Nothing shines quite like chrome. Gleaming chrome accessories add class to any truck and make a clear statement about your pride of ownership. But if you leave the bright metal unprotected, road salt and other harsh chemicals can quickly attack the thin chrome plating, inviting rust and pitting, and resulting in a not-so-good-looking truck.
Stainless steel and aluminum components also require regular maintenance to keep their good looks. The time and effort you spend keeping your chrome and other bright metal trim looking good reflects well on you. It also pays dividends in higher resale value.
Chrome holds a shine longer than other metals, but it oxidizes, rusts and becomes pitted if neglected. The good part is that it is easy to maintain a deep shine on chrome parts. Metal polish for chrome removes rust and can bring a shine back to even a heavily rusted part. If the chrome starts flaking off, the part is too far gone for polish, and it will have to be replated.
In the chroming process, copper, nickel and chromium are used. Parts to be electroplated are immersed in a bath with a salt of the coating metal, while electric current flows through it from a positive anode. The parts are connected to the negative cathode, causing atoms of the plating metal to deposit on their surfaces.
Linda Hou, director of operations at American Chrome Company, Mokena, Ill., says that the major difference in the quality of chrome-plated accessories is in the thickness of the plating. “Most people use a three-step process in which they plate steel with copper, nickel and chrome. Our company does a five-step process. We double nickel-plate over a layer of copper and also plate two layers of chrome,” Hou says. “The extra steps ensure a longer-lasting product, with more resistance to rust and a deeper luster.”
She recommends regular washing and polishing of a truck’s bright metal. This helps remove the components that cause rust on chrome. She also recommends using liquid or paste wax to protect the shiny metal. Most of the well-known metal polishes on the market do well. The key is doing the maintenance on a regular basis, she says.
“Acid washing will adversely affect chrome and stainless products,” Hou notes. “We recommend against using truck washes that use acid in the detergent. But more and more truck washing operations are steering away from that. Even if they do acid-wash the trucks, they keep it off the chrome.” Keeping that mirror-like finish on your chrome means rinsing it well and drying it after each wash, she says.
Chromed ABS plastic nut covers, hub cabs and other wheel
coverings are becoming popular, Hou says. American Chrome molds its own products from heat-resistant ABS, that incorporates a patented design, and puts them through the chrome plating process. The accessories are much lighter than metal, very durable, and they do not rust. Hou believes that chromed ABS will grow in popularity when more truckers learn of its advantages.
Chrome bumpers make a dramatic statement on trucks and are popular among owner-operators. The 75 Chrome Shop, off I-75 (Exit 66) in Wildwood, Fla., keeps about 40 bumpers in stock, and the staff can order any kind of custom bumper that you want, reports Freda Lee. The shop carries bumpers manufactured by Valley Chrome Plating in Clovis, Calif., a leading supplier of custom truck bumpers.
Truckers seem to enjoy shopping for new chome accessories, Lee says. “That truck is their home. They live in it, and they like to decorate like a home. They want it to look nice, inside and out.” The 75 Chrome Shop carries a broad array of chrome, stainless and aluminum accessories, components and metal care products. Among the most popular polishes sold at the shop are California Custom, Zephyr, Mother’s, Blue Magic and Wenol all-purpose metal polish.
Dozens of metal polishes are on the market. Some of them are made in small batches from closely guarded formulas, and they are available only by mail order. Others are widely distributed at truckstops, truck washes and auto supply stores. Old terry towels and soft cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts are the best polishing rags. Avoid using anything that can scratch the surface of chrome parts.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between highly polished aluminum and chrome. “When in doubt, hold a magnet up to it. Chrome is attracted to a magnet, but aluminum and stainless are not, observes Joe Merrit of Buff, Polish & Grind Industrial Supply Co. in Argyle, Texas. “If it’s chrome, it will look perfect, with a true mirror finish.”
Polished aluminum tarnishes easily, but many cleaning products and polishes are available to help keep it looking good. A badly tarnished piece can be restored to a bright finish by buffing with jeweler’s rouge. Some polishes formulated specifically for chrome can react with aluminum and damage the finish. Metal polish should not be used on anything that has been clear-coated because it can remove the coating.
Merrit advises against using a buffer on chrome because the friction created by a rotating pad can quickly wear through the thin chrome plating. “It’s safer not to use a buffer on chrome. Once you cut through the chrome, it’s too late – and you won’t know it until it’s too late. Then the part has to be stripped and replated,” he says. Stainless steel does not gleam like chrome or polished aluminum, but it polishes to a nice shine when it is buffered by any number of metal polishes on the market.
