plate a set of 4 wheels ?

Thanks for your help!

Patrick Sdeleted
- Bel Air, Maryland


(2004)

A. Hi Patrick.

2. It's always nickel plating followed by chrome plating. Chrome plating does not impart reflectivity and shine, the nickel does that. The chrome adds a slightly bluish cast, as opposed to the slightly yellowish cast of nickel; it prevents the nickel from tarnishing, and it contributes symbiotically to the corrosion resistance.

1. There are usually two layers of nickel plating, namely semi-bright followed by bright. And there are pretreatments before the nickel plating, always including zincating and usually including either or both of electroless nickel plating and copper plating.

3. The nickel plating is not porous and will not allow absorption of water.

4. Plating, done properly, does not significantly reduce fatigue stress.

5. Nickel-chrome plating is a barrier-layer type of plating, it does nor protect the substrate if it gets scratched. Quite the opposite: if there is a scratch, the exposed aluminum and the nickel plating comprise a powerful corrosion battery that will cause the aluminum to pit and/or erupt in ugly little corrosion pimples/volcanos.

It costs about as much to plate wheels as to buy a new set. That is because the original wheels were plated in large batches involving little labor per wheel. When four or less wheels are done at a time, it takes a great deal of manual labor per wheel as the process involves many many cleaning, polishing, and plating steps and many of these steps have to be carefully tailored to the exact shape of the wheel. Sometimes special jogs must be built to get chrome plating down into the recesses. It's usually not practical to custom chrome plate alloy rims.

We have an "Introduction to Chrome Plating" that you may find interesting.

Good luck.

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



Life expectancy of chrome plated wheels

(2004)

Q. Thanks for the great reply, As a follow up question, knowing that the chrome-plated wheels are pretty easy to clean, what kind of life expectancy do they have? Can they corrode?

Also, if the Nickel is applied first and the Chrome is layered on top, how can the shine of the nickel show through the chrome.

Thanks Again,

Patrick

Patrick S [returning]
- Bel Air, Maryland


(2004)

A. Hello again. Let's go off-track for a moment and talk bumpers first: An OEM quality nickel-chrome plated bumper lasts about as long as the painted body parts of the car or truck, sometimes a little longer, sometimes a little less. So, nickel-chrome plating is a very permanent finish that can last decades. If you had steel 'chrome reverse wheels', that might be the end of the story.

But the majority of fancy wheels today are cast aluminum alloy. This is very difficult to plate well, both because aluminum is inherently very difficult to plate reliably for electrochemical reasons, and because the casting alloy is very low quality aluminum with a lot of silicon and other tramp materials that make reliable plating even more difficult. So the odds are good that the bonding of the plating to the casting is poor in at least a spot or two, which will become apparent in use over a few years, revealing itself as peeling. If you viewed our chrome plating FAQ, you saw several examples of this peeling problem. If I were a consumer, I would not buy chrome wheels without a true replacement guarantee, and if I were the seller I might not offer one :-(

Plus, is it really possible to keep from touching a curb day after day, year after year? The aluminum is very soft and will gouge, breaking the plating, and even if the damage is very slight, no repair to the plating is possible and the wheel is history.

Regarding your second question, the nickel is self leveling and highly reflective. The nickel plating imparts "specularity", a mirror finish. The chrome reduces tarnishing of the nickel and is a bluer color, but it follows the smooth mirrored surface imparted by the nickel plating. I didn't mean to imply that you see the color of the nickel through the chrome, but that you see the mirror smoothness and shine.

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



Chrome wheels are peeling after less than 2 years

(2006)

Q. I have a 2004 Jeep grand Cherokee, which has chrome plated wheels. Granted I live in snowy environment and my car is driven on salted roads in the winter. However, after less than two years the chrome plated wheels are peeling badly. I wanted to get your recommendation on what I should request they replace my wheels. My understanding is that it is not the chrome plating that is the problem, but the manufacturer? I don't want to have this problem again when I don't have a warranty to cover the new wheels, so I want to get the most durable for this climate this time. I would appreciate a response and recommendation; I have found this to be the most educated site and commentary.

Lauren Gdeleted
- Boone, North Carolina


(2006)

A. Hi Lauren, and thanks for the kind words. Any suggestion can raise the possibility that you simply will not like the appearance but ... The most durable wheels are probably painted steel wheels (like on Cherokees, not Grand Cherokees). Second most durable is probably chrome plated steel wheels (pretty much out of fashion). Third may be plain aluminum wheels with a clearcoat (common on Grand Cherokees). Most troublesome of all is chrome plated aluminum.

