Anodizing Cast Aluminum for Under-Hood Engine Parts
A discussion started in 2000 but continuing through 20192000
"The Chromating - Anodizing - Hardcoating Handbook"
by Robert Probert
Q. I came across this website doing a search on Anodizing. Very Impressive I must say, but still at a loss for what I'm looking for. Just about all the technical information on here is way over my head, definitely not my field.
From what I understand: Aluminum can be anodized but not Cast aluminum and get the same quality as the before mentioned.
My application is for automotive use and there are a few pieces that I need to get plated, ceramic coated or something other than spray paint. I am looking for a finish that's just about identical to the "purple" Maglite flashlights, and be able to withstand normal operating temperatures associated with car engines.
Any leads would be greatly appreciated. Please feel free to contact me either by phone or e-mail.
All I'm looking for is to get some custom work done for my engine rebuild the way I want it to look, and I know there is a way ... just having trouble finding the right path you might say. Thank you,CRAIG SKILES
- Atlanta, Georgia
Ed. note: If you're having trouble following, you could start with our Intro to Anodizing.
A. You are very probably looking for "two step anodizing". I doubt if regular dyed anodizing will have the fade resistance you are looking for. Find a job shop that does that type of work. There are not many, but there are several. Cost is a fair bit higher. Wrought alloy anodizes beautifully, extrusions are from good to bad and castings are from fair to very bad.James Watts
- Navarre, Florida
A. Powder coating may be an option. If the parts can be brought to a high luster, the powder coat can be applied with a translucent effect that is very attractive and this can be done in a large variety of colors.Bill Miller
- Shinnston, West Virginia
A. Hi, Craig and readers.
The internet is a gigantic one-room schoolhouse; so sometimes it's hard to find the information you're looking for at the level you wish. But here's a quick explanation about why it's hard to anodize certain types of aluminum: only the aluminum per se can be anodized, not the other stuff that may be in an alloy or casting like the silicon, copper, zinc, etc.
Some grades of aluminum (and all castings) have a lot of that other stuff. That other stuff doesn't etch away easily, doesn't get converted to glassy looking aluminum oxide, but just turns into a gray to black smut which may be porous or speckled, won't be bright or smooth, and won't dye to the colors you'd like. So the more of that other stuff, the less satisfactory the anodizing.
The next point, that James Watts mentioned, is that even if you do dye it, most dyes are organic and subject to degradation from high heat. So you probably need a special inorganic dye for an under-hood application. Those inorganic dyes, which are also used for architectural anodizing are applied by methods called "integral color anodizing" or "two step anodizing" but tend to be champagne to bronze to brown in color. Purple sounds unlikely for an inorganic dye; before the days of synthetic inorganic dyes, purple was so rare and difficult that it was reserved for royalty :-)
So, an attractive "purple mag lite" anodized finish for an under-hood application on cast aluminum doesn't sound very do-able to me, and would be a development project rather than something a consumer purchases. I think a powder coating or a ceramic sounds like a more promising approach. Good luck.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Plating or anodizing a Webasto aluminum heaterOctober 31, 2015
Q. I have my hands on a Webasto thermo engine heater, it's basically a mini buddy heater that uses diesel fuel to heat up an all aluminum body heat exchanger. On the other end of the heat exchanger the vehicles coolant passes through and is pumped throughout the engine. I had the unit sand blasted to bare metal to remove all built up dirt and soot. What I'm wondering is, what would be the best suitable method of ensuring it doesn't build up particulate as easily. I was suggested to have it anodized or plated, bear in mind it will see temperatures upwards of 200 °F, with contact with diesel fuel and engine coolant. Any advice is much appreciated.
- Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
December 8, 2018 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread
Q. Hi everyone
I'm anodising motorcycle parts and some cast aluminium like brake calipers and engine cases. When finished being anodised are very dark grey.
It makes it impossible to dye them anything but black.
What's going on here?
- Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
A. Hi Tom. We appended your inquiry to one of our prior threads on this subject. Cast aluminum contains a lot of garbage that isn't aluminum and will not anodize. You can somewhat improve the situation by de-smutting before anodizing, but you're unlikely to ever get great aesthetics from anodized cast aluminum.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"
December 10, 2018
A. Hi Tom,
In addition to Ted's comment which is of course spot on, what is your temperature during anodizing? If it is low enough to approach TypeIII / Hardcoat range, that also will darken your end result.
The best you can do with a gnarly casting IMO (our standard protocol here) is hot caustic etch the part, deox/desmut it very well, using a bath that has both Nitric acid and Sulfuric Acid with Ferric Chloride and LOTS of bubbles, and maintain your Type II temperature range at 70 °F +/- 2. And then cross your fingers and hope it comes out marginally attractive... That bit doesn't show up in the routers ;)
Black dyed parts aren't the worst thing to ever happen. But make sure you are using a black dye that will stand up to engine temperatures, fluid leaks/spills, and UV exposure over time.
Plating Solutions Control Specialist / Industrial Metals Waste Treatment - Brattleboro, Vermont
December 10, 2018
A. Both of above are right, but I take difference on alkaline etching. Caustic soda etching removes aluminum and exposes more silicon - exactly opposite of what you really want, so stay out of the alkaline etch. After non-etch soak cleaning, then 100% Nitric acid with 2#/gallon ammonium bifluoride, the parts will turn "frothy white" in about 15 seconds, take them out, rinse two times hurriedly, do not stop to look, anodize - that is the best you can get with that particular casting. After a few runs it will take more than 15 seconds. the above is for sand cast, some of those motorcycle parts are die cast in which case you can use only 50% nitric with one #/gal ammonium bifluoride. Anodize the castings at about 22 volts.
Robert H Probert
Robert H Probert Technical Services
Garner, North Carolina
and co-author of The Sulfamate Nickel How-To Guide
Are Honda motorcycle parts clear coated or anodized?January 7, 2019
Q. Hi, I will restore a motorcycle and is named sand cast (CB 750 Honda) and want to refinish the parts to aluminum color. I am not an expert but I once put an aluminum cover into a battery acid bath and it turned white, and is still white since 5 years.
The wheel hubs, control levers, brake pump & caliper, and engine covers all look like different alloys.
I can't find the process used by Honda in the 1970's but they look polished with a clear coat. I think in anodizing but after reading your expert advice, ask if the experts know the best finishing option for motorcycle aluminum parts? I am ready to learn. Thanks.
motorcycle and outboard mechanic - Mexicali Baja California Mexico
January 15, 2019
A. In my experience, many automotive parts are clear coated. This icludes motorcycle engines, and especially polished mag wheels. Do a scratch test in an inconspicuous area and see if it flakes.Evan Parent
Personal - Wilmington, Delaware
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