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How to Get Your Bumpers Re-Chromed

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One of the most important visual aspects of a muscle car are the shiny parts, you know, the chrome. Fresh paint trimmed out with dingy, dented and rusted bumpers, as well as other brightwork, detract from the overall fit and finish of any example of Detroit iron. With the EPA’s ever-increasing environmental controls, however, the days of the local chrome shop have gone the way of AMC. Not that the EPA controls are a bad thing, but just a few of decades ago these chemicals were simply dumped into the local creek, not a good thing.

What we are left with are a handful of regional and national chrome houses that specialize in restoring bumpers for body shops, restoration shops, and individuals. While the majority of their business comes from selling plastics bumpers for auto body shops, about a third of the bumpers sold are for cars and trucks up to about 10 years old. Where this matters to you is that these chrome shops run hundreds of bumpers a day. This means that the overall cost of plating your bumpers will be much less than at a smaller shop that may or may not have the ability to properly apply the nickel and chrome that is needed to create a lasting finish. That and there are a few of these shops that kind of side-skirt the EPA regulations and that is just, well, illegal. Besides that, the majority of smaller chrome shops use smaller tanks, which work great for them because they require less room, less chemicals and are easier to control the levels of chemical vapors in the air, which is the main gripe of the EPA and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). The problem is that these smaller tanks don’t have the space for large bumpers typically found on 50s through early 70s cars. In these cases, most local chrome shops actually send the bumpers to a regional chromer.

A common problem with chrome shops is that they simply clean and replate the metal. After years of parking lots, flying rocks and other road hazards, most bumpers have a few dents, dings and twists that need to be fixed BEFORE being plated. Chrome plating is just like paint, you can’t bump out a dent afterwards or the plating will crack and flake off. There are several steps that the platers take through the process, and as the bumpers move through, they are sent back to the previous stage if something is found. It is rare that a bumper makes it through the process with a flaw, though it does happen.

There are 2 types of chroming, double plate and triple plate. Most people consider triple-plated chrome to be the best. The problem with triple plated chrome is that the EPA has regulated this process almost into extinction. There are very few chrome shops that continue to triple plate chrome. The triple plating process consists of 3 stages; copper plating, nickel plating, and chrome plating. The copper stage is the issue here. This process is so dangerous to both humans and the environment that it is just not safe to perform it. The vapors cause too much damage even at very little exposure levels. Double-plating involves the nickel and chrome stages.

The real meat of the process is the actual chemical dipping. There are several stages to this process. First, the polished steel must be cleaned in a caustic soda bath, then rinsed, and then hung on the belt system. The actual plating occurs in 2 tanks, the nickel tank, which is what provides the reflective shine, and the chrome bath, which is actually just a sealant to protect the nickel from tarnishing. The bumper soaks in the nickel tank for 45 minutes to an hour while the electroplating process works. How this works is by negatively charging the metal bumper and placing it in the positively charged bath. The nickel is held in 50-60 bags hung on the side of the tank. These bags hold the nickel “coins” (not money coins, but about the same diameter, 1\4-1\2-inch thick) which then melt into the solution of nickel chloride, nickel sulfate, boric acid and sulfuric acid. This chemical balance must be maintained to strict tolerances or the result will not be suitable for use. The 45 minute to one hour time is important because if the bumper is left in too long, it will have a rough orange-peel finish. The bumper is then rinsed in a couple of acid and water rinses, and then the bumper spends the next minute in the chrome bath. Once the chrome is put on, the bumper is rinsed in a final wash, and drip dried.

Having your bumpers plated with fresh chrome will do wonders for the finish of any muscle car, restored or not. We had the chance to follow a regional plater, to see the process from drop off in Oklahoma City, to Dallas, and back. The price for a single Buick GS bumper ran $360, which is not bad considering that it carries a lifetime warranty.

1.When dropping off your bumpers for plating, you must have ALL of the brackets, bars, bolts and accessories removed. If you leave anything on the bumper, it will get torched off and you won’t get it back. Speed is the key with any production work, it took over an hour to remove all of the brackets from this 1971 Buick GS rear bumper.

1. When dropping off your bumpers for plating, you must have ALL of the brackets, bars, bolts and accessories removed. If you leave anything on the bumper, it will get torched off and you won’t get it back. Speed is the key with any production work, it took over an hour to remove all of the brackets from this 1971 Buick GS rear bumper.

2.With the bumper prepped and tagged at the Oklahoma City facility, it was off to Dallas. The process only takes a day to complete a bumper, but expect 2-3 weeks of turnaround time. This is the waiting station in Dallas where the bumpers arrive.

2. With the bumper prepped and tagged at the Oklahoma City facility, it was off to Dallas. The process only takes a day to complete a bumper, but expect 2-3 weeks of turnaround time. This is the waiting station in Dallas where the bumpers arrive.

3.There are thousands of these plywood templates that each bumper is compared to. It is simple but it works, the guys who do the straightening work are very efficient and skilled.

