Many of the accessories on our site are described as “chrome”, “polished aluminum”, or “polished stainless steel”. With many types of metal and finishes out there, it’s common to wonder what the differences are. This guide will explain the advantages of each.
Contrary to popular belief, when something like a nerf bar is “chrome” it is not solid chrome. In fact, any accessory with the word chrome in it means it has been finished with chromium plating. It is a finish created by electroplating a thin layer of chromium on the surface of metal (such as steel, aluminum, or zinc alloys) or ABS. This gives auto accessories a futuristic style and reflective surface while protecting the core of the accessory from corrosion.
Aluminum is a naturally occurring element; in fact, it’s the 13th element of the Periodic Table. It’s also one of the most common element in the earth’s crust. There are many grades of aluminum, but auto accessories are usually made out of aircraft grade aluminum because of its high strength and lightweight properties. However, before it can be shaped into the billet grille or rocker panel of your dreams, it is first chemically refined going through two processes turning it from ore to alumina and then into pure aluminum. From there it can be used for any number of things, like manufacturing auto accessories.
The “polished” part of polished aluminum refers to the processes of using a series of abrasive compounds to gradually smooth the aluminum’s surface. The result is a shine similar to chrome, but with a slight milky haze, though the untrained eye would simply think it’s chrome. The major advantages aluminum has over chrome-plated steel are lighter weight and natural resistance to corrosion.
Polished Stainless Steel
When an auto accessory is stainless steel it’s stainless steel from the inside out. Stainless steel is an alloy made by adding chromium and nickel to steel. The amount of chromium and nickel varies by grade, but their addition gives steel a natural resistance to corrosion. Stainless steel is considered a very strong and corrosion-resistant metal. While it is heavier per square inch than aluminum, many enjoy its subtle difference of reflective sheen. The term “polished” really just refers to how the stainless steel was finished. It means after the accessory was shaped, it was then buffed and rubbed with an abrasive compound until a mirror-like luster is achieved.
The look of polished stainless steel compared to chrome is nearly identical. While the cost of a stainless steel accessory is higher than its chrome-plated counterpart, it’s quite a bargain for long-term usage or in northern states where salt damage is common.