Chrome Rims. A love / hate relationship. In my opinion chrome looks great on anything, but in this day and age of reducing weight by any means possible, we end up with problems in a relatively short time. We have chrome trim that is essentially a piece of plastic with a thin chrome covering and aluminum wheels that have a very thin layer of chrome attached to the surface. All is good and well while new, but get a few miles of use and changes start to occur.
In this article I am focusing on rims. Anything that can chip the chrome will allow contaminants, such as salt and road chemicals, to get under the layer of chrome and the chrome will start to lift due to oxidation of the aluminum.
Chrome wheels that keep losing air are most likely to have oxidation/corrosion at the bead sealing area and/or the valve stem area. ‘Pound on’ wheel weights have a coating on the weight to protect aluminum rims but the problem is the clip that is pounded on the rim is not and definitely will scrape the surface open. This is why tape-on weights are more common. You might think that if you start with tape-on weights you shouldn’t have any issues later on, but you would be mistaken. The tire itself can cause the surface to be damaged by debris being lodged between the rim and tire bead. Damage can be caused by rock damage (the little pea sized rock on pavement) and hitting curbs.
Did you know that in order to put chrome on aluminum surfaces, the surface has to be dipped in an alkaline solution of zinc which if done correctly produces a surface that can be plated? Otherwise, the aluminum will oxidize immediately. Then the plating is installed in thin layers of nickel and copper, with a final layer of very thin chrome plating.
Wheels with damage to the bead sealing areas will need to have the chrome completely removed and the surface sealed to repair the air leaks. However, this is just a “temporary” fix and tire pressures have to be monitored continuously. The best solution is to have the rims re-chromed or replaced. Both of these options are very expensive.
I love the look of chrome rims, just not the upkeep.