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FAQ: Waxing, Buffing, Paint, and Plastic Care
- Someone told me that buffing is bad. Is that true?
Buffing is bad only if it's done unnecessarily or improperly. Buffing can be done either by hand, with an orbital polisher, or with a variable-speed rotary buffer. The rotary buffer is by far the best method, but must be done by a trained professional to avoid paint damage. If you have oxidation (dull paint) or hairline scratches (spiderwebbing), buffing can help. On a car that is shiny and scratch-free, it is unnecessary. Buffing removes some of the paint, and taking off too much paint would be like peeling off a layer of your skin-yikes!!! Each time the paint is buffed, it loses about 1/10th of a mil of paint (a mil a.k.a. micron, is 1/1000th of an inch.) The clearcoat is only 1.5-2.0 mils thick! Removing more than 3/10ths of a mil of clearcoat is not recommended, since the majority of the UV blockers are in the first 5/10ths of a mil.
So beware of detail packages that include buffing as an obligatory part of the package. If your car doesn't need buffing, either: 1. It either won't be done properly or won't be done at all, so you won't get what you paid for, or 2. It will be done and some of your paint will be gone forever, unnecessarily. Plus, buffing often results in swirl marks (see below), which are tough to get rid of. If you don't need buffing, don't have it done. Just remember, your total paint thickness from the top of the clearcoat down to the metal underneath is only 4-7 microns thick-that's only 4-7 thousandths of an inch! Cheaper cars often have thinner paint layers, so keep that in mind when considering buffing. Damage is most common around edges and creases where the paint is thinner and the buff pad will naturally be applying more pressure. With more pressure comes more heat and friction, which will remove paint at an alarming rate, sometimes right through to the primer. When buffing, the surface should never feel hot to the touch.
Food for thought: the paint finish on your car is the second-most expensive part of the car-second only to the drivetrain! Remember this when having anything done to your paint.
- What are swirl marks, and how can I get rid of them?
Swirl marks (also known as holograms) are a normal result of rotary buffing. They are most noticeable on darker color cars, especially on sunny days-they appear as swirly, crescent shaped circular patterns in the paint that reflect the sunlight in a different way as you move your vantage point around the car. You can't feel them, but you can see them. (You may have also seen swirl marks on polished stone floors as they bend and scatter the light reflections while you walk past.) On lighter cars and/or on cloudy days, you probably won't see them at all. New, un-buffed paint will reflect normally without the circular reflection patterns. The reason you can see swirl marks is due to an optical effect called "backlighting". When light passes through the clearcoat and reflects off of the basecoat and back to your eyes, it is backlighting the clearcoat. The easiest way to describe this is to compare it to your windshield-when driving into the setting sun all of the imperfections, dirt, streaks, and bugs show up very well, making it hard to see because the sun is backlighting the windshield. But when the sunlight is shining through the windshield in the same direction as you are looking the imperfections, dirt, streaks, and bugs do not show up much at all-got it? Good.
Swirl marks can be minimized by keeping the buff pad flat or nearly flat on the surface while buffing. Inexperienced or careless detailers like to buff with the buff pad at a high angle, which does the job quicker, but makes the swirls worse. In general, the stronger and more abrasive the buff pad used, and the more aggressive the buffing compound used, the more swirl marks will be present afterwards. Swirls will also occur if the buff pad is not cleaned with a pad spur or brush on a regular basis, or if you are trying to buff contaminants off of the surface, which may come off but get stuck in the buff pad. If your car requires heavy buffing, it will no doubt have swirl marks afterwards that should be removed. While buffing, a good detailer will use alcohol spray and a clean towel to wipe off the surface being buffed-the alcohol removes the buffing compound so the true, clean, dry paint surface can be observed. This is necessary to gauge progress in the buffing process and it also makes swirl marks more noticeable so they can be removed. A softer buff pad used in conjunction with Swirl Mark Remover (a compound similar to glaze) should help minimize swirls, but swirl marks are a bugger to get rid of completely. There will almost always be a little bit of swirl after buffing, and the best way to combat it is with frequent glaze and wax, which will minimize the visual effect of swirls. This is another reason why buffing should be avoided unless truly necessary.
- How often should I wax my car? What kind of wax do you use?
