Paint Correction (Machine Polishing or Buffing)

This page was designed to explain and to help you understand the process of how we correct your paint, or rather, your clear coat or tint coat, from oxidation, scratches, scuffs, scrapes, flaws, defects and marring from any number of things, such as bird droppings, sap or bugs, swirl marks, car washes, hard water spots, acid rain, sodium & magnesium chloride and UV.

This is sometimes referred to as buffing or machine polishing and is generally done using either a rotary buffer or more recently, large throw dual action orbital machines, along with a wide range of both old school and the most advanced tools, pads and polishes. This could also include wet or dry sanding depending on the severity of the repair or correction.

This should not concern you, since due to the very thin nature of most clear coats, this is sometimes the best way to deal with more severe issues without damaging it. Also at A Auto Detail Service, all vehicles receiving any level of paint correction on the entire vehicle will first be hand washed and then have a clay bar treatment to remove any fall out, overspray or contaminants on the finish.

For a more detailed explanation, please continue reading, especially if you have any of the above issues and this is something you’re interested in for your vehicle.

Automotive finishes and paints have evolved dramatically over the years since I first started detailing. Even though I was washing and waxing cars as a child as my Dads car collection grew, I did my first professional jobs in the late 1970’s and opened my first shop in 1982, with A Auto Detail Service opening in 1990.

Without boring you at this point with a complete history lesson, In a nutshell, automotive finishes originated as a type of a metal varnish, moving to different types of stoving and acrylic enamels up through the 1970’s, when they first started experimenting with the clear coats and tint coats of today. With different government and E.P.A. regulations over the years, different lacquers, urethanes and polyurethane products have been developed as well as a variety of differences in each of how much is solvent and water based.

The old enamels and lacquers that I grew up with were applied liberally in several coats which in turn usually made them quite thick. It was also all paint, short of the primer coat of course, but no clear coat. Some of you might remember your vehicles finish oxidizing and becoming dull, then polishing or waxing it and the color coming off on the applicator and towel as you brought it back to a nice shine.

Those vehicles had no clear coat on them. This type of finish allowed you to be able to sand, buff or polish a variety of scratches, flaws and defects out of them, even very deep scratches and orange peel since you were working directly on the paint itself.

Somewhere around the mid to late 1980’s, most vehicles coming off the line of the major manufactures had some type of clear coat or tint coat on them. This of course has posed challenges for my profession over the years of how to best care for them as well as how best correct them… to fix or remove flaws, marring, scratches, and scaring from bugs, bird droppings, sap, acid rain, road salts (mag chloride) and any of the dozens of other elements your vehicles finish faces on a day to day basis. Not to mention the changes in the finishes themselves.

Advances in technology as well as E.P.A. and other governmental regulations, the molecular structure of different finishes, as well as the making of them harder to resist scratches, or softer to resist rock chips, etc… has created plenty of challenges.

Today’s paint systems, mostly base coat/clear coats and base coat/tint coats, are better than ever. Extraordinary colors, vivid depth and clarity, dramatically high gloss and remarkable durability if properly maintained. These products are applied in three stages. The vehicle is primer sprayed, or E-coated. A color coat is applied.

Then lastly a very thin coat of clear product is applied. Adding the concerns for fuel efficiency and performance, cutting the weight of vehicles has happened in every area possible, including the finish. In turn, with the newer technologies they are able to apply all 3 of those coats extremely thin.

All of this to finally explain that, depending on who you talk to or how long you’ve been around, that the concept I hear when a lot of people call is that, I think, or I’m told “that should buff right out” is not always the case. It also doesn’t mean that it’s not the case, but there are a number of variables, and that is why I’ve created this page.

I found that I was spending a lot of time explaining all of this to each person when it came to the options they had available through our shop. It is important that you understand some of these basics so that you can understand that:

  1. We’re not your typical detail shop,
  2. You have several options on how I address the correction AND the protection of your vehicles finish,
  3. Those options are based on what you’re trying to achieve, your expectations and your budget, or how much money you’re willing to spend.

This brief education allows you to understand what your options are as well as why I may be recommending certain procedures. You can always choose those options that best fit what you want to achieve as well as what fits your budget. I will always let you know whether what I recommend is necessary in my eyes or just an option.

Also, in the case that you are selling your vehicle, I will only recommend procedures I believe you will receive a return on your investment from. I don’t want to waste your money. Remember, my goal is not to have you be a one and done customer, but for us to have a relationship where I care for your vehicle throughout it’s life!

Now then, Let’s discuss paint correction, sometimes called machine polishing, or buffing if you will. (Disclaimer: I in no way aim to demean any shops that share this profession) We can address small areas, individual scratches, scars or defects on a case by case basis. This will refer more to doing the whole exterior.

There are 4 parts to the correction process:

  1. The type of machine used (Rotary or Dual Action Orbital)
  2. The type of pad you use on the machine
  3. The type of product you use with the machine
  4. Is any wet or dry sanding necessary

There are really only two different types of machines used in paint correction.

Rotary

This is a machine that simply spins in a circular motion on a stationary axis at very high speeds. This machine allows you to be very aggressive in the paint correction process. This tool also requires a fair amount of training and experience to use correctly.

