What is the Difference Between Chrome and Polished Rims?

July 24th, 2012

Chrome vs. Polished Finish on Wheels

Wheels come in many finishes. Some of them are easy to tell apart, like black vs. silver, but others become much more confusing, especially when attempting to describe the difference. One of these times that the finish can become confusing is when trying to tell the difference between a chromed and a polished wheel.

Identifying a Polished Wheel

The major difference between the two is the process used to make the finish. A polished finish is actually fairly simple to understand. They take the raw aluminum of the wheel smooth it out, buff and polish it. The wheel is then given a clear coat to protect the raw aluminum from scratches and the elements. The polished surface is actually very susceptible to damage if it is not given the protective clear coat. The final result is a silver, moderately-reflective surface. If you were to look straight at it, you could see a vague reflection of yourself in the surface.

Identifying a Chrome Rim

The chrome finish is actually a much more complicated finish. It’s most often still done as a multi-step electroplating process. Most chrome finished wheels use a nickel-plating process, which is a cosmetic multi layer coating and is not done to add strength or durability to the wheel itself. The first layer is always a coating of nickel; sometimes multiple layers of nickel are applied to give the finish a smoother appearance and more durability. A layer of chrome is then applied over the nickel plating to give it the classic blue-ish mirror look that we’re all familiar with. This is the same chrome look that you will see on bumpers, door handles and sometimes trim pieces on your vehicle. The other alternative chrome process is actually a PVD chrome which is more like a painted finish. This is a newer process that is becoming more and more popular process compared to the older much more labor intensive chrome dipped process. Regardless of the process, the chrome finish will always have the same mirror-like appearance.

Seeing the Difference

Although it can sometimes be difficult to identify the finish of your wheels without having something to compare it to, it’s not impossible. Below are two pictures of the same Chevrolet Corvette wheel in the polished finish and the chrome finish.

Polished Rim

Chrome Corvette Wheel

Chrome Rim

As you can see, there is a slight difference in color but the most noticeable difference is how they reflect back. The polished is a fuzzy, vague reflection versus the chrome which is a crisp mirror-like reflection. Sometimes you might have to clean your wheel to see this properly because a really dirty chrome wheel might look fuzzy too!


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