Protecting shiny bolts & brightening those lights

March 1, 2008 | By Richard Prince


In working on the restoration of my 1970 VW I have wire brushed the rust off of bolt heads, making them nice and clean and shiny. But I find that they rust up almost immediately after being exposed to water.

So what’s the answer to keeping rust off bare metal surfaces? A clear coat, or? Also, I’d like to get a little bit more brightness out of my taillights and turn signals. All connections are clean and shiny and the bulbs and lenses are new, but the housings’ internals are original and not in the best of shape. Is it possible to “resurface” the chrome reflectors used for taillights and parking lights? Or would I be better off going to a brighter bulb?


Bare steel bolts or any bare steel parts will develop rust extra quickly when they are extra clean. This is because the oils and other impurities that you removed by wire brushing actually serve to inhibit the formation of rust.

Clear coating the bolts will be helpful but is not usually very long lasting.

An obvious solution is to replace the bolts with new ones and in most applica- tions you can even use stainless steel bolts, which will likely resist rust for decades in even the most hostile conditions.

If you are interested in retaining the original bolts, or if you don’t want to spend the money to buy new stainless ones, a good, long-term solution is to have them professionally replated with their original type finish. For many years I had this work done by E.C. Sumereau & Sons, Inc. (290 Broadway, Huntington Station, NY 11746). You can likely find a similar business close to your home. If you do choose this route, try to get everything plated at the same time to maximize efficiency and minimize cost. While replating is a great option for many fasteners, it is not a good idea for all of them. This is because some plating processes, including some commonly used for automotive fasteners such as phosphating, pickling, and electroplat- ing, can cause hydrogen embrittlement. As the name implies, this is a condition that causes the metal to become brittle and susceptible to cracking. Because of this possibility, I recommend against replating critical fasteners, such as those used to hold important suspension, steer- ing or brake components.

The tail lamp housing reflectors were silvered to begin with, not chrome plated, and chrome plating them will yield inferior results.

You can have them re-silvered. Steve’s Auto Restorations in Portland, Oregon, offers this service.

While re-silvering is certainly an option, in your case it’s more sensible, from an economic standpoint, to simply buy new tail lamp housings. These are readily available for VWs and they cost about half of what re-silvering will cost you. Installing brighter bulbs is certainly another option, and is likely the easiest and least expensive choice.

However, be careful not to go with bulbs that generate more heat than the lamp lenses can handle.