Chrome or Stainless
It's all shiny - what's the difference?
By Bryan Martin
Nearly all of us truckers love our shiny chrome! We gotta have a little of it here and there on our rigs. ‘If it don’t shine — it ain’t mine!’ has been a slogan all of us can relate to. But hey, is it all the same?
Listen folks, I am gonna try and give you my ‘parts man’ evaluation of the difference between chrome and stainless.
Chrome is a treatment or a process that can be applied to steel, brass, copper, cast iron, aluminum and even plastic. The item being treated must be buffed and cleaned, then subjected to various chemical baths to prepare it for the chrome plating vat, where it is submersed and an electrical charge is applied that makes the plating solution adhere to the product, producing a brilliant mirror finish.
When I describe stainless steel, I compare it to plywood. It is usually a sheet of metal, made up of many different components — chromium, nickel, iron, manganese, molybdenum and carbon.
Chromium and nickel give it shine and the other items give it strength and corrosion resistance. Contrary to popular belief, you can stain stainless. It is stain- resistant, but not absolutely stain-proof— thus the name: stain less.
When it comes to shiny items for your truck, typically stainless items will last a bit longer than chrome items before you see them start to deteriorate. But with a decent schedule of regular truck washes and a little polishing, both materials should last a good long while.
• A true mirror finish
• Requires little maintenance, usually soap and water
• Chrome is a hard surface, usually fairly tough when it comes to chipping or dulling due to road trash and sandblasting that occurs when driving down thousands of miles of highway.
• Fairly scratch resistant
• Typically a chrome-plated part is less expensive than an all stainless steel part.
• If the surface is broken, due to a scrape, gouge or other imperfection, chrome plating can peel and expose a raw surface that will be unsightly, and possibly even begin to corrode or rust.
Where You Want Chrome
In my opinion, a chrome bumper will usually shine better than a stainless bumper. And when you need trinkets for your interior, exhaust pipes, or things like hood ornaments or light bezels, chrome is what you should reach for.
• Stain resistant
• Even if scratched or gouged, will retain its stain-resistant qualities
• Will not peel
• Can be factory polished to have a mirror-type finish (also known as a #8 finish)
• Can be repaired, welded and buffed, where a chrome-plated item cannot be repaired and still retain its original luster
• Typically more expensive than a part that has been chrome plated
• Stainless steel is softer than chrome, so the surface may have a tendency to dull quicker than chrome.
• Difficult to polish, in the “civilian” world
Where You Want Stainless Steel
Stainless is the perfect choice for big items such as frame covers and full rear fenders and any items too big or irregularly shaped to fit in a chrome plating vat. It’s definitely the way to go when it comes to light bars, battery box covers and such.
Bryan Martin leads the Chrome Shop Mafia at 4State Trucks in Joplin, Mo.