Choosing the Right Grille for Your Car

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Billet Grilles vs. Mesh Grilles: Which Is Right for My Ride?

When looking at the front of any car, the most prominent part of it is usually the grille. For this reason, when someone is thinking about customizing their ride, putting in a custom grille is often one of the first things that is considered. Choosing the right custom grille can do a lot to change the looks of a vehicle.

Custom grilles are relatively easy to install, contributing to their popularity. Most grilles come complete as a kit, with all the necessary hardware, brackets, and instructions needed to put it in oneself. They are designed to be installed by people with minimal skills and tools. This means forgetting about having to weld on brackets, cut bodywork, or do complicated finishing.

When picking a grille, it is important to buy one that is designed to fit the vehicle being customized. Not all grilles fit all vehicles, nor do all grilles designed to fit a particular model of vehicle fit all years of that vehicle. Continue reading to determine which type of grille is right for a particular car or truck.

The Most Popular Grille Styles

The two most popular grille styles are billet grilles and mesh grilles. These two styles make up about 95 percent of the custom grille market.

Billet Grilles

Billet grilles get their name from the material they are made from: billets. Billets are round, square, or rectangular cross-section aluminum rods, used in the aircraft industry. Billet grilles are made differently from OEM grilles, which are usually made from tubing or C-channels. Solid billets are easily formed to match the contours of a vehicle, without the risk of kinking that comes with tubing.

Billet grilles appear as a set of bars running across the grille. Usually, they are mounted horizontally, although there are a few billet designs which have the bars running vertically. The bars are TIG-welded together and welded to a framework, making one solid piece.

This style of grille is extremely popular for use in customizing light trucks. The bars provide a very masculine, rugged appearance, which is popular with light truck owners.

Mesh Grilles

Mesh grilles are made of a wire mesh and are similar in appearance to a net; hence, the name "mesh." This provides a smoother appearance and flatter surface. They are popular for use in car grilles, and especially in sports cars and muscle cars. The mesh provides a sporty, elegant look that is quite popular.

While mesh grilles can be used for light trucks and SUVs, it is quite rare to do so. People who customize these vehicles are after a different look than mesh provides and typically opt for billet grilles.

Bumper Grilles

A bumper grille is an additional grille that fills the opening in the bumper and is used in conjunction with a billet or mesh grille. Some cars and light trucks have an open area between the bumper and the vehicle's lower skirt. It is common to add a bumper grille to this area, extending the regular grille and further customizing the vehicle's look. When a bumper grille is added, it is selected to match the billet grille or mesh grille used for the main part of the grille.

Grille Materials

OEM grilles are generally made of plastic, although some are made of aluminum. The plastic is usually chrome-plated to make it look like it is made of metal. Often, the chrome plating is only on the front edge of the grille, with the sides of the grille material painted with a non-reflective paint, so as not to reflect the vehicle's radiator within.

Aftermarket grilles are made either of aluminum or stainless steel. Aluminum is very popular for billet grilles due to its light weight and ability to be highly polished. Mesh grilles are usually made of stainless steel. Stainless steel is harder and more bend-resistant than aluminum. Since the wire used for the mesh is much thinner than the bars used for the billets, the added strength of stainless steel is needed for mesh grilles.

For steel to be considered "stainless," it needs to have a minimum of 10.5 percent chromium content. The chromium is what makes it shiny, resists rusting, and also makes the steel harder. Two different grades of stainless steel are used in the manufacture of grilles, 409 series and 304 series. The 304 series has a higher chromium content than the 409 series, making it more resistant to corrosion.

Grille Finishes

Grilles can be finished a number of ways. The most common is to powder-coat the grille. The front edges can then have the powder coating removed and be polished. In some cases, the entire grille is left powder-coated, usually black. This is popular for both trucks and cars where a mysterious look is desired. A black grille tends to visually sink into the background, making the other features, such as the headlights and manufacturer's logo, stand out.

By having only the front edge of the grille polished, the grille takes on more of a three-dimensional appearance. The black sides provide depth and contrast, making the front of the grille stand out in an even more dramatic way.

