Static secondary ion mass spectrometry was used to study the chemical reactions and lateral distributions of fatty amines, alcohols and esters spin coated onto gold surfaces and commercial aluminium–magnesium (Al–Mg) alloy surfaces, cleaned using UV–ozone. The aim of this study is to develop an understanding of the interactions of model lubricants with metal surfaces, such as gold and aluminium. This static SIMS study of organic thin films has been able to identify specific reaction products on the aluminium surface for each functional group. This work demonstrates that organic molecules with alcohol, ester and amine functional groups undergo specific chemical reactions with oxidized Al–Mg alloy surfaces. For example, films composed of the fatty alcohol dodecanol were observed to emit monomers, dimers and trimers with discrete distributions. In addition, negative secondary ion mass spectra indicate that a surface carboxylate is formed from the alcohol. The formation of carboxylate reaction products was confirmed by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. On Al–Mg alloy surfaces, a direct interaction with the amine and aluminium oxide surface is observed by the detection of a molecular ion that corresponds to the mass of dodecylamine and AlO−, characteristic of aluminium oxide. Ethyl laurate was shown to eliminate the ethyl group, leaving the laurate anion. This study demonstrates the ability of time-of-flight (ToF) SIMS to discriminate and detect chemical reaction products formed between model lubricant molecules and metal surfaces. As a result of this study, the use of ToF-SIMS to identify reaction products of model lubricants can be extended to provide a better understanding of the interactions of lubricants and metal surfaces at high temperatures and pressures that more closely resemble the conditions encountered in industrial rolling processes. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.