Time Needed: 4-6 Hours, Difficulty: Intermediate-Advanced, Cost: $50-$300
A coat of wax or ceramic coating can work wonders. It’ll fill in many small imperfections, providing a level surface that offers the type of shine that makes you feel all tingly. It can’t work miracles though, as those minor scratches will pile up over time, and eventually, you’ll have all kinds of light gouges and swirls that take that otherwise beautiful paint job down a few notches.
Thankfully, it’s nothing to freak out over. Any decent detailer can set up a quick appointment and get that thing gleaming better than it did when it was factory fresh. But if you’re willing to pick up a few key items and learn a new skill, it’s something you can certainly do in a weekend’s time. How can we say that? Because we’ve done it a few times during our car-lovin’ lives.
Car Autance is here to introduce you to the world of paint correction. Let’s talk about how you can tackle it head-on.
What Is Paint Correction, and Why Does a Car Need It?
The most basic way to put it is that paint correction is essentially polishing the paint. It’s a procedure that involves using a polisher and multiple grades of polish and cutting compounds in stages to remove minor imperfections on the paint’s surface.
Every time you run a duster or microfiber over the paint, install a car cover, or lightly brush up against the surface of your car, dust, dirt, and debris bite into the paint. Although you might not always see them, microscopic scratches are left behind.
As these tiny scratches pile up throughout the years, they’ll start to stand out. Paint correction is great for dealing with them, as it removes a very small layer of the paint or clear coat, just to bring it to level with the deepest parts of the scratches. If the right products are used, paint correction can also help with some oxidation, but that’s another discussion entirely.
While paint correction is a more aggressive tactic than simply giving a light polish or waxing the surface of your car, it can only do so much. It’s not going to fix orange peel, it won’t remove any deep scratches in the clear coat, and it certainly won’t repair scratches that go all the way to the metal. It’s simply the process of cleaning up the outermost layers of paint so that minor imperfections don’t take away from the luster.
How Long Does a Paint Correction Take?
How long it’ll take to perform paint correction on your car depends on a few factors. The system you use, how much work the paint needs, and the size of the vehicle all directly contribute to the amount of time you’ll spend correcting the paint. Let’s not forget that your personal standards are also going to come into play.
Now, we don’t know exactly what vehicle you’re working with or where your paint’s at. We can, however, offer some insight into the different systems you have to work with and how they impact the project.
A single-step system is going to save you the most amount of time and money but is usually the least aggressive. You may be able to knock the process out in a couple of hours with this product, but you can expect it to leave behind some of the deeper scratches if your paint’s in relatively rough condition to begin with.
Moving to a three or four-step system doesn’t necessarily triple or quadruple the amount of time you spend working. In most cases, you’ll simply determine what cutting compound is aggressive enough for the first pass then go over it a second time with a polish instead of utilizing the entire system. In fact, most three-step systems come with a single cutting compound and polish with a wax counting as the final step.
All of that said, you should still expect to put at least four to six hours aside when taking this project on. Between washing the car, running through the correction, applying protection, and what you’re striving to achieve, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for this to take an entire day, if not an entire weekend. Furthermore, deep scratches in the clear coat or paint will likely need to be handled separately as these systems are only intended to tackle light scratches.
Should I Leave This to the Pros? What Advantages Do Professional Shops Have for Paint Correction?
Going to a professional is warranted if you’re relatively inexperienced with this work, you have high standards, and you’re working with a priceless application. Now, your mind shouldn’t wander to a Ferrari or some premier automobile, because priceless can mean anything that’s irreplaceable to you, with a particular focus on original paint in this discussion. Even a Yugo boasting the factory colors can fit into that category.
Paint correction may only remove small amounts of paint or clear coat at a time, but it’s still removing material nonetheless. That means there is the risk of going too far and damaging the paint beyond repair. Professionals have the kind of equipment and experience that allows them to decide exactly what the right approach is and how aggressively they should work to clean the paint up.
The good news is that most modern vehicles have much thicker and more durable paint jobs than classics. That’s not to say every paint job is as forgiving as the next, but there’s a lot less risk when taking matters into your own hands than there might be with an original ‘60s single-stage paint job.
The Safety Brief
Speaking of protecting the irreplaceable, you’re going to want to get some safety gear on when you decide to take on paint correction. Now, you’re not welding, grinding, or hauling heavy materials. You are, however, working with chemicals and power tools.
Throw on a set of nitrile gloves and safety glasses before you start getting after it. You’ll thank us later when your hands are still softer than ever, and there are no abrasives in your eyes. You’re also going to want to keep your eardrums intact too. Noise-canceling headphones or simple earplugs should do the trick.
The Tools & Parts You Need
Alright, let’s get ready to tackle this. You’re going to need a few basic things to get started. Perhaps the most important is a random orbital polisher and some polishing pads. There are methods to doing this manually, and that may be appropriate for some high-end or rare finishes, but you’ll save yourself a lot of shoulder pain with power tools.
Next, you need to decide how far you’re willing to take this. If you’re just wanting to take a crack at paint correction or are just after a quick touch-up, a single-step system is a solid, affordable option. Though moving to a three-step system is going to get you a much better finish, and a four-step system offers the kind of options you need to achieve that showroom shine. Thankfully, you can buy an all-in-one paint correction system to keep life simple.
