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Paint Correction, What is it?

July 15, 2019 7 min read

Have you ever looked at your car and find imperfections on its surface? Whether they are rock chips, swirl marks, fine streaks, or deep scratches in the clear coat, they can make your car look dull and lifeless. Fortunately, these flaws can be fixed with paint correction on any painted auto body part.

What is Paint Correction?

Paint correction is a tedious process of removing the imperfections in a vehicle’s finish to restore and rejuvenate the paintwork. To better understand what paint correction is, we will briefly go through the different types of damage or flaws that would require restoration of the paint. This process not just merely covers up the spots and blotches, it should properly eliminate them bringing your car’s finish back to the state that show only true reflections under direct sunlight.

For those with newer cars won’t have to worry about paint correction at all. The most affected people are those who have had their vehicle for several years or who buy used cars. For most people simple car wash and claying will do the trick. For the unlucky few, wet-sanding and buffing will be our only option.

If you have scratches, rock chips, dirt in the clear coat (if you painted or have had your car recently painted) or you just want that beautiful mirror-finish for your car then the latter steps are for you.

The Paint Correction Process

The process of paint correction is very detailed, extensive, and labor intensive. It consists of 4 major steps: washing and decontaminating the vehicle, wet-sanding or leveling, buffing and polishing, and sealing and waxing. Everyone has washed their car, but the rest of the steps can be tedious and require some level of experience. Once you get into wet-sanding and beyond there is a lot of other methods and techniques that are not common to the everyday person. We’ll try and cover these steps briefly without getting too technical.

                Washing and decontaminating- this important and practical first, step removes any loose dirt and debris on the car’s exterior. The next step is to clay bar the painted exterior to safely remove any surface contaminants that are firmly bonded to the vehicle. It is not essential to use a clay bar, but if you have large embedded debris or your car feels rough after a wash; it’s the next step in the process. For all the DIY folks out there, a clay bar is a non-abrasive method to remove dirt and is generally regarded as safe method. It’s often better to avoid having any dirt sitting on the surface of the car paint before moving to the following steps. Not cleaning the car’s surface will result in causing further damage to the its painted exterior. You do not want to polish dirt and contaminants, you want them removed. You may be neglecting your wonderful car. Check out our article on washing your car for more information.

Sealing and waxing; this step will be split up into parts. For most you out there, you’ll only need to wash, clay bar and wax your car. After washing and clay bar step, lastly, a layer of sealant is applied to cover up the vehicle’s paint to protect it from further harm. In addition, it adds a superior gloss to the color of your vehicle. When applied, please allow the wax 5-10 minutes to settle over the paint. There are many types of wax and sealants, but the main difference is that sealants are synthetic, and waxes are derived from the carnauba tree. Waxes will fill in any microscopic pours in your painted surface and provide a warm or enhanced tone to your vehicle. For most us, this where our work will end. For those who have more to deal with and are not afraid putting in more work; buffing is our next step.

Wet-sanding or leveling is the first part of the buffing process. this step is to remove fine scratches, dirt, imbedded debris and blemishes in the exterior clear coat. If you take great care of your vehicle or have a newer car then you could stick with the steps; washing to waxing. For the rest of us who have older cars or have had our car repainted, you’re in the right place.

There is some dirt and debris that cannot be removed by a clay bar and that’s when you may want to wet-sand the dirt or debris. Its very important to note that wet-sanding is an abrasive method that will cut your clear coat removing very thin micro-layers of clear coat every time you wet-sand a painted surface. This should be no surprise to most, but wet sanding requires water and lots of it. You should never dry sand your car because it would be too harsh of a cut on the clear coat and require more work buffing the scratches out.

Wet sanding- will remove any type of dirt and, or level any type of imperfection in the clear coat. There are many grades of wet-sanding paper, but for removing dirt or debris we do not recommend going lower than 2000 grit sand paper. The lower the sand paper the more abrasive it is, the higher the grade the less abrasive it is. We use sand paper between 1000-5000 grit but very seldom anything under 2000. With the lower sand papers, you will be cutting or leveling the clear coat very harsh. Sandpaper grit at 1000 and 1500 should only be used experienced auto detailer and only on extremely dirty or difficult panels, when needed.

