There is good news when it comes to polishing the metals on your vehicle. Most of it – like your tail pipe, wheels, exhaust manifold, outer panels, trim, and engine – is made of stainless steel. While stainless steel is rust and stain resistant, the chromium oxide and nickel finish on the metal is NOT. That’s why metal polishing is so important
What’s Really Happening?
When you see rust and flaking, you are actually seeing the disintegration of that finish. Chromium oxide makes the actual metal shiny for a number of years, but it is subject to attack from oxidation. Some chemicals, like those found in road salt and in areas affected by ferrous metal (like brake dust exposed to moisture) can cause this “white metal erosion”. It looks like rust spots and may even form loose flakes or scales.
This particular damage is merely cosmetic though, and is easily corrected with proper metal polishing. The passive layer is preventing the spread of corrosion and blocks rust from eating away at the inner structure of the steel. Although the chromium oxide and nickel finish provides a valuable protective layer to the base metal, its vulnerability to deterioration is a point of concern to preserving the metal underneath.
How Can I Fix It?
Do not use steel wool pads. Although effective, they cause micro-scratches and rust due to iron particles left in the finish (in depth article coming in the near future). You’ll want to use a foam or nylon pad to apply your chemicals to the surface in loo of steel wool. If you’d like to use a machine, a simple foam or wool pad would be effective.
Using the right metal polish with light abrasives will remove oxidation, tarnish, water spots, and finish deterioration. And like I stated above, the deterioration of the finish is making the metal underneath more susceptible to major damage. So the key to protecting the metal is to protect the finish with a durable hydrophobic coating. Providing the extra barrier between the metal and water will help resist the deterioration.