The problems with chrome plated aluminum wheels are many. Even high quality aluminum is very difficult to electroplate because aluminum is an extremely active metal that instantly forms an oxide skin, and you can't plate oxides. So the first step is always a zincate replacement process, which lacks the adhesion of electroplating. You'll frequently see the plating just peel off of aluminum wheels whereas you very rarely see plating peel off of steel. Although this peeling is a manufacturing defect, the manufacturer will often try to blame it on the customer. Also, the wheels are pressure cast, not machined; and because they are castings they have tramp ingredients in them like silicon, making the plating even more unreliable.

Look at the warranty. Few manufacturers will guarantee them more than a year, and even then they are not guaranteed against road salt. Would you buy a car that had only a 1-year guarantee and an exclusion if you drove in the snow? It's ludicrous. But I doubt you'll find a long term all inclusive guarantee on chrome plated aluminum wheels because it's just too difficult to plate them right.

Finally, corrosion forces are working against you. As noted, aluminum is a very active metal. If you put noble metals like nickel and chrome on aluminum and then allow even the tiniest perforation or porosity in the coating, you have a powerful corrosion battery where galvanic forces will cause the aluminum to corrode quickly.

Chrome plated aluminum wheels are beautiful like flowers ... and about as delicate :-)

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


(2007)

Q. Getting back to the previous discussion on peeling chrome on Jeep Cherokee wheels, do you have any suggestions to halt the progress of peeling? Or is it simply a lost cause with a new set of wheels in my future once they have become too unsightly? Many thanks for any ideas you may have. At this time the peeling is only on the inside of the wheels. I am considering sanding the affected areas, cleaning thoroughly, and shooting with some clear coat but I don't know if it is worth the effort. Thanks again!

Jim B deleted
- Denver, Colorado, USA


(2007)

A. That sounds like a good plan, Jim.

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


Sandblasting of chrome wheels vs. chemical stripping

(2007)

Q. Regarding the chrome plating of aluminum wheels, I agree for both aesthetic and durability reasons that such plating might not be the best option given the use model. However, if one was fond of their particular chrome plated aluminum wheels or even a new set, would there be any inherent difficulties to having the wheels stripped of the plating, sandblasted and perhaps polished, painted or clearcoated? Would chemical stripping be required or simply careful sandblasting with the proper media and pressure as to not damage the substrate? Thank you!

Best Regards,

Thomas W deleted
- Cary, Illinois


(2007)

A. Hi Thomas. Some experienced people suggest never sandblasting aluminum because it's just too soft. I believe it would be possible to blast the chrome and nickel off of the aluminum wheels without significantly damaging them in theory, but they are often so intricate that the job could be tedious and time consuming. So I believe chemical stripping is more practical. But that's just book knowledge talking -- I haven't actually done it or been involved in doing it.

Still, remember that these wheels are pressure castings, not billet aluminum. Because of this, and the unavoidable silicon and other tramp ingredients in pressure castings, I think you'll never get them to polish up and shine quite like pure billet aluminum. Sorry.

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



Chrome plated wheels won't seal; corroding at the barrel and leaking

(2007)

Q. I have a 2003 Dodge Caravan that has anniversary chrome aluminum wheels. When one the tires went flat recently, I was told that there was a pinhole in the barrel of the wheel. I took the wheel to a local repair shop that deals exclusively with rims and when they broke the wheel down to prepare it for repair, the corrosion was so bad that repair was impossible. The pinhole was more the size of a pencil hole when the inside surface was cleaned, and there were numerous areas that were terribly pitted and almost corroded through. I knew there could be corrosion in and around the bead, but in the barrel?

Any suggestions on whether I should replace the rim, or have the others inspected? Also, Dodge has already told me too bad on their doing anything for me. Any ideas?

Roger S deleted
- Columbus, Ohio


(2007)

A. I think you should replace all four or all five wheels. This doesn't sound like an aesthetic issue to me; it sounds life-threatening in the event that the corrosion proceeds differently on another wheel, or if you hit road debris at high speed resulting in an instantaneous blowout through the rim.

I would suggest that you write to the corporation and request replacement wheels. If there is no response then report it it to the NTSB and "Consumer Reports" [link is to product info at Amazon]. If they feel there is an actual life hazard, they will know what to do. Recalls make corporations more responsive to consumer complaints about safety issues. Good luck.

