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
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.
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
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 canít 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 carís 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 wonít 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
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 donít 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 clearcoat. 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 wonít get as much compound for the money. Stop! Read the
label. If you canít tell if the polish has abrasives or not, then donít buy it. Find the
right polish that will be right for your car.
Weather youíre 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 donít. 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 isnít glossy once the compound is washed off, you
havenít 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
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 youíre ready to go cruising in your
glinting classic car.