Chrome: Replacement vs. Overlay

One of the ways automobile manufacturers have traditionally differentiated models has been the degree of chrome trim on the vehicle, or lack of as the case may be. Base model, stripper, entry level cars and trucks have the least chrome, while the top of the line, luxury, high end models have the most. In the past, the plain Jane cars were just painted instead of chromed, but today the low cost replacement of choice is black plastic. Base models are easy to spot these days because in place of chrome grills, fog lights, mirrors, door handles, etc. they have lots of black plastic.

So what can you do if you own one of these unfortunate plain vehicles?

Maybe it was all you could afford when new, but now you've got a few bucks to spend and would like to jazz it up. Or maybe you got a good deal on a used model and would like to make it look a little nicer. Well, if you want to add chrome you have 2 options, Replacement or Overlay. Let's look at the Replacement option first.

Just as it implies, Replacement means completely replacing the black plastic part with a chrome one. This is both expensive and time consuming. New parts from the manufacturer can be prohibitively expensive. Used parts from a wrecked model in a scrap yard are more affordable but may require reconditioning. And then there is the time and effort to install these pieces. Replacing a grille usually entails removing the front fascia from the vehicle; exchanging a door handle or mirror means the door panel must be removed.

Now consider the Overlay alternative. An Overlay is a thin cover made from automotive grade plastic or stainless steel that fits over the existing part. The plastic is chrome plated and the stainless steel is plated or highly polished to the point that it's indistinguishable from chrome. Overlay trim parts are precision made for each specific application to ensure they fit perfectly. Once installed, in most cases you can't even tell them from a replacement. They're necessarily made thin to make sure they don't alter the shape or size of the original part, but don't think this makes them any less durable. Most plastic body parts are ABS, a strong thermoplastic widely used by automobile manufacturers that is impact, chemical and heat resistant. The stainless steel is an austenitic grade, which is tough and corrosion resistant, yet malleable.

Most Overlays are secured to the vehicle with 3M™ acrylic foam tape. This tape is so effective it's used by the automobile manufacturers to attach trim at the factory. Because no drilling is required, there's no need to worry about rust forming at a hole. The foam core allows the tape to expand and contract with temperature changes and conform to surface irregularities. Installation is not only simpler; there are no unsightly fasteners to deal with. The surface must be cleaned with a prep agent to make sure all oil and wax are removed that would inhibit adherence, then the backing is removed from the tape and the part is pressed into place. The exception to 3M™ tape is with overlay grilles; these are attached with hidden clamps and bolts.

Overlays are available for the grille, door handles, mirrors and pillar posts; virtually anywhere the factory installed chrome. Plus overlays give you the option of personalizing your car or truck with a selection of chrome far beyond what the factory imagined: Instead of installing a full chrome mirror cover, change it up and install a half cover, with chrome on the top or bottom half. Dress up your tail lights with bright chrome trim; you'll look like you have Euro tail lights for a lot less. Chrome around lights is a classic touch; add chrome bezels to side marker lights, fog lights and the 3rd brake light. Give your car the NASCAR look with a chrome fuel door cover.

Overlays present endless possibilities for dressing up and customizing your ride. Besides the aforementioned parts there are headlight bezels, fender moldings, rocker panel moldings, window belt moldings, tailgate moldings, side vents, port holes, and more. Many parts are also available with vehicle logos, emblems or symbols, even flames! Overlay trim parts are so easy to install and the selection is so vast, the only limits to enhancing your vehicle's appearance are the limits of your imagination.

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