How to Polish Aluminum Bumpers to a Mirror Like Finish
Cars today use plastic bumpers, but not these classy Jeep Grand Wagoneers, their bumpers are made of metal. The Jeep Grand Wagoneer is covered with shiny parts that make it standout from the crowd of plastic cars today. The benefit of having metal bumpers is their strength and the fact you can polish them to bring back their original luster.
This blog post is my process for how to polish aluminum bumpers on my 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The best part of the process is when my two daughters came out to ask if they could help — and they did!
Here is what I used:
- Paint Thinner (any brand will work, but it’s much cheaper to buy it at the local hardware store)
- Nitrile Protective Gloves
- Micro fiber cloths or cotton rags (micro fiber works better IMO)
- 1500 Grit Wet/Dry Sand Paper
- 3000 Grit Wet/Dry Finishing Pad
- Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound (cheap and works great!)
- Shurhold Random Orbital Polisher
- Wool or Heavy Cutting Foam Pad
- Collinite Fleetwax or Ultima Paint Guard Plus
These products made the job much easier. I assume you could do it by hand, but using the power polisher made the job much easier!
Before starting this job, I did a lot of research into multiple techniques. While I cannot promise this is the best way to do it, it is the way I chose to do it and I am very pleased with the results on a 30-year-old bumper!
Let’s take a look at a few photos of my aluminum Jeep Grand Wagoneer bumpers before polishing them.
Clearly, these bumpers look tired. Many people may simply look for a replacement bumper thinking these are beyond help. Fortunately, by polishing the bumpers, you can really make them look impressive. Plus, they don’t make them anymore for the Grand Wagoneer.
I have to admit, the process I am recommending in this blog post comes after I tried using bar keepers friend as a first attempt.
I use Bar Keepers Friend on my boat with good success so I thought I would try to use it first on the jeep aluminum bumpers.
Using bar keepers friend did make an improvement, but it did little to the oxidation. After a little elbow grease scrubbing, it looked better, but not great. Here are a few photos of that trial and error process.
From these photos it makes Bar Keepers Friend look pretty amazing for how easy it is to apply. It definitely improved the look, and in this last photo, the aluminum bumper looks pretty amazing. Unfortunately, after sitting overnight, the oxidization and streaking started becoming visible again, and I knew I could do more.
This is where my true aluminum bumper cleaning and polishing process really got started.
From the list of items above, the first thing I did was put a very small amount of paint thinner on a rag and wiped down every part of the exposed metal bumper that I wanted to polish. Remember, it does not take very much. Just enough to wipe it all down with a thin amount of paint thinner.
From here, I recommend wet sanding the bumpers by hand. Mix dish soap and water for your wet sanding. Dip the 1500 sandpaper in the soapy water and then start sanding. I suggest sanding back and forth (i.e. Up/Down or Side/Side, but not circles). Then rinse the bumper.
After this step wet sand with the 3000 grit pad. This time go the opposite direction. If you wend up/down on the 1500 use a side/side motion to go over the prior sanding spots at a different direction to help eat away the prior sanding marks.
Once you are done sanding be sure to rinse the bumper really well to get any contaminants off of the bumpers.
(Look how good the aluminum bumper is looking after being rinsed off!)
After the sanding phase, you will likely start to see an improved shine and you will really be able to feel how smooth the aluminum bumper has become. Some people stop here, and honestly, you probably are feeling pretty good with your results… But you don’t want to stop here.
Like the infomercials say, “BUT WAIT THERE”S MORE!”
The next step, is my favorite, and one where you will see the biggest jump in adding shine to your bumpers.
As far as I am concerned, this is where the real magic takes place. It is a total transformation from ugly, to WOW! You want to smear the rubbing compound on the bumper and also put some on your wool pad to make sure you are rubbing the compound into the bumper. Work in a slow up/down and then side/side motion. Cover a 2-foot section at one time, then move to the next.
Did I mention it was a family affair with this Jeep?
My two daughters came outside to see if they could help Daddy with the Jeep.
We worked really hard to polish the bumpers and the results came out quite nice.
Here is the final wipe down to get all of the remaining compound off before the big reveal…
Okay, so here is the moment you have all been waiting for, end result photos.
From these photos, you can see where the girls and I missed a few spots down low on the aluminum bumper, but what a transformation (if I do say so myself)! The girls and I were very pleased with how polishing the aluminum bumpers turned out. We spent about 2-3 hours total on the project.
I would love to hear more about your results if you try this process. Please provide your feedback in the comments!