All car enthusiasts love to engage in discussions on what is the best car, the best wheel, the best tire, and on and on. The discussions are eternal, and keeps car people talking to each other and exploring every minute detail of every minute detail of a vehicle. There is never any answer to the question of what is the best something, as it always comes down to a matter of taste. This goes for custom grilles too. However, to make an intelligent choice it always helps to know the pros and cons of different finishes. Say that you want a black grille. Should you choose a grille made in black ABS plastic, black paint, black powder coat or black chrome? They will of course look different, be very differently priced and need different degrees of care. So what is right for you?
The ABS plastic is probably the easiest to take care of. ABS is a material that is common in original grilles, but almost always made to look like something else. ABS is a very versatile and durable plastic that can made to look like just about any other material, and most of the time it is difficult to tell if a part is made in chrome plastic or in chrome plated metal. The plastic can look like chrome and keep its shine without polish, without pitting and without any steel that can rust from underneath. The only worry is if the ABS is of really good quality. If not, the finish layer can separate from the plastic, and it will look very bad, regardless if the grille is black, chrome or in color.
Painted grilles are no different than painted body parts in general. They are just as easy (or difficult) to care for as any other surface. Powder coat is a very durable finish that is baked onto the metal. In the old days powder coats had a slightly uneven surface, but those days are now passed, and good quality powder coat finishes can made as smooth as regular spray-on paint finishes, and they come not only in black and white as in the beginning. They now come in all colors, including clear coat finishes in both glossy shine and matte. Powder coats are easy to take care of and are treated much the same as regular car paints. The durability of a powder coat surface really depends more on the underlying surface than on the powder coat itself. If the metal it is applied to is rusting, the powder coat will flake and expose the corroded surface underneath. Grilles have a very vulnerable position, and are blasted with road debris. Good quality powder coat is more resistant to chipping than regular car paint, and is therefore a good choice for grille finishes.
If you want a really deep shine, there is nothing like real metal plating. That also goes for black finishes. Black chrome is one of the most luxurious grille finishes out there - not only for black grilles, but for grilles in general. It is also one of the most expensive and exclusive. The black chrome has a very special, mysterious glow to it that provides a very distinctive and still discreet luxury look. This does not mean that the black chrome grilles are more difficult to keep good looking than less exclusive grilles. On the contrary, they are just as easy to care for as other chrome finishes. As always, the metal that the finish is applied to is just as important as the finish itself. Especially when it comes to custom grilles.Both black and mirror shine chrome grilles can deteriorate quickly if the chrome is applied to a corroding steel. It doesn't take much of an imperfection in the chrome to get the corrosion started, a hit by a stone is quite enough. So the question of what grille finish is the best one is not relevant if the finish is applied to a cheap base material. To be absolutely sure that your grille will stay shiny and good-looking, you should always choose a grille in a non-corroding material, plastic, aluminum or stainless steel.
Stainless steel can be polished to a high shine, but the chrome trim shine is deeper. Grilles made in chromed stainless steel are probably the best looking and most durable of all. They come in all kinds of shapes, and in both black and mirror shine chrome, in billet designs and in mesh designs. Polished stainless steel can come close to the chrome shine, but with a slightly different coloring. Be aware that stainless steel cannot be polished with chrome polish, as the chrome polish will leave a gray mist on the stainless steel surface. Always use a dedicated stainless steel polish for your stainless steel.
Aluminum is a very popular metal for grilles. It can also be finished in many different ways, painted of course, but also anodized and polished.
Anodized and polished aluminum finishes are very sensitive to strong chemicals, and even though these finishes look great when new, it is really quite difficult to keep them good-looking on daily drivers. Both anodized and polished aluminum is very sensitive to the strong chemicals used in car washes and to road salt. Polished aluminum can of course be covered with a protective clear coat finish, which will keep the surface shiny for some time. But once the aluminum starts to oxidize under the clear coat, the protection is more of a problem than an asset.
So the advice is to go for grille surfaces in durable materials and to stay away from finishes that are overly sensitive to chemicals that are common in the automotive world. ABS plastic, chrome and stainless steel - polished or chromed, are always safe bets. If you choose a painted grille, make sure that the paint is of good quality, preferably powder coat, and that the base metal is a non-corrosive material, so you don't end up with rusted out pits all over your custom grille.