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

(2007)

!! I also have a problem with the wheels on a 2003 Dodge Caravan anniversary edition. Slow leaks for two years, always checking tire pressure. Took the wheels off to check the brakes and wash the wheels and was surprised by the amount of decay, corrosion on the inside of the wheel. Looks to me like the coating over the aluminum is capturing the salt and water, creating a concentrated corrosion spot. The coating is also falling off around the rim bead, where the slow leaks are coming from (soap test).I have contacted NTSB, state consumer protection and many other agency I am waiting for forms. Does me no good, now I have to replace the wheels before the tires.I have 59,000 miles on the car. If you hear anything on this problem please let me know. Thanks,

Tom Ellenbecker
- Madison, Wisconsin

April 11, 2008

Q. Hi, and thanks for the very informative info. My 2002 Acura rims need replacing. All four aluminum wheel rims have been cleaned and resealed over a period of more than a year, and the slow leaks in my tires persist. My car is garage kept and I don't quite understand how even after the resealing the corrosion keeps returning.
What's a fair price for replacing the rims?
thanks for any advice.
Pat

Pat Lynch
- Bayonne New Jersey


April , 2008

A. Hi. If the rims are plated on their face and not elsewhere, Pat, you have dissimilar metals exposed and will have an increased corrosion rate for the aluminum.

Sorry, but we can't discuss prices on this site, you would need to get multiple quotes to decide.

Good luck.

Regards,

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


February 25, 2010

Q. A year ago I bought a used 2005 Buick LeSabre and almost immediately had rim-tire seal problems. Three times in one year (with mileage between 42,000 and 50,000) I've had to have the tires removed and the rims cleaned inside, and tires re-mounted. After fighting it for a year, and not trusting to drive the car especially here in Northern North Dakota with wintertime temps at minus 30...I was told by our local service center that I need new rims.
Is this a manufacturing fault, should I report it, the dealer says, "We've never heard of this before", and wants to sell me a new set for just under 3K.
Should I trust our service shop and replace them, or can they be "saved" somehow? Please advise. Thanks

Bernie Arcand
- Ray, North Dakota


May 23, 2011

Q. Back in the olden days when I worked in a service centre (Canadian Tire) one way we got around the leaking bead is to put a tube in the tire. Don't know if this done much anymore, though.

My question, though, is what causes chrome plating to pit whether it is on steel or any other material? How can a person retard or even prevent this process?

Mark nickels
- North Bay, Ontario, Canada

May 24, 2011

A. Hi, Mark.

A dry cell battery is comprised of two different metals with a conductive glop in between them. One of the two metals is more "active" than the other (the other one is said to be more "noble"). The more active metal dissolves into the glop as positively charged ions. I don't want to spend multiple paragraphs explaining why this generates electricity, when that's not what you asked, but it does.

Any time you have two different metals metallically connected together and with a conductive solution (like salty water) between them, the more active metal corrodes, while the noble metal doesn't. Sacrificial zinc anodes on steel boats, and zinc plating or galvanizing on steel bolts are used to protect the steel that way.

If you have nickel-chrome plating on steel or aluminum, and the steel or aluminum is exposed to the environment through tiny pinholes, you have such a battery, but in this case since nickel is more noble than steel or aluminum, the base metal will dissolve at that pinhole. Over time it will look like a bunch of miniature volcanos, with the steel or aluminum continuing to corrode underneath each pinhole, the corrosion accelerated by the battery that has been formed.

Constant cleaning and waxing is probably the best you can do. Clearcoats tend to not stick very well to chrome, but you can try them.

Regards,

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


March 31, 2008

Q. Ber-nickel or Bur-nickel? Don't know if I am spelling it right but can someone tell me about this process (pros and cons)

I am trying to buy some chromed CLK500 wheels and the seller is telling me that they use this process.

Thanks

Greg Cannon
hobbyist - St Louis, Missouri


April 18, 2008

A. Hi, Greg. I've never heard of that. My guess is that they are speaking of bright nickel, which was somewhere abbreviated as Br. Nickel, and then somebody tried to pronounce Br. :-)

Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Is pitting a manufacturing defect?

