Automotive Paint Correction: Releveling, Wetsanding, Buffing, Polishing, & Scratch Removal
What is paint correction?
Paint correction refers to the process of removing the imperfections in a vehicle’s finish and restoring it to an, often times, better than new state. These imperfections include but are not limited to, swirl marks or “spider webbing” from circular washing, automatic carwashes, fine scratches, water spots, bird dropping etching, hologramming and buffer trails caused by inexperienced detailers, the list goes on. Most common practicing detailers will simply fill in fine scratches in your paint. In other words, your scratches are hidden by cheap waxes that they apply and will be revealed after you wash your vehicle several times. The only true way to remove scratches from your vehicle's paint is with the process of paint correction, one of our specialties here at Detail Boss. Once the paint has been re-leveled, polished, and sealed by us, your scratches are gone for good. However, it does require proper maintenance in which we provide to keep your car looking great after the detail to avoid putting new scratches into your paint.
How do I tell if my vehicle is in need of paint correction?
Have you ever looked at your car in the sun and thought it looked like it was covered in a spider web? These are known as swirl marks or "spider webbing". These are actually circular shaped scratches caused by improper washing and wiping techniques. Many people, including the common detailer still wash & detail cars using the old, cicular, "wax on, wax off" technique and this is where these scratches come from. We can assure you, there are no Mr. Miyagi's here at Detail Boss. Though it is impossible not to mildly scratch the surface during a wash, these circular motions are what put scratches into the paint, not remove them. Below is a simple diagram that shows how your eye is able to detect a minute scratch in a vehicle's paint finish in direct sunlight:
Because a circular scratch will always have a side directly bisecting your line of sight and the reflection of the suns rays, they will be much easier to see. However, if you wash the vehicle in the direction of air flow over the vehicle (front to back motions), the scratches will be uniform and will only be visible when perpendicular to the vehicle. Scratched clearcoat will appear white or light in color(See below on Toyota Supra Wetsanding photo), where as properly polished clearcoat is optically clear.
Why does paint correction matter?
Whether you have a Ford or a Ferrari, the first thing anyone who sees your car will notice is the paint. What they are really seeing is the reflection of the rest of the world in your vehicle's finish. While a car might look “clean” and well taken care of from afar, often times the finish will be muddled looking due to what is known as “orange peel.” This is when a paint’s finish takes on a texture similar to an orange peel due to machine spraying at the factory, lack of finishing procedures at the factory, resprays and or improper painting techniques. If your vehicle has orange peel (most commonly seen on newer BMW’s) it isn’t always bad, but rather could benefit by colorsanding/wetsanding to alleviate the surface texturing of your paint, which will result in a more crisp, clear reflection.
If the finish is orange peeled, all reflections will look as if you were looking at a reflection in a lake on a windy day. Not until this texture is leveled and polished will the reflections look as if you were looking into a mirror.
As you can see, the reflection of the badge in the paint gets distorted due to the uneven clear coat finish. However, when the clear coat becomes leveled down, the reflection in the paint is clear as day!
How is paint correction achieved?
Step 1: Wash Process followed by Clay Bar
The first step in correcting a vehicle's finish is removing all surface contaminants.This starts with a thorough wash process, drying of the vehicle and then moving to the clay bar step. A common misconception is that once a vehicle has been washed, it is clean. While it may be clean to the naked eye and all major contaminants are removed from the surface, often still it's covered with stubborn surface contaminants that require an extra step to remove. This step is known as “Clay Bar.” Have you ever washed your car and ran your hand on your “clean” dry paint and it felt rough? In some cases your paint's finish might even feel rough like sand paper if it has heavy contamination or paint over-spray. This decontamination process is important, as when you move to the next stages of wet sanding, buffing, polishing, etc you don’t want those contaminants being ground into your car, possibly permanently damaging your vehicle’s paint.
In this process, the surface of the paint is sprayed with a special clay lubricant and then, with a soft detailing grade block of clay, gone over thoroughly to remove all remaining surface contaminants. As illustrated above, the clay glides through the thin layer of lubricant and picks up any stubborn contaminants left over from the wash process. This process is extremely important because if one was to begin polishing before these contaminants were removed, they would be ground into the paint causing scratches or other visible results. Once all of these contaminants have been removed, the paint must then be inspected to see what sort of correction will be required. Here is us using the clay bar on a 2007 Infiniti G35.
Step 2 (if required): Wet Sanding or Leveling
Sometimes buffing and polishing isn’t enough to remove an imperfection from a vehicle’s surface. For the things like finger-nail deep scratches or orange peel, they must be removed with a technique known as “wet sanding”. This is the process of using a moistened series of specially designed automotive sandpaper with very fine grit to remove the top layer of clear coat. The surface then has to go through an extensive and staged buffing & polishing process to bring the shine back. Here is an example of a section of a modified Toyota Supra Turbo we detailed part way through the wet sanding process used to remove sanding scratches on this car.
Step 3: Buffing & Polishing
Step 3 and 4 (Sometimes more) of the paint correction process is the actual polishing of the vehicle. It isn’t as simple as grabbing a polisher and going to work though. Depending on a number of factors such as the amount and type of clear coat, if it is one stage paint or not, and the severity of the imperfections, the combination of machine, pad, and polish will differ from vehicle to vehicle. For example, vehicles that have been wet sanded will required a multi-step correction and polishing process including 3-4 different types of correction pads, the same number of polishing pads and several different types of polishes.
Often times several stages of polishing are required to achieve full correction. The first being the most abrasive and and the last being a very fine finishing polish. The large scratches are removed in the first stage of polish and then the smaller surface abrasions caused by this abrasive polish are removed by the finer polish that comes at a later stage during the process.
Step 4: Sealing the Vehicle
After all correction has taken place, it is time to seal up the vehicle’s paint to protect it from further scratching. This step however is where some shops try and cover their poor paint correction abilities by using what is known as a “glaze”. Have you ever had your car detailed only to find it looking scratched up a couple weeks later? That is most likely because the detailers used a glaze product. A glaze is a talcum & water based product that is applied to a vehicle’s finish that fills in scratches and gives the appearance of “corrected paint”. Since this product is water based and doesn’t actually bond with the clear coat like a true sealer, it just sits on the surface and after a couple washes or some harsh weather will be completely removed, revealing the detailer's lack of ability to achieve paint correction.
Unlike glaze, our waxes and sealants are engineered to maintain a protective layer on your paint for several months up to a year. There are two main kinds of products we use; polymer-based sealers and natural carnauba waxes. While the synthetic polymer-based sealers will last longer, the natural carnauba waxes are known for giving a deeper shine but don’t last as long. When scheduling your appointment, let us know the environmental conditions, mileage, and type of care your car receives to best assess your needs for paint protection. We even have options such as “Stacking” which is 2 coats of protection (First Synthetic Polymer, followed by a wax top-up) giving you the longevity of a sealant, but that fresh look of wax and can last up to a year after your detail!
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