The frequency of waxing depends on the wax used. If it doesn't say on the label, you can assume most waxes will last 2-3 months. But beware-some of the cheaper stuff only lasts a few weeks. Leaving the car outdoors all the time, frequent washing, strong cleaning agents, and rain will all shorten the life of the wax.
A good rule of thumb is if water still beads up on the car, the wax is still doing its job. There is some debate on whether or not the wax is still there and working even after the beading stops, but for me, if it doesn't bead, it means I should wax again sometime soon.
Don't think applying a heavier coat of wax is better-it just makes it harder to get off. If you really want a good layer of wax, wax it twice with a thin coat each time. When applying the wax, you only need enough wax to form a haze on the surface-not a thick coating. Wax is best applied by hand with a wax pad, or by orbital polisher with either a terry bonnet or non-abrasive foam pad. I prefer the latter.
Spending a little extra on wax is a good idea. I prefer Meguiar's Professional High-Tech Yellow Wax #26-it has a blend of carnauba and polymers and is quite durable.
- I heard you shouldn't wash or wax a car in the sun?
Yup, you're right. You shouldn't. The sun can dry out the soapy water on the vehicle and can also make the paint surface too hot for waxing or buffing. This is a limitation of mobile detailing, but a careful detailer with a watchful eye can avoid the problems associated with working in the sun-like keeping the vehicle constantly wet and cooling the paint in a shady spot, under a canopy, or indoors before doing any waxing or buffing. Remember-I treat you car like it was my own, so there's no need to worry about damage!
- What kind of wax is best?
"Wax" has become the generic term for any type of paint protectant. Waxes that use carnauba/polymer blends are usually considered the best. Carnauba wax, which comes from the Brazilian rainforests, is durable and produces a deep shine, but can be a pain to remove after application and sometimes causes a greasy or oily look. Newer waxes use polymers, which are produced by people in white lab coats. Polymer-based waxes (which are actually classified as sealants or synthetic waxes) are becoming more popular because of the ease of application/removal and their durability.
Some people like to say the depth of shine of polymer does not compare to that of carnauba. In general, carnauba/polymer blends combine the best of both worlds-deep shine, durability, and ease of use. Whether a product is classified as a wax or sealant depends on its main ingredient-wax or polymer. Since most waxes and sealants contain both, classifying them is a bit harder, but it really doesn't matter. Just pick a product that combines both. Depending on the manufacturer, polymer waxes may or may not be recommended for use on European vehicle finishes, since polymer waxes tend to be more hydroscopic (water-absorbing) and can become cloudy. For some reason (unknown even to the manufacturers) this is a bigger problem with European paints. Check the wax label and your owner's manual.
Another option is a cleaner or cleaner wax. If you haven't waxed in a while, the finish appears a bit dull, or if it appears dingy even after washing, using a cleaner wax might be a good idea. Along with the wax, it has mild abrasives or chemicals which provide mild cleaning qualities to remove light oxidation and/or dirt not removed with washing. This is very useful on lighter color cars, especially white, since dinginess shows more on lighter cars. Just look for a wax that has some cleaning or light polishing abilities. There are several variations and names out there. Since a cleaner wax is trying to do two jobs (cleaning and waxing) you might want to follow up with a regular wax or sealant if you are super-serious about getting good wax protection.
For your information, wax grade is based on a 1-4 scale. Food-grade wax is grade 1, while car wax-quality carnauba is grade 4. And then there's different grades of carnauba, #1 being the best. So, yes, car wax is real wax, just much more durable than stuff used in candles or beeswax.
- What about sealants?
The difference between sealants and organic waxes is becoming more blurred with each new product on the market. Sealants are based on polymers, rather than waxes, but most good quality sealants contain wax, and most good quality waxes contain polymers. In general, sealants are a bit longer lasting than waxes due to the polymers. They gain durability and longitivity by relying more on polymers and silicones rather than the natural waxes (like carnauba.) (Silicones in this respect are ok-it's the silicones in protectant and dressings that are bad.) Water Spot offers a sealant that combines polymers, silicones, and natural waxes for super durability and the best shine that sealant has to offer. Just don't be fooled into thinking there are sealants out there that are permanent. The sealant Water Spot offers isn't permanent, and neither is anyone else's. You could reasonably expect a sealant to last twice as long as a wax.
