How To Restore the Chrome On Your Classic Car

You will ride eternal, shiny, and chrome.

Remove Rust From Chrome
Tony Markovich

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If you’re anything like The Drive’s editors, you actually take your car outside and let it experience the world—no garage shut-ins here. It breathes in neighborhood air, feels the local pavement, and gulps gas at highway exit gas stations. It also gets wet and dirty and becomes chemically unstable.

Many metal parts on a car are susceptible to weather, road conditions, and salt, and the unsightly result can be rust spots. This looks particularly terrible on chrome-plated parts, which become dull and pitted. Fortunately, similar to how you can correct your paint, you can also do a DIY chrome correction at home.

If your chrome has light corrosion, not chips or scratches, you should be able to shine it up with a few simple products and quick steps. The Drive’s OCD editors are here to help guide your microfiber towel along the way, so let’s get to it.

What Is Chrome?

Chrome is a shiny hard metallic coating primarily made of chromium. It is typically electroplated onto the surface of another metal such as steel for decoration and protection. On cars, it is most commonly found on wheels, bumpers, grilles, and trim pieces.

Why Does Chrome Become Rusted?

Throughout time, the metal encounters oxygen and water and begins to oxidize, which causes rust. 

A faded red BMW parked on an LA curb.
Tony Markovich

Some people like natural patina.

The Basics of Restoring Rusted Chrome 

Estimated Time Needed: 1 hour to 1 weekend

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Exterior

Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you leave the garage in the same condition in which you entered.

Everything You’ll Need To Restore Rust From Chrome

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tool List

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You still won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

A Travco RV parked on the street.
Tony Markovich

Not all chrome ages the same.

Here’s How To Restore Your Car’s Chrome

Let’s do this! 

  1. Wash and dry your car.
  2. Tape off any paint or parts on your car near the area you will be working on.
  3. Apply a small amount of chrome polish to your applicator pad or fresh microfiber towel.
  4. Start with a small area and work the polish into the chrome. 
  5. Wipe the polish off with a different fresh cloth.
  6. Repeat steps 4-5 until your wheel, bumper, or trim piece is finished and returned to its shiny glory.

Can I Use Steel Wool? 

The opinion on this topic seems to vary from person to person. Some people say that bronze wool, brass wool, or 0000 (fine grade) steel wool can be used with chrome polish to help remove any dirt, stains, and rust, as long as it’s real chrome. Others suggest that using steel wool will leave microscratches and possibly dull the surface.

As for us, we’ll stick with the chrome polishing compound, because at the end of the day, steel wool on chrome plating is still metal on metal. If you do choose this method, use extremely light pressure and try it on a small lesser-seen spot first as a test.

Tony Markovich

Chrome can be used for numerous car parts. 

FAQs About Rusted Chrome

Q. So Does WD-40 Remove Rust From Chrome?

A. WD-40 directly claims it can remove rust from chrome, but we’d stick to the chrome polisher for car parts.

Q. Alright, How About Vinegar?

A. Vinegar has some acidity to it, which could slowly remove rust, but it’ll likely take longer and does not have a built-in sealant like commercial chrome polish.

Q. Then Does Coke Remove Rust From Chrome?

A. The acid in Coca-Cola can break things down, but we prefer using the stuff specifically formulated for the job.

Q. What About Toothpaste, Does It Remove Rust From Chrome?

A. Toothpaste is abrasive, so it’ll probably do the trick, but we recommend a chrome polisher. They have abrasive properties made for the job and include built-in sealers.

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