The Adventures of Paint Correction: Maintaining your Vehicle's Shiny Finish
Paint correction. It's a name that sounds like it could be a board game or the newest episode of The Simpsons, but in reality, it is one of the most important steps in vehicle maintenance. Paint correction refers to removing scratches and buffing out imperfections from your car's paint job so that you can maintain its original shine without worrying about those pesky little flaws ruining your day. In this blog post, we will discuss what paint correction is as well as how to take care of your vehicle after you've had the service done!
What is paint correction?
Paint correction, also known as paint polishing or buffing the car's finish to remove swirls, scratches and other imperfections on your vehicle. It can be done in a variety of ways: by hand, by machine or both.
You are essentially "sanding" away layers of clear coat in very, very small amounts. Each scratch or imperfection is seen because the clear coat has grooves or damage to it. When we polish, compound, or wet sand, we are removing a little bit of clear coat to make it flat again and shiny. That is why it is extremely important to protect your vehicle after paint correction. Your car just had some of its protective clear coat sanded away. Paint correction is not something you do monthly, quarterly, or even annually because if you do, you will eventually run out of clear coat and need a new paint job!
The process itself is quite intensive. For example, a 2 to 4-year-old sedan can take anywhere from 10-20 hours of correction depending on its color and condition. Here at Obsidian Auto Spa, large black trucks or SUVs take several days of correction, usually ranging 25 hours on newer cars and 40-45 hours on older or more beat-up vehicles.
What are my paint correction options?
This question has a pretty straightforward answer. You can either do it yourself or pay someone to do it. Let's talk briefly about the pros and cons of each.
If this is something that you plan to DIY, the initial investment won't be cheap but over time it will be cheaper. There are a few tools and products you will need to buy before beginning the correction process.
You will need
At least 1 polisher $100+
Several polishing pads $40+
Polishing compound/polish $20+
Microfiber towels $25+
Sealant, wax, or coating $40+
and most importantly, YOUR TIME!
If you're looking for a quick polish job for a few dollars this would be a good place to start and you'd be expecting to spend a little over $200 for very basic equipment and products.
If you wanted to get mid-level tools and products, you're looking at a minimum of $400. And of course, if you wanted the best of the best, you'd EASILY break $1000.
Now that might sound like a lot of money, but it's not, and this is mostly a one-time investment. You can use these tools to wax your car or remove minor imperfections whenever they pop up any time you want.
On the other hand, if you take it to a professional, you can expect to pay a minimum of $500 from someone who knows what they are doing. You might be able to find a cheap $200 or even $100 cut and polish from a guy that works out of his car but you're taking your chances with that guy.
It's always best to go somewhere that is insured. People aren't perfect, even the best detailers make mistakes from time to time. And it's safest for you to go somewhere with insurance JUST INCASE that rare time they make a mistake and it happens to be on your vehicle, your car is safe and their insurance will take care of it.
The biggest determining factor for most people however is not the price, it's the results.
If you decide to go the DIY route, there are a lot of things to consider.
It is very possible and VERY EASY TO DAMAGE your paint with these machines. I have seen cars in worse condition after paint correction than before paint correction. When I have customers come in for just paint correction, 9 times out of 10 it is either from previously done work that is incorrect or "bodyshop polishing".
Bodyshops are notorious for leaving haze and the dreaded buffer trails. It's not that they don't do a good job, it's just that paint correction is not their specialty. They want to get the car presentable again, not perfect.
Professional detail shops are focused on perfection and buffer trails from a detailer is a sign of very poor training or lack of effort.
On your very first paint correction, you can get great results, damage the vehicle or anywhere in between. Paint correction itself is an art. Every canvas (car) is different and will need different methods and products to produce astounding results.
Many detail shops specialize in a specific make, type of vehicle, or even model of car! Here at Obsidian Auto Spa, we specialize in luxury and high-end vehicles. While of course, we do work on ANY vehicle, we have extensive knowledge and experience with luxury vehicles. We understand each make's paint tendencies, hardness, usual thickness, and best pad/polish combo to achieve amazing results in less time, with minimal aggression to the paint.
That being said, it is always best to ask a detailer what they recommend for optimum paint correction if you don't know where to start. If you do not have a preference or are unsure of the vehicle's make and model tendencies, then here at Obsidian Auto Spa we can definitely help you out. Give us a call or an email and we'll point you in the right direction.
Do It Yourself
If you decide to take the route of doing it yourself, there are resources out there to help you. The topic of "how to paint correct" deserves a whole blog of its own but we will briefly go over some DIY information and where to get more.
If you are just looking to do light or moderate correction, this is definitely something you can do on. If you wanted to get into wet/damp/dry sanding, I'd definitely recommend getting a few cars under your belt just using the polishing pads and compounds before attempting any kind of sanding.
Some brands that we use at Obsidian Auto Spa for paint correction include:
3D, Lake Country, Sonax, Rupes, and Flex
The absolute first thing I would do after gathering all the supplies mentioned earlier is to get a panel from the junkyard. As I mentioned before, you will need to practice on something. The junkyard is the perfect place for this because it's a cheap way of doing so and can be very educational as well!