Role Model for Shiny
Owner-operator Darian Stephens, perennial winner of truck beauty contests with his showy, chrome-bedecked 1995 Freightliner Classic XL, has been looking for something to replace Easy Does It, one of the finest polishes for chrome and stainless he has ever found. He used the polish for years, and bought it directly from the man who made it in Fort Worth, Texas, until he lost touch with him, says Stephens.
“I like a polish that I can apply and keep going, polishing as much as I can before coming back to wipe off the haze,” says Stephens. “You shouldn’t have to stand there and rub off the polish marks. And it shouldn’t leave an oily residue that you have to keep wiping. Easy Does It was ideal, and I can’t find anything that works like it did.”
Stephens has his truck professionally buffed and detailed two or three times a year at Mirror Images in Oklahoma City. “They use jeweler’s rouge to bring out a high luster to the aluminum. Then, all I have to do is maintain it,” he explains. Most recently, he has been using Car Glow on the chrome and stainless.
Taking good care of his brightwork paid off for Stephens last November at the Great American Trucking Show Pride & Polish contest. He was declared Overall Winner in the Chrome Corner category, and he took first place in the Engine category.
Stephens prefers California Custom polish to keep up the aluminum on the truck, which has gone more than 847,000 miles in the last six years, hauling meat for National Carriers out of Liberal, Kan. To clean and bring back the mirror finish of polished chrome, he sprays it with Windex and dries it with a paper towel. In the winter, to protect the chromed parts on the undercarriage from road chemicals, he applies polish and leaves it on without buffing it.
Stephens is careful about where he has the truck washed. “Make sure the truck wash does not use any real harsh chemicals and brighteners because they can streak and stain your stainless steel and aluminum,” he says.
Carol Watson, manager of America’s Truck Wash & Chrome Shop, off I-70 (Exit 11) near Wheeling, W.Va., knows what harsh detergents and washing chemicals can do to a truck’s bright metal. “We use a milder formula, similar to Dawn dishwashing soap. It won’t leave brown spots or mark stainless steel, and it won’t dull polished fuel tanks,” she says. The truck wash facility, which washes approximately 8,000 trucks a week, does not use recycled water, says Watson, which can dull shiny metal.
In the chrome shop, Watson displays chrome and other bright accessories much like a jeweler displays jewelry. “That’s what it is, truck jewelry,” she says. “Chrome makes your truck look good and makes you feel better about it – and it helps you take pride in what you do.” The shop sells many triple-chromed, “show-quality” accessories. “You get what you pay for in chrome. The heavier plating lasts longer.”
Zephyr metal polish is popular among Watson’s customers. Other popular brands are Hoosier Metal Polish, Freedom Alumina-Shine, MFX Jeweler’s Rouge, Freedom Micro-Seal Polish & Sealant, Magic Mix wax and polishes and California Custom products.
Wheels are produced from various metals and finishes, including anodized aluminum, polished aluminum, machined aluminum and chromed steel. Select a cleaner formulated for your particular wheels, advises Eagle One, a manufacturer of metal cleaners, polishes, waxes and tire dressings.
For wheels and accessories that are frequently polished, Eagle One recommends its non-abrasive Billet Polish for aluminum and show chrome. It was designed to provide maximum depth, brilliance and a protective coating without scratching. Eagle One Mag-Chrome-Aluminum Polish is a jeweler’s rouge formula specifically designed for cleaning chrome, aluminum, copper, brass and stainless steel.
Tom Clark of Fenco Truck Accessories in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, recommends applying a wax over chrome after polishing it to protect it from oxidation. A good quality paste wax is best for long-term protection, he says. The truck market has been leaning more toward stainless steel and away from chrome, Clark notes. Stainless has become more cost competitive with chrome recently.
Overall, the market for bright metal accessories and trim has increased, mostly due to the growing demand from owner-operators, Clark adds. “A lot of people are holding on to their trucks longer rather than take a beating trading them on new trucks. To make their old truck look better, they’re spending more on accessories.”
In truck beauty contests, extra chrome gets bonus points from judges. Keith Bell, an owner-operator from Arp, Texas, likes to compete with his heavily chromed 2000 Peterbilt 379 and companion Great Dane stainless steel reefer. He favors Road Dog polish to keep the metal gleaming, and he and a friend went over the rig six times, cleaning and polishing for four days leading up to the judging at a recent truck show. “There’s no secret to making a truck look good,” Bell says. “Just wipe and wipe and wipe!”