Car and motorcycle parts used to be manufactured almost exclusively from metal, because metal offered an impressively bright and lustrous finish, which was attractive to consumers and enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, metal trim is expensive, and unnecessarily heavy. The disadvantages of metal components caused the automotive industry to look for an alternative, which they found in plastics, which were light-weight and flexible, and had a low manufacturing cost.
The drawback to plastic trim is that it cannot parallel the highly lustrous, bright finish of metal components. Eventually, techniques were developed for plating ABS plastic with metal, usually chrome, to combine the lightweight flexibility of plastics with the durability and bright finish of metal, creating a product with all the advantages of both materials.
Almost any material can be electroplated, including plastics, and even organic materials. Unfortunately, these materials are not electrically conductive, which means they can’t be electroplated in the same way metals can.
This problem is solved by creating a layer of electrically-conductive material on the surface of the substrate, or component to be plated, which adheres well to both the plastic and plating material, and allows the plastic to be electroplated by traditional means.
Typically, a chromic acid and other solutions are used to etch the surface of the plastic substrate, after which a thick layer of copper is applied to compensate for the difference in thermal expansion between the plastic substrate and the metal coating.
One to two thick layers of nickel is then applied, to prevent corrosion of the copper, and as a base layer for the chrome. The chrome plating is then applied, via conventional electroplating methods.
Electroplated plastic trim has been appearing, with increasing frequency, on cars and motorcycles since the 1970s, when the aforementioned process of electrodepositing plastic was perfected. Chrome-plated trim has always been most popular in North America, and the trend reached its peak in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. The use of these parts has also increased in Europe, by about 50% since 1993, and has almost doubled over the last seventeen years in the United Kingdom.
Most consumers purchase cars that come from the factory with chrome-plated plastic trim, but some enthusiasts choose to have these parts replated with high-quality show chrome, or to chrome-plate other plastic accessories and fixtures. Chrome plating, on any part of a vehicle, will improve its durability, and offer an aesthetic enhancement.
Almost any plastic component or accessory can be chrome-plated by a company that specializes in machining and electroplating, and doing so can beautify your ride, while saving you money down the road.