- What about the lifetime sealant the dealer put on my car? Or the lifetime sealant I saw on TV?
If you got your special sealant at the dealer, you got ripped off, unless they did it for free. There is no such thing as a lifetime sealant. Some people hawking it will tell you they will "rejuvenate" the sealant at no charge at a future date-but if it needs to be reapplied, it isn't a permanent or lifetime sealant, is it? Stick with the products that are honest about what they do-which is, they don't last forever and must be done on a regular basis-like a good quality carnauba/polymer blend wax or sealant. A product with "sealant" in the name might last a longer, but don't expect miracles.
There is however, a plastic coating that is available as paint protectant. It's basically a plastic layer that is applied over all of your body panels-kinda like a thick layer of bonded shrink-wrap or saran wrap, which is a cool idea. It prevents minor scratches and separates the paint from the elements. It's a bit expensive, though, and who knows how well it will hold up after a few years. Let the guinea pigs try it first, and if it really takes off, it might be a good alternative.
- What about that wax with Teflon I saw in the store?
It's a marketing gimmick using the Teflon name to sell wax. It breaks down like this: Teflon would make a great automotive coating, wouldn't it? Yes, it would. But to apply Teflon to an object, it must be heated to several hundred degrees in order for the Teflon to stick. This works great with frying pans, but not with cars. Obviously, to apply Teflon to a car, it would have to be heated the same way, which would cause the paint to burn off, not to mention it would cause your car to burn down to a smoldering hulk of metal.
For these waxes containing Teflon, there is actually Teflon in the product, but it has no way to do its job since it is not applied in the proper fashion. Simply layering Teflon onto your paint does not mean it will bond to the surface, and therefore it will not be able to repel foreign substances like it's supposed to. Forget the Teflon gimmicks and choose a BS-free wax.
- My car is clearcoated. What does that mean? Does it need wax?
Yes, it needs wax. Most all cars are clearcoated nowadays. In the old days, cars had what is referred to as single-stage paint, which means the paint you see and feel on the car is all that's on there (other than the primer underneath, of course.) Basecoat/clearcoat paint systems use a primer system, a color coat (basecoat), and a clear paint coat on top (clearcoat). The clearcoat acts as protection for the colored paint underneath. Basecoat/clearcoat paint provides a deeper shine and requires less maintenance, but it still needs protection. Wax is basically a sacrificial protectant-the wax wears away from the abuse of the elements, rather than the paint wearing away. This is needed on both single-stage and basecoat/clearcoat paint systems.
Buffing or waxing a dull single-stage painted vehicle will produce a brilliant night and day difference in shine. Buffing or waxing a clearcoated car will produce less dramatic results, but is still quite necessary to protect and beautify the paint.
- What is a gel-coat fiberglass? What about other types of fiberglass and composite panels?
Boats that are made with gel-coat fiberglass are similar in makeup to the basecoat/clearcoat system, at least as far as buffing is concerned. These are treated the same way as BC/CC paint when buffing and waxing. Regular fiberglass should not be buffed, only polished, since the surface layer is relatively thin.
As for the fiberglass or composite body panels on your Corvette or Saturn, they are painted just the same as any automobile. The only difference between paint on flexible surfaces when compared to paint applied to metal surfaces is that the paint on flexible surfaces is a bit softer due to an added flex agent, so buffing must be done a bit slower. Other than the flex agent, the paints are generally the same.
- What is glaze?
Glaze is a liquid product that is used to fill in the microscopic scratches, spiderwebbing, and minute surface irregularities (dullness) prior to waxing to provide a deeper, smoother shine. It can also help minimize swirl marks. Glaze has a low level of durability though, so a good waxing over the top of it is required to keep it on the paint. If you're not interested in applying glaze on, say, a bi-weekly basis, skip the glaze and just wax it. If your finish is bad enough to need regular glazing, consider having the paint buffed to avoid the constant maintenance. If you still really want to glaze your paint finish, Meguiar's makes a good glaze product.
- Is it okay to wax or buff a car that was just painted?
