Chrome plating (chromium plating) is a technique of electroplating a thin layer of chromium onto a metal object. This can be done for a variety of reasons; to provide corrosion resistance, to increase surface hardness or for aesthetics.
Most bright decorative items on vehicles are referred to as ‘chrome’ which means steel that has undergone several plating processes to be able to endure the temperature change and weather that a car would be subject to.
There are also various levels of chroming. There is triple plate where there is a layer of copper, nickel and chrome. Then, there is also the standard plating technique which is nickel then chrome. Copper can also be used to build up delicate items.
Chroming or re-chroming a part can cost, but with anything, you get what you pay for. Part of the expense of chroming includes the preparation; cleaning, degreasing, stripping off old finish and potentially hand finishing awkwardly shaped components. Some items, particularly with exhaust things, also should be sealed up before going in tanks. Then, you have the cost of the chemicals and metal itself.
The cost of buying new can sometimes be less, as anything produced in bulk is likely to be cheaper.
You may now be tempted to buy new, but cost isn’t everything… If parts aren’t available or you wish to maintain originality, re-chroming is the way to go. Not only that, but new chrome parts can be chromed very poorly, especially if coming from countries with little or no regulation in the industry. Parts can be put together badly, with a wafer-thin layer of chrome, and with little or no prep work having been done. Chrome is also very porous and when it has been plated to plain steel, with no copper undercoat, it causes rust to occur, ultimately flaking of the plated finish.
Tony Burgess, owner of Wyatt Polishing Ltd http://www.wyattpolishing.com/, states that some reproduction components aren’t always as good a quality chrome as re-chroming. There are also differences between good quality chrome and ‘display chrome’ which is just for shop fittings etc not for outside materials such as bright work on a car.
There are times when buying new may be a necessity. If rust has set in on your part/component it may be better to get new. A metal polisher cannot work miracles and cannot transform old, rusty metal to new if rust has set in. They may offer to re-chrome the part if it is no longer available new, but a good metal polisher will warn you that the finish will not be perfect and may not last as once rust takes hold you can’t kill it.
In conclusion, re-chroming is a better option if the part is in good condition and you want a high-quality finish. Buying new is better if the part is too rusty and is also cheaper. But, expect lower quality.