As cars become more mass-produced, the many parts get replaced with cheaper and easier-to-source materials as opposed to the heavier, more expensive metals and leather common with classic cars. This means, what used to be chrome and leather is now plastic and leather imitation. To get the same classy and luxurious look, though, there are ways to recreate the chrome dials and other features in a modern car.
Plastic parts do not need to look cheap, especially since they are just as good and durable as the older chrome parts. The greatest thing, though, is that your plastic dials and parts can now be chrome-plated thanks to new technologies. Chrome can now be added to almost any kind of surface, as well as plastic.
Why Turn Plastic Into Chrome?
Adding chrome to plastic parts does not really improve the performance of these car parts, so this is mostly an aesthetic step. It can give it the same sheen as the older chrome car dials in classic automobiles. The purpose is more or less the same as when jewelry or utensils are plated with gold, silver, or other metals to give it a better appearance.
Still, some other benefits can be seen when plastic parts become plated with chrome. First of all, it makes the part look more expensive and shiny. There is nothing nicer than a new car with its fresh-from-the-factory shine inside and outside.
Second, plastic is not as strong or durable as metal, so turning it to chrome makes it less likely to break easily. Third, it becomes capable of conducting electricity, which means parts that used to only be possible with metal materials can now be replaced with the more affordable plastic coated with chrome. Despite this, the part remains light and flexible, unlike full metal.
Lastly, chrome plating is more resistant to corrosion and chemical attacks, making it a great option for use in car parts. It is also more UV-resistant and water-repellant than uncoated plastic. It is also much easier to clean.
What Happens When You Turn Plastic To Chrome?
The plastic parts do not have to be plated in full, especially if only a specific surface is exposed. Of course, if your purpose is to reinforce or strengthen a plastic piece, then you can have all of its surfaces chrome plated. The plating is also only superficial, meaning you are not really transforming the plastic into chrome and, instead you are adding a layer of chrome so that it looks metal and not plastic.
There are also quite a few options when it comes to the finish or look of your plastic-turned-chrome automobile parts. You can opt for a textured finish, or have a glossy or matte metal finish. If you are into classic cars, you can opt for an antique bronze or copper look that will surely look classy on your car.
It is important to note, however, that not all kinds of plastic can be turned into chrome. It is best done on the most rigid plastic parts as flexible parts can break during the plating process. The whole procedure will apply quite a bit of pressure on the plastic parts, so make sure you have them checked out by an expert before doing the plating process.
The Most Popular Way To Turn Plastic Into Chrome
The plastic chrome plating process is the most common way of transforming plastic into chrome. While it sounds so simple, it is anything but. This is because there should be a few steps to be done to prepare the plastic part where the chrome is applied. This means coating the part with some nickel or copper (the process is called electro-less plating) first.
Electro-less plating means there is no electric current used to apply this layer but this coating turns the plastic conductive so that you can apply the chrome plating afterward. Without this step, the chrome plate cannot be attached to the plastic part.
This process normally done by a plating company is quite time-consuming and pricey compared to other methods to turn plastic into chrome. Plus, it can only be done on rigid plastics as flexible plastic may break from stress during the plating process.
These are the six steps you take when doing the plastic chrome plating process.
The first thing to do is to immerse the plastic part into a tank that has a mix of concentrated chromic and sulfuric acids. This will allow the acids to create microscopic holes on the surface of the plastic piece. The tiny holes created will be filled with the metal coating that will be applied during the electro-less plating process.
After a certain amount of time, the plastic piece needs to be removed from the first mixture and then transferred to an alkaline mixture. This is necessary so that the acids get neutralized and stop eating or creating small holes into the plastic piece. This step is also very important so that there are no acids left over on the plastic that may disturb the plating process later.
- Catalyzing And Accelerating
The next step is to apply a catalytic film on the surface of the plastic piece so that it is ready for the electro-less plating process. But before you do this step, you will need to immerse the small piece of the car into a final bath so that all chemicals from the previous step are fully removed. Moreover, it accelerates the film so that it reacts more quickly to the metal plating to be applied to the plastic part.
- Electro-Less Plating
As mentioned above, this step is vital so that the plastic part is prepared for the application of the chrome by making it conductive to electricity. To achieve this, you need a very thin layer of nickel or copper and apply it to the plastic piece.
- Electro Plating
After the electro-less plating step, you will need to apply a negative charge to the metal coating you just applied. To do this step, you need to immerse the plastic piece that is negatively-charged into a tank that is full of positively-charged chrome ions. They will be drawn to the negatively-charged metal layer so that they become attached to the plastic piece.
After the attachment step, the ions will get drawn to the negatively charged layer and will attach themselves there. After they do, the ions go back to being neutral. The end result is a chrome plate layer that is even all throughout. Next, the plastic part is removed from the chrome and left to cool.
Other Ways Of Turning Plastic Into Chrome
- Vacuum Metalizing
This method is used mostly to make flashlight reflectors. Plastic parts are turned to chrome by washing them and giving them a basecoat first. After this step, they are exposed to an aluminum vapor cloud that will bond to the surface. The end result is a shiny surface that looks like chrome.
- Spray Chrome
This is a revolutionary way to turn any surface into chrome. The best part it is that it is very easy, so easy that you can do it yourself (just make sure you do it in a garage or a well-ventilated part of the house). The main ingredient is a water-based, three-layer spray that is both non-toxic and smooth.
The steps are also so simple. The plastic parts are prepared and sprayed with a black-colored base coat. Then the second layer of the chrome formula is applied, which can be done so easily because it does not run. The last step is to wash the parts with water before applying a last clear coat.
- Stretch Chrome Film
The newest methods include films or laminates that can be wrapped around the plastic parts. Of these 2 options, the stretch chrome film is easier to apply because the adhesive-backed film is stretchable. This means curved surfaces can be wrapped without trouble. In comparison, the Mirror Chrome FX Sheet, a laminate film, is limited to flat surfaces.
The stretch chrome film is also very affordable and quite easy to do-it-yourself.
- Killer Chrome
While there are cheap spray cans out there that promise to give a chrome finish, they do not deliver as good a result as Killer Chrome. Like spray chrome, it is a three-step painting process, but it is available as an affordable $129 kit that you can use at your garage. The spray delivers a smooth and beautiful silver paint.
Turning plastic parts of your car into chrome is not anymore a complicated or impossible process, thanks to advancements in technology. While the plastic chrome-plating process is the most common out there, it can be quite tedious and the prices are not as affordable. Fortunately, other methods are not just easier, but they are also cheaper.
This means you can transform cheap-looking plastic parts of your car into classier chrome. By doing so, not only do you upgrade the appearance of your automobile but you can also improve the strength of these plastic parts.