No, unless the painter tells you otherwise. Typically, fresh paint should not be waxed or have sealant applied within 90 days of painting. This is because the paint is still drying, even though it may appear and feel dry. This is why fresh paint still smells fresh for quite some time, because it is still releasing chemicals as it dries. Paint is also relatively soft during this time, so be extra-cautious about scratches, and do not do any buffing unless it is okayed by the body shop that did the painting. The body shop might buff after 24 hours of painting, but leave that to them. Each paint manufacturer is different, so if in doubt, do not wax or buff for 90 days.
- How can I tell if my car has been repainted?
When buffing, it is good to know if you are buffing original paint or refinished paint. Refinished paint requires a little more caution when buffing because you don't really know what you're dealing with. But even if you're not buffing anything, it's nice to know if there is new paint on your car, which is an indicator of previous damage. How do you tell? There are several clues. Telltale clues of refinishing can occur in the original paint, but not nearly as often. Using a paint thickness gauge is the best way to check for refinished paint, but of course, not everyone has one of those. Look for dust or tiny hairs in the paint, known as "dust nibs." Excessive orange peel can also be a clue-this is from improperly mixed paint, which dried too fast before it leveled out on the surface, or from not applying a thick enough layer of paint. Or look for color variations between different body panels-this is a dead giveaway. Tape marks and rough edges in doorjambs or along trim lines are an also an excellent clue. Sanding marks, also known as "sand swell" are quite noticeable too-if a body panel was sanded with too coarse a grit of paper before painting, the sanding lines will be very noticeable after painting because the paint magnifies the imperfections. "Solvent pop" occurs when the paint dries, as the evaporating solvents collect in small bubbles that pop open and dry, leaving imperfection in the surface. This is caused either because the paint was applied too thick, or the paint had too much solvent mixed in it. "Fisheyes", or cratering, are imperfections in the paint caused by a speck or droplet of oil or other chemical that caused the liquid paint to repel when sprayed on, leaving a thin spot or blank spot in the dried paint surface. Runs or sags in paint are obvious signs that the paint was either mixed too thin or applied to thick. "Dieback", the loss of gloss in paint, occurs when wet sanding or buffing is done too soon after painting-before the paint was fully cured. Another way to identify refinished paint is from "tiger stripes"-this appears as faint, fuzzy stripes in metallic paints from improper mixing or spraying techniques. Many of these refinish clues cannot be corrected without proper refinishing. If you have some of these problems, ask for specific treatment options.
- I have streaks & cloudiness in my car's paint. Can you remove it?
This can also be caused by improper refinish techniques. If this is the case, no amount of detailing will remove the cloudiness or streaks. The paint will have to be re-applied.
Excessive buffing can also cause cloudiness. This happens when too much of the clearcoat is buffed off, leaving too little clearcoat to protect the paint. Think of the clearcoat like a loaf of bread-the outside crust is hard and less porous, while the inside is softer and more porous. The top layer of the clearcoat contains most of the UV-blocking material and is also harder and less porous than the lower level. Buffing through this top layer leaves the weaker clearcoat underneath, which will oxidize faster. The result is cloudiness or a sunburned appearance. There is no cure for this except repainting. This is why you cannot buff out scratches you can feel with your fingernail-because it goes too deep into the clearcoat. Clearcoat is only about as thick as a piece of cellophane. See the buffing section for more on clearcoats.
- When removing wax, I always miss spots. How do the pros avoid this?
Seeing spots of wax still on your vehicle the day after you waxed it can be discouraging and embarrassing. Removing all of the wax is especially difficult on lighter colored cars. The best way to ensure that all of the wax is removed is to look at the paint surface at a low angle-meaning, quite simply, put your head right next to the body panel and look at the light reflecting off of the panel. Look at the reflection, not the paint or panel itself. This will make it much easier to see leftover spots of wax still on the paint. When looking at the side of a vehicle, kneel near the front or rear bumper and look down the side so your line of sight is parallel with the side of the vehicle-you'll be surprised how the wax stands out at this angle. Use the reflections in the paint to your advantage when removing wax. Using the reflections is similar to "backlighting" in regards to swirl marks.
