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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
by David W. Bynon
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Most car fanatics love bright, shinny, polished metal. There’s nothing quite like perfect chrome, polished aluminum wheels, or bright stainless steel exhaust tips to improve the good looks of a car. Engine compartments with polished manifolds and other bright work really make a difference, too.

While polished metal is great to look at, it’s not always easy to achieve, especially if it has been neglected. This article gives some quick tips on metal polishing. With the right tools, and a little work, you can achieve great results.

Chrome is by far the most common bright work on an automobile. Chromium, the metal used to chrome plate steel and other metals, resists tarnishing and holds a shine better than all other metals, including platinum. Chrome has a single enemy: rust. Over time, chrome oxidizes and develops rust spots. The higher quality the chrome plating, the more it will resist rusting, but eventually, it will happen. If you allow the chrome to go too long without removing the rust, the chrome will become permanently pitted.

Heavy rust on chromed parts requires a decision: polish or re-chrome. Re-plating small parts is pretty easy. Simply remove the part and hand it to your local plating company. A couple weeks later you’ll have your part back looking like new. However, what if it’s a large part, like a bumper or a window frame? Re-plating a medium or large part is expensive. Even a modest size part, such as the hubcaps, can cost $100 or more. If you think there’s even a remote chance the rusted chrome part is salvageable, you should try to save it.

Removing rust and polishing chrome can usually restore chrome to a reasonable looking condition. If the rust simply coats, and is not deeply embedded, the chrome should come back to life. As long as the chrome is not flaking off, you have a chance of saving it.

Most pro detailers use fine grades of steel wool to remove rust from chrome. It’s quick and easy. Please use caution if you choose this route, as even fine (000) or super fine (0000) steel wool leaves minor scratches that you will need to polish with a metal or chrome polish to remove. Another product that works well is the household steel wool soap pad. The soap acts as both a cleaner and a lubricant to prevent scratching (use plenty of water). Warning: keep steel wool away from painted surfaces.

If you have rust in cracks and crevices you can’t reach, use a toothbrush and household cleanser. Wet the toothbrush, dip it in the cleanser, and start scrubbing. The abrasives in the cleanser remove rust very fast. Rinse well with plenty of fresh water.
The final step with chrome is to polish it with a good chrome or metal polish. Use a polish specifically made for chrome. With most metal polishes, a little goes a long way, so use just a little dab at a time. Also, the best metal polishing cloth is soft cotton, such as tee shirt material. Cotton fleece, such as an old sweatshirt works great, too.

<strong>Aluminum </strong>
Aluminum is an easy metal to polish. It’s soft enough that even the roughest aluminum parts can be quickly polished to a bright shine. A few years ago, in a fit of craziness, I decided to polish all of the aluminum parts on the topside of my 1989 Silver Anniversary 911’s engine. I went nuts. Everything was subject to being polished, including the intake manifold and the distributor. It was beautiful!

Polished aluminum has a fault: it tarnishes quickly. Most factory polished aluminum parts are sprayed with a clear lacquer, acrylic or urethane to seal the part. This is very common on polished wheels.

If you’re trying to restore a polished aluminum part that has been anodized or clear coated, you must first remove the coating. Many professional polishing shops use an aircraft strength stripper for this job. You must use these chemicals with extreme caution, and never let them come near your car.

You can polish aluminum by machine or by hand. When using a machine, such as a buffing wheel or buffing cones, I prefer to use several grades of jeweler’s rouge, which generally come in a bar form. Simply apply a bit of rouge to the wheel (while it is spinning) and begin buffing. Avoid using too much pressure. As the part begins to polish to brightness, use the next grade (finer) of rouge.

Polishing aluminum by hand, while not as fast as by machine, is pretty easy. Use aluminum or “mag” polish and a soft cloth. I like Eagle One Mag Polish and Mothers Mag Polish for hand polishing aluminum. Apply the polish to your cloth, working it into the polishing cloth, then begin polishing your part. The cloth will turn black. This is normal. Keep polishing. Use a clean, dry, soft towel to buff the polish off of the part and inspect your work. Repeat until you have achieve the desired results.

If you want to polish rough aluminum, such as an intake manifold or a distributor, you will first need to prepare the part by sanding it smooth. To do so, use a coarse emery paper, followed by medium, then fine. To make the polishing faster, use 600 grit wet an dry paper (wet) as the final sanding step before polishing.

<strong>Stainless Steel</strong>
Stainless Steel is a wonderful metal. Although it does not polish as brightly as chrome or aluminum, it will take on a good shine. The only problem is that stainless steel is very hard.

A common use for stainless steel is the exhaust system, including the exhaust tip. Many people choose to cover unpolished stainless steel exhaust tips with chrome sleeves, often for as much as $400. With a relatively new polishing cloth, called Luster Lace, you can polish that exhaust tip to a bright shine in just a few minutes.

Luster Lace, made by Luster Care, is a patented, polish impregnated material in widths from .5” to 1” wide. To use Luster Lace, you wrap it around a round or oval object (360 degrees) and pull back and forth (like buffing the tip of your shoe with a buffing cloth). The surface area of the cloth makes really quick work of exhaust tips and other round objects. It’s great on chrome and aluminum, too.

<strong>Protect Your Polished Metal</strong>
There’s no sense in spending time to polish the metal on your car if you don’t protect it. The most common protection is good old paste wax. Simply wax and buff. There are specialized metal sealants, too, such as Luster Care’s Luster Seal. Luster Seal protects chrome, polished aluminum, stainless steel and other metals for up to six months.

A Few Recommended Metal Polishes
* Luster Lace
* Luster Pad
* Eagle One Aluminum & MAG Polish
* Wenol Metal Polish
* P21S Multi-Surface Finish Restorer
* Never-Dull
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