Selecting the Right Grille for Your Ride

Selecting the right grille for any particular car is largely a matter of personal taste. One type does not function better than the other, nor does one manufacturer provide better functionality than another. Although a grille does provide a functional purpose, that of protecting the radiator from debris while providing good airflow, the design of a grille is more about style than functionality.

Before deciding on a particular design, research the various styles that are available to match one's vehicle. Since there are several manufacturers of aftermarket custom grilles in the marketplace, there are also a variety of styles. Four different billet grilles for the same vehicle will look different due to style differences between manufacturers.

There are not billet grilles available for every vehicle model, nor does every manufacturer make a mesh grille for every vehicle. This limits the possibilities, unless one is willing to paying a high price to have a custom grille manufactured.

Within the available grilles for a particular vehicle model, the selection is one of personal taste. The grille's style must match the overall style that is being created for the customized vehicle. Remember that the grille is often the first part of the vehicle that is seen, so the style of the grille will greatly affect how the rest of the vehicle's style is perceived.

Installing an Aftermarket Grille

Each grille manufacturer and each auto manufacturer has its own way of installing the grille; however, there are some commonalities among all grilles. Most aftermarket grilles are intended to completely replace the OEM grille, requiring its removal. There are a few that attach over the existing grille, but those are not common.

To remove the existing grille, the engine hood will need to be opened and the upper fan cover will probably have to be removed. The upper mounting hardware for the grille is usually hidden under the fan cover. With the fan cover removed, this hardware is exposed and can be removed. In addition to this, the grille will probably have some hardware holding the lower part of the grille to other body panels. This may include a snap-in connector, tabs on the grille that slip into notches on the body panels, or actual screws that need to be removed.

Once the hardware is removed, the grille should lift off to the front, with nothing obstructing it. If it hangs up on something, this is a sign that there is additional hardware to remove.

Some aftermarket grilles have additional brackets that need to be installed before the grille can be installed. This comes from differences in manufacturing techniques. The heavier materials used in the aftermarket grille may not allow it to snap together with other body panels as the OEM parts do.

The new grille should slip into place as easily as the old one came out. If new hardware does not come with the grille, use the hardware removed from the old grille. When properly installed, it should not rattle or move in any way. Do not forget to reinstall the fan shroud. It affects the cooling of the vehicle's engine and acts as a guard to protect hands from being cut by the fan blades.

Buying Aftermarket Grilles on eBay

Many automotive grilles are listed for sale on eBay Motors. The selection includes both replacement OEM grilles and aftermarket grilles. The easiest way to find these items is to simply type the word "grille" into the search box on any page of the eBay website and click the "Search" button. Once the search listing appears, all items that are not vehicle grilles can be eliminated by using the category filters; select "eBay Motors" to limit the search to vehicle grilles. However, this is not necessary when searching for parts by vehicle.

To search for grilles for a particular vehicle, use the "Find a part or accessory" function on the eBay Motors homepage. If you have searched for parts for that vehicle before, eBay's search engine will store the vehicle type, allowing you to select it from a list. This list is saved with your eBay member information, so if you change computers, it will still appear. If you have not searched for that vehicle before, you will need to select the vehicle's year, make, model, and trim package. Then enter "grille" in the "What are you looking for?" box. The resulting list will include only those grilles which fit the vehicle.

Conclusion

Changing a grille can do a lot to customize the appearance of a vehicle. Considering that the grille is the most obvious part of the front of the vehicle, a new grille can significantly change the appearance of a vehicle. This is why grille changes are among the most common types of vehicle upgrades done to customize a vehicle.

The two most common styles of grilles are billet and mesh. Billet grilles consist of a number of metal bars, running across the grille area. These are usually run horizontally, but there are a few designs that run vertically. Billet grilles provide a rugged appearance, making them very popular for light trucks and SUVs. Mesh grilles consist of metal wire forming a net. This provides a smooth, sporty look that is very popular for cars, especially sports cars.

Whether to select a billet or mesh grille for a particular vehicle is mostly a matter of personal style preference; grille style does not affect functionality. While billet grilles are mostly used for light trucks and mesh grilles are mostly used for sporty cars, they can be used in other ways. The main thing to keep in mind is that the style of grille greatly affects the overall appearance of the vehicle.

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