For the rest of us, 2000 grit will do the trick. You can also stop at 2000 grit and buff the sanding marks away, but it will be a lot easier on you if you go higher in sand paper grit. If you start at 2000 you would follow that with 2500 and finish off at 3000 or 5000. The last two grades of sand paper are not usually needed unless you are working on dark colored panels/car. Black is the hardest color and white being the easiest color to wet sand and buff.

When you wet sand, you want to let the paper do the work and not put too much pressure on the affected area. You don’t want to cut the clear coat too much or you will leave small scratches on the clear coat even after you buff. Let the paper do the job and just gently rub the dirt or debris away. Use your judgment and those eagle eyes to catch any micro scratches on the panel you are wet-sanding. When you see small scratches, it will help to go to the higher sand paper and it will also be less work for your buffer. There are two methods when wet sanding, crosshatch and circular sanding. The circular method is generally used for small isolated sanding and crosshatch is intersecting parallel lines (think an “X”) used for larger areas. When you wet sand, it is important to stay within the same area of sanding resulting in a solid white or foggy look. No spaces in between or small trails outside of the sanded area. You will thank me later.

Buffing and polishing- The previous step involved cutting the clear coat to eliminate any imperfections and leveling the out the clear coat. This process includes different grades of polish used from heavier to finer compounds to remove surface materials and marks, ultimately refining the finish. The materials used are often labeled in sequential steps from 1 to 3. This includes the pads that need to be used to the types of compounds. The main difference between buffing and polishing, is that buffing takes out the wet sanding you previously did, and the polishing will remove and micro scratches, haziness caused by buffing. This is usually done with finer, softer pads and different polishing compounds different from the initial buffing pads and cutting compounds.  The materials used are as follows.

  • Buffer – Rotary, Fixed Orbital, Dual Action Forced Rotation, Dual Action Random Orbital
  • Liquid Products – Waxing agents vary but there are specific to each step. 1,2,3
  • Pads – Foam pads are best per step. Avoid the wool pad unless you are skilled at buffing.
  • Wetting Agents- You can buy specific wetting agents but water with a little bit of soap is all that’s needed.
  • Micro-fiber towel- Any will do. You do not want to wipe your finish with anything to abrasive causing more harm.

We most recommend using only the foam pads for all steps, they are less abrasive compared to a wool pad. Outside temperatures and the temperature of the painted panel will affect how you buff. Steel panels will withstand much higher degrees of heat where plastic auto parts will have a lower threshold to heat. Let’s say it’s 100 degrees outside, you may have to apply more compound and wait longer between buffing/polishing. It’s also very important that you continuously are moving the buffer and do not let sit idle. These buffers can spin up 500 rotations a second which generate a lot of heat themselves. Colder temperatures are of course, more forgiving. Use your judgement, the last thing you want to do is burn through the paint coat and having to pay for a new paint job.

Sealing and waxing- (part 2) after all the correction work, lastly, a layer of sealant is applied to cover up the vehicle’s paint to protect it from further scratches. This process is the same as we previously mentioned, waxing the exterior. We are going to diverge into ceramic coating, which is very different than waxing. Ceramic coating is synthetic material that is more durable and last longer than wax. Ceramic coating creates a semi-permanent bond over the paint adding more protection and shine over your paint coat. Ceramic coating is one of the best options, which also means it’s the more expensive option. No matter which decision you choose, it’s always best to protect your car’s exterior after buffing or polishing the painted car or auto part.

Paint correction is the process of eliminating scratches and imperfections on a vehicle’s exterior paint work. Paint correction can be a lengthy and costly procedure. A trip to a professional detailer, depending on the corrections needed, the size of your vehicle and color (black is the hardest), it could cost up to $600 or more. Thus, maintaining your vehicle in great condition is valuable. Washing your car properly and routinely will prolong the life of your automotive paint. To avoid a complete reconditioning of your automotive paint, use non-abrasive materials when washing and drying your car. It’s a multi-step process that completely corrects a vehicle’s surface appearance resulting in no swirl marks, scratches, or blemishes when viewed to the naked eye. Remember, whether it’s you doing the hard work or paying a professional to buff your car, make sure you follow the correct steps to keep the life of your automotive paint looking amazing.