Prepping your chrome for plating

September 1, 2019 | By Staff


I am about to take the all the chrome items from my ’56 Mercury in to be replated. Do you have any advice about what to look for, and how to get the best job? Is there anything I can do to make sure things come out right?


Actually there are a number of things you can do to ensure the best job possible. Start by checking with fellow hobbyists and restorers as to who does the best chrome work in your area. Then visit the shop to make sure you feel confident that they will do the job correctly. Take a look at their work to see if they are careful not to buff so aggressively that they blur or obliterate details in castings.

Make sure the chrome shop you are going to use is familiar with plating pot metal components too. Many production shops are not, and will end up literally dissolving your parts in the acids they use. Cast pot metal parts such as door handles and hood ornaments are usually made of some alloy of pot metal and they require special care and experience to plate properly.

Once you have all of your components off of the car, lay them out on your driveway or some other flat surface and photograph them all together. Give one print of your photo to the plater, and keep one for yourself so nothing gets lost at the chrome shop.

Wrap any threaded surfaces with masking tape to prevent them from being plated. If the plater chromes them the nuts that hold them in place will not fit anymore. One other thing you can do is to use a Dremal tool to etch a number or your name into an area on each component that won’t be seen when the part is installed, so you can be assured that you are getting your components back. Some of those trim parts can be mighty hard to find if the shop loses them or gives them to someone else unwittingly.

When you get your parts back from the chrome shop look them over carefully for nickel shadow, which will appear kind of golden or yellowish rather than the usual bluish color of chrome. Nickel shadow occurs when there is not enough chrome on the part. If you are not sure, hold the part up and exhale on the area that doesn’t look quite right. The moisture from your breath will cling to nickel shadow but not the chrome. If you find any thin spots or shadowing, take the component back and have them do the job properly.

You will want to paint the backs of bumpers in the color they were painted originally, or paint them silver to protect them. You can do this with rattle cans of Rust-Oleum, which holds up very well. Wash the backs with a strong mixture of dish detergent and water, then scuff them with sandpaper and prime and paint.

One old-school trick I still use and it has served me well, is to wipe down the new plating on the components with motor oil and set them out in the hot sun for a couple of hours. Chrome is porous, and the oil will soak into the pores and keep them from rusting. Wipe all of the oil off before installing the part.

Finally, put a coat of pure carnauba wax with no abrasives on the components to protect them. Also, when the car is going to be stored for the winter or any lengthy period, put on a thick coat of wax and leave it on without buffing or wiping it off until you want to use the car again. I have done this for many years with my classics, and it has worked beautifully, and I live near the ocean where the salt air is toxic to chrome.