In search of shine

| February 03, 2008

While chrome additions would seem to be just frills, they’re a lot like the rest of the truck – they do their job better and longer if you take good care of them. Here is how to choose, mount and maintain shiny chrome and stainless steel extras to make your truck shine.

Don’t compromise on quality
Our sources at several leading chrome shops and manufacturers unanimously recommend that you buy quality chrome and other bright parts.

Higher-quality chrome is made through hexavalent chroming rather than trivalent, says Andy Gobel of Denver-based Outlaw Customs. In chemistry class, you may have learned that a valence is a connection point or “bond” between atoms. Trivalent refers to three connection points, while hexavalent refers to six, so hexavalent implies a much stronger bonding between the chrome and the steel underneath.

“We use ‘hex’ in our product, which is what is used in OEM parts,” Gobel says. “The finish is better because of how long the manufacturing process takes. Hexavalent spends 15 minutes in the nickel process and an hour to an hour and a half in the chroming process.”

Gobel adds that in the trivalent process, the product is dipped for just 20-30 minutes. The result is “darker chrome with less luster,” he says, which you’ll see in a lot of overseas products.

All our sources agreed that, when it comes to chrome, you’d be smart to buy a domestic product. The process is so complex that only countries with the most advanced manufacturing can really do it in an ideal manner.

“You should buy a good American part from a company that has a reputation in chrome,” says Rob Fracci, who does all marketing for Grand Rock Exhaust Systems. “The part should have at least a one-year warranty. Beware of cheap Chinese parts.”

Another critical part of the process is preparing the part, Gobel says. “The most important thing in chroming to get the best finish is the prep work. The part must be perfectly clean, sanded and ground down to bare metal.” So, if talking with a plater, ask them not only about whether their product is trivalent or hexavalent but how they prep their parts.

Brad Taylor, sales and purchasing manager at 4 State Trucks, a chrome shop in Joplin, Mo., says it can be hard to know what you’re getting just by looking at the product. “The best way to protect yourself is to always deal with a company that you know and can trust,” he says, “[a company] that will stand behind the products that they sell.”

Ray Lucas of Valley Chrome Plating is president of the National Association for Surface Finishing. He reports that the organization is working on a program to certify chrome platers.

Of course, some parts on trucks that look shiny and almost like chrome are actually stainless steel. Says Lucas, “Most bright metal accessories are actually made of highly polished stainless steel. There are two different grades, 304 and 430. 304 is the higher grade. We make stuff for Paccar Parts, and they only use 304.

“There is an easy way to tell the difference. A magnet will stick on 430, but not on 304. If a magnet won’t stick to it, buy it.”

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