Outside of specialty paint-correction equipment, you need a few basic materials. Microfiber towels are always a must for detailing work, and you’ll want a good surface cleaner to pull away polish after each pass and a flashlight to inspect your work. Of course, you need to wash the vehicle beforehand and go over it with a clay bar to ensure the surface is completely clean before starting. After you’re all done, you’ll want to lay down some protection with wax or SiO2 ceramic coating.
The Task: How To Perform a Paint Correction
Let’s get into it.
1. Wash the car (safe wash method).
The first step to paint correction is making sure that your car’s paint is nice and clean. If you have any dust, dirt, or grime on the surface, you’re going to do more harm than good.
It’s worth using presoaks and a pressure washer before the hand wash, as wash mitts and heavy deposits of dirt will create more work for you down the line. It’s also best to air-dry the paint or use a lint-free towel to hand dry.
Take your time and be thorough. You don’t want to leave any debris behind that’ll collect in the polishing pads and wreak havoc on your paint. Once the wash is done, finish up with a clay bar to be absolutely certain that the surface is free of contaminants.
2. Pick a test panel.
Think of the various compounds and pads in these systems like sandpaper and bear in mind that different paints vary in hardness. Both the pads and compounds have different grits, and you want to make sure you have the right combination to start with before going over the entire car. Pick a small section of a panel of the vehicle and use it as a test subject to find the right combination for the paint.
3. Do least aggressive to most aggressive testing.
It’s a good idea to start testing with the middle-of-the-road options in terms of how aggressive the products are. For example, if you’re using the Chemical Guys V Line Compound and Polish Kit and Hex Logic Buffing Pads Kit, it’s a good idea to start testing with the V36 Cutting Polish on the heavy polishing pad. This is not the most aggressive combination, and that’s ok. The idea is simply to run a test to see how aggressive you need to be in order to take the scratches out of the paint. We only want to remove as little material as necessary to leave as much behind as we can when removing scratches.
After your test, look over the surface from different angles or use a flashlight to reveal any microscopic scratches. If your test combination does a decent job but leaves behind some imperfections, try the next most aggressive combination and repeat until you find what produces the best results.
4. A note on compound application.
When you apply the compound to a fresh pad, you’ll want to put around five or six pea-sized drops on the pad and dab the paint with the pad in a few places to spread the compound over the work area before starting the polisher. You won’t need to use as much product after the initial pass with the fresh pad, but you’ll want to follow the same process to ensure even product distribution and reduce slinging.
5. Repeat in small sections.
Once you find the right combination to remove scratches in the paint, you’re ready to start working over the entire car. Don’t take on too much at once, though. Instead, work in small sections at a time but not so small that you’re repeatedly going over the same areas in short succession. Something like two-foot by two-foot squares is typical.
If you work over too large or too small of an area, you can cause several issues, including clogged pads and overheating the paint. As you work the sections, you’ll want to make around three passes with overlapping lines to make sure you’re thoroughly working the area. As you finish each section, go over it with a microfiber towel and surface cleaner to remove the polish left behind.
It’s also important to note that the paint on edges and corners is thinner than it is on flat surfaces. Don’t overwork these areas as you can easily strip away too much material. A few quick passes with light pressure should do the trick.
6. Rinse and repeat.
Once you’re done going over the vehicle with your starting combination, you’ll want to go over it again with a fine polish and pad to remove the haze left behind by the cutting compound. You don’t necessarily need to work with the next least aggressive combination and continue to work your way back to the final polish, but that’s ultimately dependent on the situation. To determine the next appropriate step, test another section, inspect the results, and work from there, which may very well be moving to the final polish.
Stand back, take in the shine, and pat yourself on the back. Just don’t take too long because you’re looking at bare paint. It’s not a bad idea to give the paint another quick pass with a surface cleaner to ensure everything is as clean as possible. After you’re done doing that, lay down a layer of your favorite wax or ceramic coating and call it a day.
FAQs About Paint Correction
Car Autance answers all your burning questions.
Q. Does paint correction remove the clear coat?
A. Paint correction will remove a small amount of clear coat, and there is the risk of removing it altogether if you’re too aggressive. However, most systems and polishers are designed to remove microscopic amounts at a time, and you’re not likely to remove it entirely if you take your time with it and follow the instructions provided.
Q. Is polishing needed prior to applying a ceramic coating?
A. Yes. Ceramic coatings won’t hide small swirls and scratches that are locked beneath the surface. If you don’t polish them out, they will remain there, and you won’t be able to remove them without first removing the ceramic coating.
Q. Can you do a paint correction without a polisher?
A. You can, but it’s much harder to get a uniform finish, and it’ll take much longer to do than it would with machines. The amount of time and effort a polisher will save you is well worth the investment.
Q. What should you use to protect your vehicle from future damage?
A. Ceramic coatings and wax are essential to protecting your paint from scratches. Which to use depends on which you prefer, but professionally-installed ceramics are generally the most durable and provide the best layer of protection.
Watch This Video Tutorial To Learn More About Paint Correction
There’s nothing wrong with being a visual learner. After all, these words might as well be Greek if you don’t know exactly what every last component is that we’re talking about. That’s why Car Autance is glad to help with providing a video to guide you through paint correction. This host uses a two-step process and does an excellent job of clarifying what you’re trying to achieve and how everything he does helps to meet that end goal.
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