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Pro Tips for Successful Car Paint Correction at Home

As the New year approaches, we thought we would give our readers some car paint correction tips since the idea of paint correction is so often misunderstood.

Car paint correction is a term used perhaps too often in the Fort Worth market by “detailers” and car wash companies to describe a process that allegedly resolves paint issues that cannot be fixed by conventional washing alone.  I say “too often” because we routinely deal with customers who have been sold a bill of goods on “paint correction” from other organizations that does not actually meet the definition of paint correction by most professionals.  As an example, it is not uncommon in this market to have some types of auto maintenance service providers classify “claying your paint” as “car paint correction”.

It is not.  It a step in the overall preparation of an automotive panel that you would coordinate before the paint correction process, but it is not the same thing.  So, it begs the question what exactly is paint correction?  I’ve stated this before, but the basic definition of paint correction is a series of steps performed both by hand and machine, which can remove blemishes from the paint and can often transform the paint back to what it was like when new.

Car Paint Correction:  What It Isn’t!

I cannot convey how many times I have heard the phrase “Can you buff a scratch out?”, from a customer over the phone.  There are two big things wrong with that question in this instance.  One is that it’s impossible for a detailer to say whether or not a scratch is removeable from a phone conversation and secondly, “car paint correction” doesn’t actually buff the scratch out.  Technically we buff the clear coat or the paint surrounding the scratch all the way down so that the scratch is even with the clear coat or the rest of the paint.

Imagine a river in a valley.  Up in the Northwest where we came from, there is the Columbia River Gorge which stretches for miles and acts as a natural separation between the states of Oregon and Washington.  The mighty Columbia meanders through hills and mountains some of which are quite tall.  A scratch is like the river at the bottom of this carved out landscape.  In truth, we would be buffing all those hills and mountains away until everything was at the exact same height as the river.  That’s what you are really doing when you “buff a scratch out”.

So, paint correction is not “buffing anything out” but removing surrounding clear coat and paint to give the appearance of a perfectly smooth and flat surface.

Car Paint Correction:  It Can’t Fix Everything

Not every problem you may encounter with your car’s paint can be resolved with car paint correction.  Modern paint uses what’s called a “base” or “color” coat and a “clear coat” over the top of that.  Without the clear coat the base coat would have a flat or satin sort of finish.  The clear coat is there to shine up your paint and give you some wiggle room to maintain the paint over time as blemishes happen.

So, if a scratch or blemish is limited to within the depth of your clear coat, you can safely buff the area out until the scratch disappears.  However, if it is right at the edge of the clear coat or worse passes through the clear coat to the base coat or even the primer, you cannot safely remove the scratch or blemish.

Check out this simple graphic which illustrates the anatomy of a paint scratch.


So be weary of detailers that state that they get “…every scratch out.”  It’s not possible.

Car Paint Correction:  Tools of the Trade

Buffers and Polishers

Most car enthusiasts understand that any serious article on car paint correction tips requires some type of discussion of mechanical buffing.  It’s mechanical buffing, after all, that is the main impetus for hiring a professional detailer to do paint correction for you.  Machine buffing can be complicated and despite what some manufacturers claim there is no type of equipment that can guarantee you won’t buff swirl marks into the side of your black car.  There are two types of mechanical buffer/polishers available for paint correction.

  1.  Rotary Buffer
  2. Dual-Action Buffer Polisher

Auto body shops and professional car painters tend to gravitate towards rotary buffers and detailers and amateurs tend to go for dual-action machines.  There’s a very good reason for this.  Auto body experts tend to be some of the very best paint correction experts out there without really trying.  They wet sand and polish out new clear coat on a daily basis.  They have to work fast and get perfect results.  The rotary buffer, if you know how to use it, is dramatically more effective at removing blemishes and polishing out paint.   This is why they are preferred by paint shops.

Professional Painters tend to use a car paint correction setup that is 80 plus years old by combining the rotary buffer with an old-school wool pad.  Wool pads cut faster than any foam pad you will find but are more forgicing on the paint and dissipate heat better.

By comparison a dual-action buffer/polisher will take much longer to cut a cars paint and will require many more hours of careful usage to finish a standard car than a comparable rotary buffer would.  The reason is the dual-action machine doesn’t really spin so much as it “agitates”.   This lack of speed and spinning is what slows down the dual-action machine, but it is also what makes it a lot easier to use.  It’s also harder to make mistakes which is ideal for the amateur trying to buff out his or her car for the first time.

At A-List Detail Fort Worth, we have a hybrid type of process.  With over 20,000 hours of car paint correction experience we do our initial cut with a rotary buffer and wool pad.  Then subsequent passes are done using a dual-action machine with mid-grade and fine-grade pads and polish.

We are not going to recommend that amateurs ever use anything other than a dual-action machine and one we recommend is one we actually use and is available thru Chemical Guys and is moderately priced.  For more information on their equipment check out their website.  Chemical Guys TORQ Buffer


Compounds and Polishes

There are a lot of manufacturers of pads out there with names you’ve never heard of and some that you have heard of.  Make sure to get pads that are going to fit the machine you purchase.  Common pad sizes are 5, 6 and 7 inches but you can get smaller and larger pads depending on your equipment.

Some of the best pads we have ever used and some one of the best compounds is from a professional detailing supply company called 3D.  They have an excellent heavy cutting compound called “One” which really does finish almost as if you used a second stage polish.  It’s amazing.  Browse their products here.


Protective Sealants and Coatings

Once you complete the car paint correction process and your paint is looking like new, it stands to reason that you might want to protect it a bit better than you did before since the paint correction process is a bit of work and you don’t want to be buffing out your panels all the time.   The good news is there are tons of options out there to protect your paint beyond outdated waxes.  Modern paint sealants and ceramic coating can protect your cars paint for years in some cases and it’s always a good investment to protect paint as it’s costly to fix when it’s too damaged to be fixed by paint correction techniques.

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