Quite often, an inexperienced detailer can do more harm than good with this type of machine. You may have seen some of those vehicles on the road. We fix a lot of those types of issues, of course at a much greater expense than if the vehicle was done correctly in the first place.

Dual Action Orbital

This is a machine spins in a circular motion, but on a rotating axis. The dual action allows this machine to be more forgiving to the experienced and inexperienced user alike.

It is not nearly as aggressive as the rotary machine, but with the advanced technology in some of these tools, pads and products, professional results can still be acquired, and with less of a chance of damaging the clear coat from marring and swirl marks.

Pads for each machine vary dramatically. Generally it goes like this- wool pad on a rotary buffer for the most aggressive, followed by foam pads of varying degrees with different products to remove more minor defects and for finishing or removing swirls from the previous steps.

But with the advances in the technology of foam and microfibers pads, along with the advances in compounds and polishes, what pad I use varies from the hardness of the paint, from manufacture to manufacture and even from car to car and is really based on experience.

Disclaimer: I label paint correction products in two types. This isn’t industry specific particularly, but it makes sense to me. They are Detailing products and Body Shop products.

The reason I use those terms is to me (with 36+ years of experience) there are also two types to paint correction, Filling and Cutting:

  • Filling refers temporarily hiding flaws such as fine scratches etc. This will allow a finish to look good for several weeks or months until those fillers wash away, then the flaws will reappear.
  • Cutting refers to removing microscopic amounts of the clear coat or tint coat to actually remove the flaw once and for all. Not just hide it.
Detailing

A lot of detailing products on the market and over the counter (including-“ As Seen On TV”), e.g. scratch removers, compounds, polishes, glazes, waxes and sealants are not designed to be very aggressive on the clear coat. They help the novice, in most cases, not damage the vehicles finish. Also, in most cases, they are also not body shop safe, meaning not safe to paint over and sometimes, not even around.(One of the reasons for my label) A lot of the time they will contain silicones and polymer fillers.

The filling process works well for a low cost solution in preparation of used cars for sale purposes, but not so well for permanent correction. Depending on the pad, the machine and the particular product used, that is what will determine how much cutting is achieved.

Body Shop

Body Shop products are designed to remove (Cut) defects from fresh or after market paint, and they also work extremely well on cured and factory paint as well. Depending again on the pad, Wool is generally more aggressive and different levels of foam pads become less aggressive with each step.

Some of the latest and more advanced products are not always body shop safe (paintable), so it is counter to the labeling I’ve used for years, but the ability to cut and actually permanently correct the problem and to do it in a cost effective way for you is my biggest concern. I will say that 99% of our correction products fall in the body shop safe category, and 100% of them fall into the Cutting category, with none in the Filling category.

Sometimes deep scratches, deep defects and heavily damaged or abused finishes require sanding. This may sound too aggressive with such a thin coating of clear, but because it is so thin, sometimes alternating sanding and buffing is the only thing that allows you to achieve the desired result without burning through that thin layer of clear.

This is an art and I don’t recommend leaving that job to the lowest bidder. In a full correction, this is something we discuss with you in detail on a case by case basis.

So, here is an example of the levels of correction in the way I will most likely discuss it with you. These options range in levels of aggression. So what we will recommend will depend on what the problem is, what state of restoration or correction you want to achieve, the age of paint, how long you plan to keep the vehicle, if we are doing a Ceramic Pro coating package, how aggressive you are on the vehicle and of course your budget.

Preface: At A Auto Detail Service, all vehicles receiving any level of paint correction on the entire vehicle will first be carefully hand washed and then have a clay bar treatment to remove any fall out, overspray or contaminants on the finish.

We will also want to make sure we remove any larger debris such as sap or tar, etc. There may be an additional charge if there is extensive debris on the vehicle, but this helps to ensure a clean surface to work on as well as ensure we don’t have anything get caught in the pad that could damage the finish.

  1. Levels of sanding
  2. Wool Pad ( Super Cut/Heavy Cut Compound Body Shop Style)
  3. Foam Pad ( Super Cut/Heavy Cut Compound Body Shop Style)
  4. Polish
  5. Swirl Remove (Reds and Dark Colors Must)
  6. Ultra Fine Swirl Remove
  7. Wax, Sealant or Ceramic Pro Coating

On our most basic correction jobs, we now have a product that has the ability to cut and polish in one step! It’s not very aggressive, but does a wonderful job of minor correction and provides a smooth surface to apply the protection you chose in an extremely cost effective way.

Protecting and Maintaining Your Newly Corrected Paint Job

Now that you’ve invested in whatever level of paint correction you’ve selected, there comes the selection of how you want to protect and maintain it. There is no shortage of waxes, polishes and sealants on the market today vying for your attention and your dollars.

This includes the newer state of the art coatings and nanoceramics that are gaining popularity. Choosing from them all can be a bigger job than actually doing the work. But maintaining that “right off the showroom floor look” doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing. At A Auto Detail Service we can offer you a variety of choices in this area as well.

Again based on what results you are trying to achieve, your expectations, and of course your budget and how much you’re willing to spend to protect your investment. For more information on these choices, please visit our Paint Protection link.