Practicing on a junk panel will definitely help you see how your machine and polishes work. You could always practice on your own vehicles BUT if you mess something up, you're stuck with that bill or time spent trying to fix it and some things are not cheap or fixable without a respray (hundreds of dollars)!
So now you got your practice panel and your supplies. Here is where things get fun. There are plenty of videos on YouTube to show you how to do paint correction. I also recommend researching some of the more popular brands on google for their tutorials and videos as well! This way, if there's a video that shows up in your search then it will be an accurate representation or demonstration rather than someone who is just trying out what they are told from other sources.
Once you've messed around with your tools. INTENTIALLY DAMAGE the paint of your junk panel. Now you can practice with fixing that damage as well as see how much effort/time it took to do that kind of damage. This way you can see what can easily be fixed and what cannot.
I also recommend burning through the paint with your machine on purpose on the junk panel. This is something we hope never to do but how can you know how much is too much without doing it first?
Some tips to keep in mind before we leave this topic. Don't skip the clay bar! If your pad picks up dirt or contaminants from the car while polishing, all that will do is scratch your vehicle as you're polishing it! And frequently clean your pads. The best practice is to clean your pad once per panel. Dirty pads can scratch or not do any correction to the vehicle. Washing or blowing them out with compressed air after every panel will help you have consistency, reduce time and save money. You shouldn't need more than 2 pads per vehicle if you use and maintain them correctly.
Professional Paint Correction - What to expect?
Typically, you should expect a price tag between $500 - $1500 for a paint correction job. With this higher price tag, however, it usually comes with outstanding results and a much faster turnaround. And if for some reason they burn through the paint, as long as you took it to a reputable place, they will cover the costs of touching up or their insurance will cover a respray.
There are a lot of reasons getting a paint correction service on your vehicle might vary drastically from your friend's car for the same results. The size of the vehicle, work scope (full paint correction or just a few areas), condition, and color are all factors in determining the price.
Most companies will charge you depending on vehicle size. Larger vehicles take more time to paint correct, usually because they have a lot of panels. A full-size truck is typically going to cost a little bit more than say, a small SUV or sedan due to the number of different surfaces that need correction.
If your vehicle has any damage before deciding on getting paint corrected this will greatly affect the amount of time needed to correct it. For a customer who already has chips, scratches, or scuffs in the paint and decides to get it corrected right away, they typically have an increased turnaround time as opposed to someone that just needs minor correction. This increase in time almost always means an increase in price.
*One type of paint correction service where condition might not play a factor is a 1-step correction. Since they are interested only in improving in 1 go, the condition of the paint won't play a large factor since they won't be going for perfection, just an improvement.
If you're interested in getting paint correction, the color will also affect how much labor is depending on the shop you take your vehicle to. Generally, whites, silvers, and light colors are easier to do paint correction on because they hide flaws well. In contrast, black and darker colors show everything so paint correction will take more time on a darker colored vehicle.
Type of Paint Correction Service
Typically there are a few different options available.
1-Step or All in One (AIO)
Your entry-level 1-step or all-in-one correction is usually on the lower end and will take professionals a few hours to a day depending on how many employees they have as well as how big the vehicle is. This service involved the professional using a medium aggressive polish paired with a polishing pad. This won't remove deep imperfections but it also won't leave a very visible haze that more aggressive methods do. Vehicle color and condition won't play a large factor since they are doing 1 step and not looking for perfection. Their goal with this service is to improve 30 to 50% by removing surface-level flaws and imperfections. Generally, you can expect a price range from 200 to 500 depending on how big the vehicle size.
This is the most popular and sought-after service. This is a more mid to high-level service that can fix most issues for most vehicles. You can expect at least 1 day of work and all the way up to 3 or 4 depending on the condition of the paint and size of the vehicle. The professionals will use an aggressive compound paired with an aggressive pad to remove swirls, holograms, marring, and fine scratches. After this process, they will follow up by using a finishing polish and finishing pad. This process should remove 50 to 90% of imperfections depending on the condition of the vehicle as well as the skills of the professionals. Here they are looking for near perfection but within reason, meaning if imperfections are too deep for the polishers to remove, they will not come out. Very deep scratches like that are for multi-step if possible. Prices here can vary wildly since the professionals are looking for near perfection. Time, condition, color, and size will cause price ranges from 500 to 2000.
This is the highest level of correction available. It has the price tag and risks to match. If the paint correction professionals are unable to remove all of the imperfections with polishing machines, they will need to continue with more aggressive steps. This process adds one or more of the sanding process: dry, damp, and wet. Sanding the paint on a vehicle regardless of the method, is extremely dangerous. Paint levels in vehicles are getting thinner and thinner throughout the years so extreme caution must be taken when sanding paint. Some businesses even have disclaimers customers must sign when seeking this kind of service. It is very easy when sanding to go "too" far and either go through the clear coat to the base paint or even past that to bare metal or plastic! Once this step is complete, they generally do the 2-step correction as a follow-up to remove the various levels of haze leftover. You can easily expect several days to a week or more for the time needed to complete this. Prices will generally start at 1k and can go up to 3 or 4 thousand dollars depending on the vehicle.
