That'll buff out, or will it? Paint correction is a vast subject to cover. You can really dive deep into the varying machines, pads, compounds, techniques, paint types, and so on. But unless you are either in the business or thinking of paint correcting your own vehicle those extra little details won't matter. So we are going to keep it to the point. Here you will grasp a better understanding of car paint, what can and can not be corrected, and the paint correcting process itself.
The Anatomy of Car Paint
Vehicles today have three layers. The three layers are primer, color, and clear coat. I say vehicles today because up until around the late 80s a vast majority of cars were still using single stage paint. Single stage paint is when the color and clear coat are essentially mixed as one and sprayed together.
With two stage paint primer is sprayed first to allow the color layer to form a stronger bond and adhere to the metal panels. Primer also helps prevent the vehicle from rusting. The color layer is pretty self explanatory on its roll and is applied second. Lastly the clear coat is sprayed on top. The clear coat is responsible for protecting the paint underneath from UV damage, debris, acid staining, bugs, ect. As well as providing protection it also enhances the paints appearance giving it that glossy appearance.
Will it Buff Out?
When we talk paint correcting we are only working with the last layer, clear coat. Any damage through the clear coat layer will outright not buff out and requires repainting. Most of the time swirls, scratches, bug etchings, water spotting, and acid staining are within the clear coat only. As a good rule of thumb... take your thumb and run your nail across the scratch. If your nail gets caught in the crevice of the scratch usually it's too deep to be removed completely. However it can still be greatly improved and less noticeable.
To Paint Correct or Not To Paint Correct That Is The Question
Just because we can buff it out, should we? So remember clear coat is the protective layer for the vehicle. Similar to tooth enamel there is only so much of it and once its gone its gone. When we are correcting a scratch on the vehicle we are grinding down the clear coat. In doing this we bring the clear coat down to the bottom part of the scratch to level it out.
If your clear coat is on the low side of thickness then paint correction may not be worth it. In this case correcting the imperfection also means lowering the clear coat even more which in turn leaves your car more susceptible to fading, rust, and oxidation. For this reason I always recommend applying a ceramic coating to vehicles after paint correction. Ceramic coatings add a thick, durable, and less porous layer on top of the clear coat. In doing this we can help compensate for the loss of clear coat after a paint correction.
Paint Correcting Process
First and foremost you need to have clean paint that is free of all contaminants. Anything left on or in the clear coat can get stuck in the machine polisher as it spins over the surface. If this happens, instead of removing scratches you will be putting more in.
To avoid this mistake, throughly hand wash and clay bar the vehicle beforehand.
All plastic and rubber trim should be taped off to prevent staining with the compound and polishes. Once the vehicle is fully prepped its time to take an assessment of the paint. Look over all the panels of the vehicle and see if its heavy or light defects. Use a paint gauge meter to evaluate how much clear coat is on the vehicle. Note: you need to take multiple readings, I usually take 4 readings per panel, as the clear coat thickness is not uniform throughout the vehicle. This is important to ensure there is enough clear coat left to safely correct the car and there aren't any low spots of clear coat.
With different combinations of pads and compounds, the imperfections will be corrected to the highest degree, safely. This process can take anywhere from 4 hours to 18+ hours depending on the size and condition of the vehicle. Once corrected and free of scratches and defects the vehicle will have an added deep gloss and mirror like clarity. At this point you will either install a ceramic coating, paint sealant, or wax to finish up the project.
What is this going to cost me?
Paint correction pricing can vary a good amount based off the skill level of the detailer. The saying "you get what you pay for" is very prevalent. A professional detailer providing quality work will charge anywhere from $500-$1,200+
Pricing is based off of the size of the vehicle and almost more importantly the expectation of the customer. Does this person just want some added gloss to their daily driver or is this a show car or museum piece that requires nothing less than perfection?