Electroless Ni–P and Ni–P–TiCN composite coatings have been deposited successfully on Al substrates. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) techniques were applied to study the surface morphology and the chemical composition of the deposited films. Moreover, X-ray diffraction (XRD) proved that Ni–P and Ni–P–TiCN deposits have amorphous structures. The properties of Ni–P–TiCN/Al composite films such as hardness, corrosion resistance and electrocatalytic activity were examined and compared with that of Ni–P/Al film. The results of hardness measurements reveal that the presence of TiCN particles with Ni–P matrix improves its hardness. Additionally, the performance against corrosion was examined using Tafel lines and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy techniques in both of 0.6 M NaCl and a mixture of 0.5 M H2SO4 with 2 ppm HF solutions. The results indicate that the incorporation of high dispersed TiCN particles into Ni–P matrix led to a positive shift of the corrosion potential and an increase in the corrosion resistance for all aluminum substrates after their coating with Ni–P–TiCN. In addition, Ni–P–TiCN/Al electrodes showed a higher electrochemical catalytic activity and stability toward methanol oxidation in 0.5 M NaOH solution compared with that of Ni–P/Al. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.