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Chrome Repair and the Basics of Rechroming

Replace or Rechrome?

The decision to buy a new piece or rechrome the original piece depends mostly on two main issues: the cost of the rechrome compared to the cost of a replacement part; and the quality of the replacement part.

The cost of rechroming a part especially a part with a complicated surface such as a trunk star can be considarably higher than the cost of a replacement part. If the quality of the old and new parts are similar, or if quality is not important, it may make economic sense to install a new part and perhaps try to sell or trade the old part.

Cost of Rechroming

Costs vary from place to place and vary with the quality of the rechroming as discussed below. Cost increases if the parts need manual repair such as dents, warts, rust. Also, a small complicated piece like a trunk star can cost more than a larger, smooth piece.

Triple Plating

Triple plating refers to the process of dipping the piece into three different metals: copper, nickel, and chrome.

Steps in Rechroming

  • The piece is cleaned, dents removed, and the existing chrome is removed. Blisters are either ground down or if really bad, drilled out and plugs inserted.
  • The cleaned up, smooth piece is first dipped in copper. For a good quality job the piece will be in the copper bath for several hours. A cost cutting shop may reduce the time the piece stays in the copper bath.
  • A part coming out of the copper bath looks strange. Imagine seeing a pure copper plated Pagoda bumper.
  • After the copper bath, the part is buffed smooth. Buffing cannot be done after the next plate is added so the after Copper plating is the last chance for good buffing.
  • The copper bath can cause some detail to be lost on pieces with complicated sufaces or sharp corners such as a trunk star. A good shop will have a technician restore the surface detail after the Copper plating.
  • After the piece is nicely finished, it goes into a Nickel bath. Nickel has a yellow cast to it while Chrome is blue.
  • Chrome that is wearing away will often have yellowish spots that cannot be polished out. These mottled areas result from the underlying nickel layer showing through the worn chrome layer.
  • The Nickel bath takes only about about 30 minutes. The nickel is intentionally thinner than the copper layer. The main purpose for the Nickel is to create a layer that Chrome will adhere to. Chrome does not plate well directly on Copper.
  • All the baths use electrodes and anodes to do the plating with wires connected to each piece. The anode gives up its metal and eventually has to be replaced.
  • After the Nickel plating and inspection comes the Chrome plating. The Chrome plating takes very little time perhaps as little as one minute or even less. The Chrome plating is the easy, quick part of the entire process. The Chrome plating is followed by a final inspection.

A good rechrome will last many years. Some shops give a lifetime warranty.

Re-Chroming operators are experiencing difficulty in complying with the increasingly restrictive environmental regulations. Some shops have closed due to the high cost of compliance.

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A trick to re-inserting the rubber strips to the side mouldings. Fill a bucket with hot water, and immerse the rubber strips in until soft and flexible, then insert into the chrome mouldings (chrome plated brass).

I have what appears to be small spots of rust on some of the chrome. Is there anyway of fixing it? Should I start saving to buy new parts or to re-chrome it?

If it's surface rust, there's a good chance you can polish it right off. If rubbing it with a wet rag doesn't do the trick, proceed through whatever polishing compounds you have available (finest - grittiest), then through increasingly abrasive grades of steel wool.

Try using a good quality metal polish - I've had good results using "Auto-Sol".

Anybody out there had any trim replated? What did it cost?

I did my front bumper in 1998. It was the only problem-piece (chromewise) on my car so I rechromed it when the car was painted. The total was about $400. $187 for each side and $26 for the center piece (Santa Barbara prices, which might be a bit higher than other places). It made a world of difference and still looks perfect.

Chrome cost is a variable depending on the condition of the chome pieces. I have found that a complete rechrome job can run as high as $4000. Not including those pieces that came back from plating warped or damaged by the process or that I needed to replace such as pot metal parts that have a tendency to fatigue and disintigrate. I am located in the southwestern U.S. so the cost may vary from area to area. Some items are best bought new as they are cheaper to buy new than replate. They look and fit better too.