Your vehicle is nice and shiny with little to no flaws thanks to the paint correction process. Now you must maintain that shine so it stays that way for years! Let's go over some tips as well as some dos and don'ts.
NEVER use a drive-through car wash that has those big bristles machines. The vibrations and brush trauma can be devastating to the paint, causing swirls that will take a lot of time to fix AGAIN. Even if you haven't paint corrected your vehicle, you still should NEVER use an automated car wash that has bristles.
Avoid automatic car washes when possible as well in order to avoid the harsh chemicals from being used on your vehicle, which could cause excessive oxidation or damages your wax, sealant, or ceramic coating! If you absolutely must go through an automated wash, the touchless options are your safest bet.
The ideal situation is a hand wash, rinseless wash, or touchless wash at home with PH balanced soap and a pressure washer. If you're like most serious car owners, you got your car ceramic coated after the paint correction. If this is the case, all you simply need to do is rinse, foam, rinse and dry in most cases.
Light Dust and Dirt Removal
It's very common for your vehicle to accumulate some light dust or dirt from use. It might not be dirty enough for a wash but it is enough to make you want to get rid of it. When trying to remove dust or light debris, the most important thing to remember is:
If it's dry, it's not safe.
DON'T use those California dusters or any sort of rag, cloth, brush, or any dry method of removing dirt and debris. Removing dust with any form of dry cloth is simply pushing the dirt/contaminants around and causing micromarring and/or scratches and swirls.
DO use a quick detailer or a watered-down rinseless wash and a microfiber cloth. Using this method is much safer between washes. The quick detailer will encapsulate the dust and dirt and adhere to the microfiber cloth instead of simply being pushed around the surface of the car creating scratches.
Follow up paint correction services
Remember, paint correction is fixing small/large scratches and swirl marks from the paint by removing small layers of clear coat. If you have your vehicle is paint corrected frequently, it will wear down the clear coat prematurely since it is a thin finite layer of protection.
Eventually, after too many paint corrections, there will be no clear coat left to protect the paint!
DON'T perform or have paint correction services done on your vehicle frequently. This is not something to be done monthly, semi-annually, or even annually. It should be done on an as-needed basis. Typically only 3-5 times for the life of the vehicle!
DO put a protective coating to build up layers of protection. You can use waxes, sealants, ceramic or graphene coatings to start building these layers. Since these layers are applied to your vehicle aftermarket, they will be sacrificed first for scratches and other imperfections instead of your precious clear coat that was just corrected.
You should have a vehicle maintenance routine to ensure your vehicle is looking its best and the paint is well taken care of.
Washing - Weekly
You should do some form of washing weekly. This might be a full car wash, hand washing, or quick detailing. Whatever your chosen method is make sure to dry the vehicle well afterward as water spots can really damage clear coat paint once they have dried for some time in humid environments
Waxing/Sealing - Monthly
Once you've washed and dried your vehicle it's important to apply protective waxes, sealants, or coatings. In a perfect world, waxes last 2-3 months, and sealants last up to 6 months.
In our real world and especially if your car is your daily driver, you can expect those times to be half of that, most likely even less. So it is important you keep your layers of wax/sealants renewed monthly.
Paint Cleaning - Quarterly
Cleaning and decontaminating the paint will greatly increase the life of it. This includes a thorough wash, fallout remover, and claybar treatment if necessary.
It's important to remember that claying a vehicle isn't always necessary. Claying the vehicle can cause scratches and micromarring since the bar itself is abrasive. You only clay as needed and in most cases a fallout remover after a good wash will likely take care of all embedded contaminants.
Ceramic Coating - Annually or longer*
If you opt to go the ceramic coating route, you can forego the waxing/sealing steps as the coatings last much longer and applying layers that often can get very expensive and is unnecessary. You can get consumer-grade coatings that last a year or two and do that annually or every two years instead of waxing once a month.
If you get a professional-grade coating, you can go in some cases up to 9 years without having to recoat it. But this convenience comes at a large upfront cost. It's up to you to weigh what's more important, the time saved or upfront cost. Over the long term, ceramic coatings are ALWAYS cheaper but the upfront cost does scare some customers away.
Paint Correction - As needed (ideally once every few years or longer)
As mentioned earlier, when your vehicle has been through a paint correction process, it has lost very small amounts of its protective clear coat. You should only have paint correction performed as needed and in a perfect world that's only 3-5 times for the lifetime of the vehicle.
If you maintain your vehicle properly and take great care of it in general, paint correction won't be needed often.
Paint correction is a service that every vehicle owner should have done to maintain the shine on their car. If you're not sure what paint correction is or how it works, don't worry! In this blog post, we've covered everything from the basics of paint correction to why it's important and how often you need to get your car serviced. We hope this information will help answer any questions you might have about paint correction so that when the time comes for your next appointment, all you'll have to do is refer back to this post if you want to DIY or give us a call and we'll do it for you!
What type of vehicle do you drive and how do you correct and maintain its paint?
Let us know below!