Oh, and the pros always use two towels to remove wax-one for each hand, so your free hand isn't leaving fingerprints all over the car as you work. And those towels-make sure they are either microfiber or 100% cotton, not polyester or cotton-polyester blends, as the polyester can leave microscopic scratches. And it's also a good idea to cut the hems off them so they don't scratch. (You may have noticed that microfiber towels are a polyester/polyamide blend-don't worry about it. Microfiber polyester blends are ok because the fibers are so small.)
As for the wax that gets in between and on the edges of the body panels, there's a trick to get the wax out without opening the doors, trunk, and hood: put the edge of the wax towel in the gap between the panels and give the towel a twist. This will wad up the corner of the towel in the gap. Now just slide the towel along the gap until all the wax in the gap is gone. Pretty cool, huh? I thought of that one all by myself.
If you notice your car has specks of wax still on the paint afterwards, it probably means you didn't get all of the bugs, tar, and grease off the car during prepping (you DID prep it, didn't you??) This is a hassle to clean off when you're already done and already have waxed the car, so be sure the prepping is done right. Like I said before, a good prep job is the foundation for a good detail job.
- What's the deal with those microfiber towels that are all the rage?
Microfiber towels are great, but they are a bit over-marketed. Microfiber towels don't need to replace every towel you ever use-but they should replace some. Microfiber towels are made with miniscule woven fibers (polyester and polyamide) that have an incredible ability to clean up whatever you are cleaning. The fibers that make up these towels are much smaller and have a huge amount of surface area for cleaning when compared to, say, a cotton towel. (I know I said polyester towels were bad, but not when the fibers are this small. Avoid regular polyester towels.) These towels have such great surface area that just dragging one across the palm of your hand will make you think your skin is as rough as an alligator's. They pick and grab at whatever surface they are used on, but are soft enough for use on paint & plastics. The best applications for microfiber towels are wax removal and window cleaning, since both of these jobs require streak-free results. Where a regular towel might clean the surface but leave streaks, a microfiber towel cleans and takes the streaks with it. Microfiber towels are also great for doing "fingerprint patrol" on a finished car. Some microfiber towels are even marketed as good enough to clean up sloppy tire dressing and then immediately be used for a streak-free shine on a window. I don't put much stock in that claim, but it's still pretty cool, huh? It's kinda like using the Ginsu 2000 carving knife on a tin can or shoe and still being sharp enough to cut a ripe, juicy tomato. So yes, get some microfiber towels, but don't bother using them for the nasty jobs, just the ultra-clean ones where perfection is key.
- I waxed my car, and now the plastic trim has wax on it that won't come off. What do I do?
I cringe when I see a vehicle that has plastic trim that's been waxed over. This is a common problem, either caused by ignorance or sloppiness. Clearly, the person who waxed it was trying to do the right thing by waxing, but was unaware that the wax would not come off of the plastic. Or, a simple slip or slop resulted in wax getting on the plastic.
On today's vehicles, it is very common to have unpainted plastic trim. This plastic often has what is referred to as a pebble finish or a matte finish, which basically means it has rough surface similar to that of a matte photograph vs. a glossy photograph. If wax gets on this surface, it is very difficult to remove because the wax gets into rough surface and does not wipe off as easily.
There are ways to avoid and cure the problem. For starters, it is a good idea to apply protectant or dressing to the plastic areas using a small sponge before waxing. Not only will it preserve, protect, and beautify the plastic, but it will also give you a barrier to wax that might end up on it. Since the protectant is a bit greasy, the wax will not stick, or at least not as well, allowing for easy removal.
So what happens if it's already there? The procedure is as follows-first, try power washing the affected plastic. Often the water jet will blast the wax off the rough surface, but just be careful not to get close enough to cause damage to the plastic or the paint. Second, try using a toothbrush with some protectant or tar remover-the brush will dig out the wax. Again, be careful and don't scrub too hard. If it still doesn't come off, you might be stuck with constant application of protectant to hide the wax. The only other options are to replace it, recolor it, or live with it.
This matte surface is similar to that of muscle cars that have flat black or satin black paint (hoods, stripes, scoops, etc.) Be careful waxing near this paint-the wax will stick, and it's a bigger, more delicate problem to fix than compared to waxing over plastic trim.
- I have a scratch/chip in my paint. Can you take care of it?
