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Rusted Chrome Air Cleaner

Chrome Car Cancer

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

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Do you know chrome can rust?

It's true.

I've run into it plenty of times.

And, no, I don't mean that the chrome finish has chipped or flaked off and rust has set into the steel beneath.

Chrome can actually get a surface rust. It's a very rust-resistant metal and that's why it's used as an additive in stainless steel when its smelted, but it will get a surface rust that can even eat its way to the nickel underneath.

For those that don't know, the standard procedure for applying decorative chrome to steel is to polish the steel, plate it with copper, polish the copper, plate it with nickel (the actual silvery, reflective surface you see when you look at the chrome), polish the nickel, and finally apply and polish the transparent chromium finish (the thin surface that protects the shiny nickel).

As you can see in the photo above, the chrome air cleaner on my Grandfather's El Camino has contracted the dreaded car cancer. What I don't know, is if the rust is bad enough that it's eaten all the way through.

Here's where things get tricky. In a nod to Matt Joseph's Media Blasting & Metal Preparation, the situation calls for proper diagnosis to understand the problem. However, the information on chrome rust I just shared with you isn't in that book, but the general diagnostic framework I'll be using, is. In this case, because chrome isn't specifically covered, it helps that I have ample experience with this issue, already, so I'm confident in my ability to diagnose and resolve the problem.

Here are my steps to do it:

  • First: I'll need to clean it.
  • Second: I'll need to inspect it.
  • Third: If my inspection is inconclusive, I'll need to grab some chrome polish like Simichrome — it's available from Eastwood and I've had great results with it in this kind of situation, before — apply it to a microfiber towel, and rub the rust until it goes away.
  • Fourth: I'll need to do another careful inspection.
  • Fifth: If all is good, I'm done. If not, it will mean a trip to a plating shop to get it stripped and re-plated.

The air cleaner also has some imperfections from its long life and I may choose to straighten the lips if I'm able to polish it up, however, if it's going to be re-chromed, they'll definitely need to be straightened and at this point I'm not sure if I'll handle it myself, or let the chrome shop do it.

That's a problem for another day, though.

If you're hunkered down in your hidey-hole like many people are, I hope you're getting more done on your projects than I am on mine — FYI: I'm not getting anything accomplished, so, the bar is set really low for you. No pressure.

Until next time, I'm going to dream of doing burnouts — you know, at the racetrack, cuz doing them leaving a stoplight or parking lot is irresponsible...probably illegal...more than likely dangerous...and you're naughty if you do it.

So naughty.

Don't ask me how I know.


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