Pitting and Deteriorating Chrome Rims
Can they be fixed? Because chrome rims are plated rather than painted, the process to restore damaged chrome is lengthy and expansive. It produces toxic wastes and is heavily regulated by the EPA. Due to the environmental hazards, re-plating isn't done locally. Even after stripping the old chrome and re-plating with new, the wheel may not look great
Chrome plated rims continue to increase in popularity because of their flawless, bright and reflective finish. When new, they look beautiful and add glamour to any vehicle. But when damaged, the pitted and peeling chrome is an eye sore!
Unfortunately, because chrome rims are plated rather than painted, they cannot be refinished as easily as standard rims.
Chrome is applied via a plating process over the aluminum alloy wheel. By itself, chrome will not adhere to aluminum. And, because dissimilar metals corrode when touching, it was discovered that by using zinc and copper plate between the chrome and the aluminum, the chrome will adhere to the aluminum and not corrode.
Why, then are your chrome rims deteriorating?
While driving, especially at high speeds, gravel is kicked up from the road and hits the wheels. This causes very small abrasions in the chrome surface and occurs inside the “barrel” of the rim as well as the face.
“Curb damage” will also break the “chrome seal”.
In addition, the movement of the tire on the rim deteriorates the bead of the rim over time.
Once this process begins, you will notice distinct deterioration of the finish. This is aggravated further by the salt used on roads which becomes trapped under the plate. Without washing, the salt will eat into the alloy rim itself.
Repairing Chrome rims is possible, but expensive.
If you catch the problem in the early stages of deterioration a local rim repair shop may be able to repair the rim. This is done by sandblasting, shot-blasting and smoothing out the damage by sanding and painting over it. Now, of course, your rims will look good but they will be a different color than chrome.
If the deterioration to the chrome is more severe, and peeling has begun, you will need to send the rims to a shop specializing in “re-chroming”.
Since the chrome is applied via a plating process, the old plate must be removed and the rim surface smoothed out. This is done with industrial shot or sand blast equipment.
Once the wheels are stripped they will be polished then re-plated with copper and zinc and chrome to regain their original luster.
Many people send their rims to California for re-plating. (Google “rim re-plating, CA”) This is expensive and usually takes about 8 weeks. Typically the rims are sent to Mexico where the actual work is done and environmental laws are not as strict.
There are a few reasons for this, the most significant being EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations limiting the hazardous air pollutants released into the air due to the use of chemicals needed in the plating process.
Unfortunately, you may notice that you still see deterioration or corrosion under the new chrome plating. The quality of the work is often unacceptable and disappointing especially considering the time and expense.
There is one more option if you catch the problem in time before the chrome starts peeling really badly. If the chrome is just beginning to pit, it can be sandblasted and then powder coated. Of course the wheels will no longer be shiny chrome, but it is a way to save the rims and a lot of money on re-chroming or buying new rims.
Left: Pitted Chrome Rim Right: Repaired and Powdwer Coated Rim by Wheel-Tech
Despite the drawbacks, chrome is a beautiful finish. Prevention is the best way to insure a longer lasting rim. Simply clean the rims regularly with a detergent such as dish soap followed by a thorough rinsing. This is especially important during and after winter when salt and road chemicals speed the deterioration process. Also consider swapping out your chrome rims for a painted alloy set in the winter months.