I am getting ready to put new trim molding and windshield gasket on my SL. I would like to have the top header trim peice that curves around the top of the winshield sent out to be rechromed. Does anyone have any experience with removal of this piece. I would like to do this befor it goes to the glass shop so I do not have to make two trips.

Get 2 new pieces. These are just sheet metal but they come out and go back in with rubber windshield gasket. You need to be there when they are doing the job, as most shops ruin these pieces by using a sharp tool for fitting them in. They end up all nicked up. Have the shop foreman verify their condition so you can get the shop to pay for any damage.

I very recently purchased these two pieces new as well as the two clips that cover the joints at the top and bottom. My restorer indicated that they were aluminum? If that is correct plating is out. These pieces were not inexpensive; I believe that I paid about $200 or so from Caliber Motors for the two big pieces and the clips.

The rear end chrome on the 1971 280SL is showing wear...the parts that need improvement are the trunk handle, the left and right long thin strips alongside the handle, both rear light surrounds, and the right rear bumper. Considering cost and quality of re-chrome, am I better to re-chrome these parts or get new ones? One very helpful friend suggested at least the bumber should be re-chromed because of the high cost of a new bumper, and that the handle should be replaced because it's not very you agree? how about the other parts?

If the prices are reasonable, I would replace anything that is still available, and keep the old parts as spares, or for trading.

Tom Hanson: here's what new ones will cost. Mldgs under trunk lid $61.60, trunk handle $33.60, tail light bezels $145.60 each, rear bumpers $522.60 each.

Is it less expensive (better) to rechrome or purchase new trim pieces (door chrome) ? On the larger pieces (ie: bumper, is there a difference in letting a specialized shop (as in Hemmings) do the work, or will a normal automotive chrome shop do just as well? Also, on the subject of trim, how do you restore the lower aluminum door mouldings? Or is it best to purchase new?

I recently rechromed all the interior pieces on my car and found it to be a lot less costly to rechrome the parts than purchase new parts. In addition, some parts are difficult to come by. As far as places to get it chromed, I'm sure there is a reputable shop near you, but you do have to be carefull. There are good shops and bad shops.

Rechrome all the solid parts, and buy the aluminum trim new. It's not all that expensive.

I did a little investigation about rechroming the rear end brightwork. Found that it is best for $ to rechrome the pieces (rear bumpers, light surrounds, chrome bars on each side of the trunk lock...also that two smaller pieces (truck star and trunk handle) are available from MB and cost less new ($35 each) than re-chrome... I've been told that re-chrome quality is not always the same...preparation can vary: removing dings, blemishes, how many dips (coats) etc... I'm going to a re-chrome place in Philadelphia recommended by a member here who has owned more than 10 cars over the years...

My experience: price compare first. The heavy parts, if the metal is in good shape (and sometimes even if itís not) repair & rechrome. The aluminum & most of the diecast zinc, buy new. Some of the zinc is becoming problematic with regard to current stock, so hang on to everything until you have the new in hand. I waited months for some things that were always "coming in with the next order" only to finally be told, oops, Germany is out of stock, & no one is sure when they will get around to making more.

Trying to put new rubber gasket material between the bumper guards and the bumper. Should be an easy job but not for me. The edge of the guard fits into a groove in the rubber. The gasket takes a couple of 90 degree turns at the top which really twists the gasket. I can't keep the rubber fitted into the groove while tightening the guard to the bumper. I tried rubber bands, tried holding the guard against the bumper while tightening...the rubber has a mind of its own and slips out. I thought about taping the gasket to the guard with masking tape but some of the tape will be stuck forever between the gasket and the bumper. I have some Goop glue which might be able to hold the gasket in the groove while I tighten. Is Goop the way to go? Any better suggestions? I don't have much in the way of tools or supplies so help using common household items would be best for me.

I don't know about Goop glue. I have a motorcycle with a part that is a similar challenge, and I use plain old rubber cement. It holds well, cleans up very easily, comes apart when needed, and is readily available. I would probably pair that with Cees' idea of softening in hot water.

I replaced my gaskets without any difficulties but, I did it during the summer. Ceesí hot water idea is a possibility but, I would look for a heated garage or wait for some warmer weather. A hair blower might prove to be very helpful.
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