3. There are thousands of these plywood templates that each bumper is compared to. It is simple but it works, the guys who do the straightening work are very efficient and skilled.

4.Here, a bumper is getting a crack welded up. It is important that you ask the shop you use if they will repair the bumper and make sure it is straight.

4. Here, a bumper is getting a crack welded up. It is important that you ask the shop you use if they will repair the bumper and make sure it is straight.

5.The dents and dings are hammered out using good ol’ elbow grease. Not a fun job in 100+ temps in central Texas. It was cooler outside than it was inside in the middle of July when we were there.

5. The dents and dings are hammered out using good ol’ elbow grease. Not a fun job in 100+ temps in central Texas. It was cooler outside than it was inside in the middle of July when we were there.

6.The polishing room had a line of guys running bumpers on the grinders and polishers. There are several stages of this process to get a clean bumper. This first step was removing the old chrome.

6. The polishing room had a line of guys running bumpers on the grinders and polishers. There are several stages of this process to get a clean bumper. This first step was removing the old chrome.

7.The final step in polishing is the cone buffer. This guy works the corners that the big wheels can’t get to.

7. The final step in polishing is the cone buffer. This guy works the corners that the big wheels can’t get to.

8.Each bumper is washed in a caustic soda bath to remove all of the oils and residue from the buffing compounds.

8. Each bumper is washed in a caustic soda bath to remove all of the oils and residue from the buffing compounds.

9.The bumper is hung on a conveyor rack that holds the bumper and negatively charges the metal.

9. The bumper is hung on a conveyor rack that holds the bumper and negatively charges the metal.

10.The bumper is washed in a series of acid baths then dipped in the nickel tank for 45 minutes to an hour. The tank is aerated which causes the foaming. The nickel tanks are green, which really looks interesting when dripping off a bumper.

10. The bumper is washed in a series of acid baths then dipped in the nickel tank for 45 minutes to an hour. The tank is aerated which causes the foaming. The nickel tanks are green, which really looks interesting when dripping off a bumper.

11.These are the nickel “coins” used in the perforated sacks that hang inside the nickel tanks. Sometimes they come in plates, but the most common type is these round coins. These are a very high percentage of nickel, but not pure. Pure nickel is more refined, which costs more. The process leaches the nickel from the coins, so the byproduct is simply reclaimed.

11. These are the nickel “coins” used in the perforated sacks that hang inside the nickel tanks. Sometimes they come in plates, but the most common type is these round coins. These are a very high percentage of nickel, but not pure. Pure nickel is more refined, which costs more. The process leaches the nickel from the coins, so the byproduct is simply reclaimed.

12.The bumper is then placed in the chroming tank for about a minute. This is a seal for the nickel which keeps it from tarnishing and rusting.

12. The bumper is then placed in the chroming tank for about a minute. This is a seal for the nickel which keeps it from tarnishing and rusting.

13.The finished bumper is moved to the staging area, where it began, and allowed to drip dry.

13. The finished bumper is moved to the staging area, where it began, and allowed to drip dry.

14.The completed bumper is then buffed and wrapped in cotton-lined paper for shipping.

14. The completed bumper is then buffed and wrapped in cotton-lined paper for shipping.

15.The finished bumpers are then placed in the shipping area, ready to be sent back to their eager owners.

15. The finished bumpers are then placed in the shipping area, ready to be sent back to their eager owners.

17.Our Buick bumpers were shipped back to Oklahoma City and ready for pick up.

16. Our Buick bumpers were shipped back to Oklahoma City and ready for pick up.

18.Our finished bumpers are beautiful. Soon they will be back on the GS and ready to cruise. Hope you brought your sunglasses.

17. Our finished bumpers are beautiful. Soon they will be back on the GS and ready to cruise. Hope you brought your sunglasses.

About Jefferson Bryant (201 Articles)
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).

8 Comments on How to Get Your Bumpers Re-Chromed

  1. Norm Underwood // June 1, 2016 at 6:21 pm // Reply

    I have a 76 Olds Toronado that i need the rear bumper rechromed, if its all possible i would like to send photos for an assessment, thank you

  2. Mike Tompkins // August 23, 2016 at 1:38 pm // Reply

    Good day. Could you assist me in locating a place to get my 1965 Ford Fairlane 500 Bumpers rechromed or in purchasing some?

  3. Need get 85 dodge truck rear bumper re chrome

  4. I have a 1977 Olds 98 Regency and the left rear upper bumper is rusted through. As I haven’t been able to find a good replacement, I would like to know if the original is repairable. Thank you . Lino

    • Jefferson Bryant // February 19, 2017 at 9:50 am // Reply

      It really just depends on the extent of the damage. A good chrome shop can fix things you might not expect. I would think that you could find a suitable replacement somewhere, as there were quite a few of those cars. It will take a fair amount of effort though. Advanced Plating in Tennessee would be the place I called to repair your bumper.

  5. I am looking to get bumpers rechromed. I live in ohio, and travel regularly to Michigan. Is there a reasonable place, or a drop off point in either of those states?

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