How To Polish Aluminum Trim

If you have a car made in the late 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or even the early 90’s, there is a good chance that your vehicle has aluminum trim.  It can be found around the windshield, the wheel arches, back window and, in some cases, it was used as body side molding.

And, if your car is like most and lived part or all its life outside, the aluminum trim has become dull and has a multitude of water spots.  No amount of wax or soap will eliminate the problem.  The only way to bring the aluminum trim back to life is by polishing the metal with a good quality metal polish.  You will also need to bring a little elbow grease but, trust me, the results are worth it.

The easiest way to get the best possible finish is to remove the trim from the vehicle and polish it at the work bench.  It’s much easier to polish the entire part if you can just flip it around by hand.  If removal is not possible or practical, mask the painted areas surrounding the trim as the metal polish can damage the paint.  Otherwise, the process is the same.

You will need plenty of terry cloth rags.  Old towels and washcloths work nicely.  You will also need a good quality metal polish, rubber gloves, a bench top or drill mounted polishing wheel and .000 steel wool.  You can get the .000 steel wool at most any parts house or home improvement store.

(Please note that you may not need the .000 steel wool.  Test it on the back side of the trim.  If you any scratches after rubbing the steel wool on the trim, do not use it.)

First, apply a small amount of the polish to the metal.  Make sure you have a rubber glove on as this stuff will leave a black stain on your hand that has the half-life of a cheap tattoo.  Spread the polish out and, using either a terry cloth towel or the steel wool, begin polishing the metal.  If you notice a “grain” or pattern in the metal finish, always go in the direction of the grain.

Once you have rubbed out the metal and the polish seems to have run out, buff the metal out more using the buffing wheel.  I used a drill mounted one in these pictures.  A bench top unit will yield the same results with a little less effort.  Continue buffing the metal until you get a good clean reflection on the surface.

One thing to remember is to use a very small amount of polish.  The good stuff is expensive but it goes a long way.

Here’s one final touch that I’ll clue you in on.  If you really want the trim to pop out at you when you put it back on the vehicle, wipe it down with dry Corn Starch.  Yes, just regular corn starch you can get at any grocery store.  The corn starch will act as a VERY fine abrasive which will remove any residual polish and slick the finish up a bit more.  It really does work and it won’t harm the metal.

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