Weight-saving materials are becoming increasingly important, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries. Design engineers would thus like to make more extensive use of light metals such as aluminium, titanium, magnesium and their alloys; however, these materials tend to have poor wear resistance. Previous treatments and coatings applied to aluminium alloys, for example by traditional processes such as hard anodising and thermal spraying, have suffered from the low load support from the underlying material and/or insufficient adhesion, which reduces their durability. Also, although TiN-, CrN- or DLC-coated aluminium alloys (using various PVD methods) can achieve a high surface hardness, in practice they often exhibit poor performance under mechanical loading, since the coatings are usually too thin to protect the substrate from the contact conditions. In the work reported here, a plasma electrolysis technique known as micro-arc discharge oxidation (MDO) was investigated; thick and hard oxide ceramic layers were fabricated on BS Al-6082 aluminium alloy by this method. The phase composition and microstructure of the MDO coatings were investigated by XRD, SEM and EDX analyses. A number of adhesion and tribological sliding and impact wear tests were also performed. It was found that Al-Si-O coatings with a hardness of up to 2400 HV and with excellent wear resistance and load support could be formed. The thickness of the coatings significantly influenced the mechanical properties. In terms of tribological performance, the thicker coatings performed best in sliding, scratch and impact tests whilst thin coatings were also surprisingly effective in both impact and low-load sliding. Coatings of intermediate thickness provided relatively poor performance in all tribological tests.