November 5, 2008

Q. I have been told by the manufacturer of my chromed aluminum wheels that peeling is a manufacturer's defect and is covered under warranty, but pitting is a maintenance issue that is not covered. I almost agree with that, but statements that you have posted here have me confused. I live in an area that has used sodium chloride to de-ice roads for years. Two years ago they added calcium chloride to the mix. After that first winter with the new de-icing cocktail, my wheels started to pit. The previous 2 winters with just sodium chloride (and sand) they were fine. Nothing else changed regarding my vehicle care habits. This tells me that the pitting problem is being caused by calcium chloride and that the county I live in owes me a new set of wheels. On the other hand, I understand you to say that aluminum's natural tendency to resist the chroming process is the problem. Please help me understand this. Thank you.

Jane Logsdon
- Hagerstown, Maryland


November 5, 2008

A. Hi, Jane. Your dealer sounds more reasonable than most. We have several threads here where a dealer is rejecting the claim that the peeling is a manufacturing defect even though so many chrome platers know that it is.

As for pitting, nothing lasts forever and aluminum is not particularly robust in a salty environment. So the rims are going to pit and corrode at some point and it's a question of whether 3 years is a reasonable life. I doubt that calcium chloride is more corrosive than sodium chloride.

Good luck in your expectation that the county owes you new wheels ... I think you have a better chance of winning the mega-millions lottery than collecting damages from the county on that basis :-)

Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Chrome Reverse Wheels

November 27, 2008

Q. I have been shopping for new rims for my 04 Monte Carlo for a couple of years and need some help trying to find the Chrome Reverse look. The only thing anyone around here wants to sell is the oversize 18-22's which require low profile tires in order to maintain the correct diameter. This also re-engineers the ride to an uncomfortable state, effectively removing a large part of the spring rate built into suspensions by shortening the sidewall. All I want is a wider stance with chrome and it seems to be too much to ask. I don't care about riding on something 'out of fashion' because at my age, I'm out of fashion, so who cares? I think if I could find a Chrome Reverse 16" rim for this car it would really be a beautiful retro look. I believe in steel and chrome. Any ideas?

Mike Heinrichs
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


December 12, 2008

A. Hi, Mike. I think that "reverse" wheels simply means putting regular steel wheels on your car "wrong side out". The central hub area of a steel wheel has a concave dish shape; so if you reverse them, the car will have a greater tread width.

32108

"Just tuned by car now, she really peels,
Lookin' real tough with chrome reverse wheels"
-- Jan & Dean, "Drag City" - 1963


I can't speak for safety questions or insurance regulations; but ignoring those issues, it might be as easy as that, although there could be wheel well clearance issues as well; I think most reverse wheels were used on cars that were raised, which would minimize the clearance issue.

If your steel wheels will fit, or other available steel wheels will, you should be able to find a shop that can nickel-chrome plate them. But again, I'm not claiming it's safe -- and we live in a nanny state these days, where everyone is queasy about safety in a way that they just weren't 50 years ago. Best of luck.

Regards,

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


Machined wheels vs. cast wheels

August 13, 2010

Q. I have read through the entire post and am pretty convinced that I am not buying chrome wheels. But what about machined wheels? I have seen a couple of them on sites like tirerack.com and they say machined wheels. Is this aluminium wheels whose face is polished and the rest of the wheel is painted?....is there any maintenance issue related to this machining process? I know they coat the polished surface with some kind of clear to protect the shiny look, but am not sure.

Any insight on this subject will be helpful.

Thanks

Javed Khan
- South Brunswick, New Jersey, USA


October 17, 2010

A. Javed,

Chrome wheels kept clean will last pretty long, but they are such a pain to keep clean. Even more difficult in areas with snowy winters. One would be better off changing to a set of fully painted winter wheels, or keeping the car garaged for the winter to preserve the chrome on the wheels.

Machined wheels mean the face is left with a bright machined finish and the rest of the wheels is either painted or the aluminum surface is shot blasted. The wheel goes through non-chromate conversion and then then coated with an acrylic clear coat to protect the surface.

Because the industry was required to switch from chromate to non-chromate conversion, it is a bit more likely the machined aluminum will get filiform corrosion because of the "sharp" edge left by the machining process. Acrylic powder coatings have a harder time keeping corners sealed, so a polished finish with clear coat resists corrosion better with it's rounded edges.

Ken Wong
Aluminum Wheels - Los Angeles, California, USA



April 30, 2012

Q. Hi,

I have a set of Racing Hart wheels that are peeling very badly. It is a chrome finish, and I really like the look, But I didn't know what would be my best option after I have that finish chemically removed. I like the look of nickel plating, but will I have the same problem as the chrome? and what is nickel chrome plating? If I wouldn't have the peeling problem with nickel plating, what is the average price difference between that and powder coating?

