Paint Restoration Tips

More than anything else, the paint on your car is responsible for the overall image of your car. A good paint job attracts attention to your car, as well as provides protection from the elements (and therefore rust) for the metal underneath. Before you begin any restoration, determine if your vehicle’s existing paint can be restored, or if the vehicle needs to be repainted.


If it needs to be repainted, and you want to paint it an original factory color, check out to see the original PPG paint color schemes. Then see if you can get the original color at a specialty automotive paint supplier. Many popular muscle car colors are still available. Repainting an entire vehicle is tricky business. Although some people are willing to tackle it on their own, most are better off taking their car to a professional body and paint shop. If you are repainting your car, be sure to take care of any rust or detailing work at this time. New paint jobs can run anywhere from a cheesy one in standard colors for $150 at Maaco to $2,000 + for fancy metallics or very “deep” paint with a Clear Coat finish at a Paint Shop. Be sure to remember your budget when faced with repainting a car.

Paint Restoration

Given repainting’s high cost, most owners will try to restore their existing paint job. Ultraviolet rays and salt fade the surface of automotive paint. But usually, the damage is only surface deep. By removing the top layer of paint, the original luster and color of your car can be restored.

How does one go about resurrecting dull faded paint? First, determine just how bad off your car is. The more faded and oxidized the surface, the harder it will be to bring back the original color. If the layer of paint is too thin, there may not be enough good paint left and you will hit primer and metal before the shine returns. A car which has been sitting in a junk yard under the blazing sun for 10 or more years will probably need to be repainted. Also, a car with a lot of rust spots or bubbled paint can’t be helped too much with out repainting. But if your car is in pretty good shape and the paint just seems a little faded, you can have your original finish and color back again in one weekend.

First, you need to wash your car to remove all dirt and dust from the car. Dirt and dust left on a vehicle can cause scratches when you attempt to buff the vehicle later. Use a soap designed for vehicles. At the least, use a non detergent soap. Dish detergent will remove oil from your car’s paint which is not good. Never use liquid or powdered laundry detergent. These soaps will actually harm your paint. Be sure to use a clean sponge or hand applicator to apply the soapy solution on your car. Any dirt on the sponge or hand applicator car scratch your finish.

Before washing your car, spray down the wheel wells and underbody to remove any oily grime that may splash back up on your clean car. If you find any rust spots or dings, consider treating them first before you buff off the old paint. You should always wash your car in the shade to avoid water spots if it dries too fast. Spray down the roof first, then the hood, the body sides and then the front grill and rear panel. Using a big sponge and a bucket of soapy water, wash your car in sections, beginning with the roof. Always rinse one section before you go to the next so the soap won’t dry. Once your car is washed, use a chamois to dry off the car. There are a number of different types and brands of chamois on the market. I prefer “Absorber” as it stays supple and does a great job of drying the car. As you wipe water from the surface, wring out the chamois. Once the car is dry, check for missed spots, tar, bugs and other dirt. Remove stubborn dirt with any bug-and-tar remover. If there are any peeling stickers on the bumpers or rear panel, remove them now. To remove bumper stickers, spray them with aerosol lubricant. Allow the penetrating oil to soak in to the stickers for a few hours, then rub or scrape them away. A hair dryer will sometimes help loosen a stuck sticker on chrome or metal surfaces.

Now that your car is all clean, you can evaluate the finish. What you do next depends on what kind of paint your car has. If it is metallic paint with no clearcoat, avoid any kind of abrasive polishes. Most older cars don’t have clearcoat, unless they have been repainted. An example of a nonabrasive polish is Turtle Wax Metallic. Most other manufactures of automotive wax also sell polish that is suitable for metallic finishes.

Depending on the thickness of your paint, top coats and clearcoats can be damaged when abrasive cleaners are used. If you remove the thin layer of clearcoat over the base paint, you will need to respray the area with another layer. Clearcoat is usually tougher than metallic paint finishes and can stand up to an abrasive polish. However, if your sheen can be restored by using a non abrasive polish, use it. If you must use an abrasive to restore your clearcoat, try a cleaning wax rather than straight polishing or a rubbing compound. If the paint is just a little dull but still smooth, hand polishing will probably be all that is needed to restore the luster.

If your paint is severely faded or heavily scratched, you will probably need a rubbing compound. This is a big job and best done by hand. You can use a buffing machine, but there is a greater risk of damaging your finish. However if the only alternative is repainting, you might want to give it a try.

There are lots of polishing products on the shelves these days. Unfortunately, not all the companies making these products speak the same language. Polish and a polishing compound may not be the same thing. Some may say they are fine for all paint, or new paint or faded paint. Some are liquid, some are wax some are waterless. Rubbing compounds come in liquid or paste. Liquid is easier to apply, but you won’t get as much compound for the money. Stop! Read the label. If you can’t tell if the polish has abrasives or not, then don’t buy it. Find the right polish that will be right for your car.

Weather you’re using an abrasive hand-applied polishing compound on severely faded paint of a nonabrasive polish on clearcoat, work in the shade or in a garage. Apply the polish to a small area and use a supplied applicator or a piece of terrycloth. Follow the package directions. Some use water, some don’t. If you are using an abrasive compound, you will see removed paint on your applicator.

To do a hand compounding job right, a lot of elbow grease is needed. Do a 2 foot square area at a time. If the damage to the paint is severe, begin by lightly wet sanding the area with 800 grit sandpaper. This is not recommend for clearcoat or metallic paint. Once sanded, apply the compound to a soft terrycloth rag or a supplied applicator. Apply the compound with straight back and forth strokes. Remove the compound and then inspect the paint. If the surface isn’t glossy once the compound is washed off, you haven’t removed enough paint and should try again, but be careful not to rub all the way through the paint. To do an entire car by hand will take at least a weekend. You may want to buy or rent a polishing machine. Machine compounding will remove a lot of paint quickly and if your paint is already thin, you will wind up repainting. To avoid rubbing all the way through raised surfaces and corners, cover them with masking tape and rub them by hand later. Read the instructions that come with your machine or have someone show you how it is used. After you have compounded all the painted surfaces, remove the masking tape and do problem areas by hand and areas where the machine could not reach.

Now that your car is compounded or polished, rinse it thoroughly with warm water and dry it with a chamois. Once the car is 100 percent dry, apply some pure carnauba wax. This will make your car shine like new again. The wax will also provide a layer of protection. Make sure the wax does not contain any abrasives. Some brands do. Apply the wax to one small area at a time and polish it with a soft cloth. Now shine up your chrome using a stainless steel or chrome cleaner and you’re ready to go cruising in your glinting classic car.

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