Thanks so much!

Emmy Bodner
- georgetown, Indiana, USA


May 1, 2012

A. Hi, Emmy. Please see our FAQ, "Introduction to Chrome Plating" to understand what people mean by nickel plating vs. chrome plating, and what nickel-chrome means. But in short, for your purposes, they are all essentially the same thing. I think you'll find powder coating significantly less expensive. Good luck.

Regards,

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Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


November 25, 2012

Q. I have a 2006 Jeep Commander with Chrome Plated Aluminum rims. The road salt is killing these rims. What should I use to polish these rims and what should I use to seal them to protect them as much as possible?

Darren Nielsen
- Toronto, ON, Canada


November 29, 2012

A. Hi. Darren. Mother's Mag & Aluminum Polishamazoninfo or similar will be fine for the polishing, but you probably need some sort of power device (a power buffer or at least something like a Mothers Power Ballamazoninfo mounted in an electric drill, as just rubbing the compound on with a rag won't give you the abrasive action you'll want.

Two-component automotive clearcoat should work as a sealer. If you don't have the two-head paint spraying equipment for that, you could try the new 2 in 1 rattle cans =>

but I can't personally vouch for how well they work.

Regards,

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

2K Clearcoat



June 6, 2013

Q. Hi, I have a 2004 Mustang GT with clearcoated 5-spoke Chrome Mags. I have tried to polish these rims, without much success. Should I buff the Clearcoat? If so, what should I use?

32108-2

I have heard that some people remove the clearcoat, and just buff the chrome. I would Really like to make them SHINE. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Ron

Ron Wightman
- Calgary Alberta Canada
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^


June 15, 2013

A. Hi Ron. Everything that is bright is not necessarily chrome. Chrome plating doesn't need clearcoating, and clearcoating tends to not adhere to chrome very well anyway. So, if these wheels are clearcoated, they may be polished aluminum, not chrome plated (I'm not a car or Mustang enthusiast, so I don't know). Yes, you need to remove the clear coating before polishing and, if desired, re-apply it after polishing.

-     -     -

To remove the clearcoat you use Aircraft stripperamazoninfo, which contains highly toxic methylene chloride. As a minimum, wear heavy duty protective glovesamazoninfo and wear real gogglesamazoninfo, not glasses or safety glasses, and work only outside and from upwind. Here's the best youtube video I found on removing the clearcoat:

Then you need to buff the aluminum back to a good shine, after which you can either clearcoat it (slightly less shine, but less maintenance) or leave the aluminum bare (more maintenance).

Again, here's the best youtube video I found on the polishing:

Polished aluminum can be very nice looking, and many people even prefer it to chrome, but if you are looking "to make them SHINE", you probably need to get them chrome plated or replace them with chrome plated wheels. Aluminum just isn't chrome. Good luck.

Regards,

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


How should I chrome plate alloy rims?

December 19, 2013appended

Q. I have just purchased a new car with alloy rims on and want to chrome them and I wonder what process I should use to make them last without deterioration and peeling.

gary theisz
- mission viejo, california



January 9, 2014

Q. Hello.
I have a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited that has factory Moduflex cast aluminum rims (platinum-clad). Apparently two of the rims (one being the spare) has significant corrosion on the inside of the bead, causing tires to leak. I was told by the tire shop (Discount Tire, whom I actually trust) that this is common in the Midwest for mid-2000s factory rims. I have been reading your responses to other people's issues, which have been very insightful. Can these wheels be repaired with clearcoat, as I have read with other wheels!

Thanks!

Steven Jepson
- Coralville, Iowa, USA
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^


January 14, 2014

A. Hello Steven,
If the wheels are "platinum clad" you would not see much corrosion at all. Platinum (the precious metal) is way too expensive to be used on wheels. Ask anyone that plates precious metals that has had to buy platinum clad anodes recently. The wheels either have a "platinum finish" which could be a powder coating, or just paint that resembles the color of platinum. You could have the wheels E-Coated which is an Electrophoretic Coating. Some local plating shops have this ability. I'm not sure clear coat on wheels would hold up that long, especially considering your locale. Another option is to search for used wheels in good condition. Hope this helps!

Mark Baker
Process Engineer - Malone, New York, USA

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