It depends. As a rule, if you can feel the scratch with your fingernail, it cannot be removed by buffing. A scratch that deep can only be hidden slightly by buffing, or it can be touched up, wet sanded, and then buffed. Some deep scratches & chips may require being repainted at the body shop. Beware-if someone tells you they can buff out a scratch that can be felt with the fingernail, they are either inexperienced or not concerned about your vehicle's paint! Buffing out a deep scratch removes too much of the clearcoat, or in extreme cases, it removes all of the clearcoat. It may look good immediately after buffing, but with a little sun and a little time, the clearcoat in the buffed area will take on a cloudy, sunburned appearance, which requires repainting to fix. See the buffing section for more on clearcoats.
- Do you recommend rubbing compound for scratches?
No, no, no. When I think of rubbing compound, I think of that squat little can of "No. 7 Rubbing Compound" that can be found in every automotive section of every grocery store on earth. This stuff is a relic from the days of single-stage paint, and should you own a can, throw it away-right now. Typical rubbing compound is like liquid sandpaper and is much too harsh. It will leave deep scratches and dullness that will need to be buffed out. This stuff was intended for heavy oxidation on single-stage paint, and has no place in today's buffing world. Stick to the kinder, more gentle, and less-abusive buffing products of the 21st century.
- Do you do wet sanding and paint touch-ups?
Yes, on a case-by-case basis. You'll need to have it looked at for a professional opinion on what to do. Wet-sanding is not to be taken lightly-it removes a relatively thicker layer of paint compared to buffing alone, but will produce brilliant shine & smoothness when done in conjunction with buffing. Wet-sanding papers are 1500-2500 grit, not the coarse stuff you might use on wood.
- What is claying?
Claying, as mentioned in contaminant removal, is a method of removing paint contaminants and imperfections on the paint surface. To demonstrate the imperfections, rub your hand over a section of paint that appears to be clean-you should feel relatively smooth paint. But take a piece of cellophane and rub the paint in the same manner and you will probably notice the paint feels rough because of contaminants stuck to the paint surface. Rubbing clay snags up those contaminants, leaving a super-clean and smooth surface to apply wax. The clay needs lubricant to slide across the paint surface-use either the lube that came with it, or use car wash soap mixed with water. Try the cellophane again after claying and the paint should feel slick. The paint will also have a deeper, wet look when the surface is smooth again. Claying the paint isn't always necessary with a detail job, and can actually remove a small amount of paint and/or cause scratches from the contaminants being rubbed back into the paint. But if you really want your paint to shine, or if you have contaminants stuck to the paint surface, it can help.
- What is orange peel?
Orange peel is the term applied to the minute bumps in the surface of paint, which resemble the surface of an orange peel. Looking at the paint surface at a low angle will show the orange peel-put your head right next to the body panel and look at the light reflecting off of the panel. Look at the reflection, not the paint or panel itself, and you will see that the surface of the paint is either smooth or bumpy. Orange peel can result from improperly mixed paint, which dried too fast before it leveled out on the surface, or from not applying a thick enough layer of paint. General Motors vehicles seem to have more-pronounced orange peel on their vehicles than other makes since they use a powdercoat paint system. To combat the bumpy paint problem, GM uses a thicker clearcoat to even out the bumps.
Orange peel is not necessarily a bad thing, but merely the result of the painting process. If orange peel bothers you, it can be buffed, or wet-sanded and then buffed, to make the surface of the paint smoother. I wouldn't recommend it, though. It might be better to just live with it. Car manufacturers actually like a certain amount of orange peel because it helps hide minor imperfections in the paint and bodywork.
- What is oxidation?
Oxidation, in the world of automotive paints, is what has occurred when the topmost layer of paint has dulled and lightened in color. In more extreme cases, and more commonly with single-stage paint, oxidation will take on a chalky appearance. This oxidation process is just like when the fender of a car rusts out-it's a chemical reaction to elements in the atmosphere. On clearcoated cars, the oxidation is less noticeable, but it's still there. That's why a good buff and wax can still make a clearcoated car shine like new.
- What are crow's feet? What is crazing?
Crow's feet and crazing are paint conditions caused by poor paint application, paint that is too thick, or from heat damage (from the sun, engine heat, or excess buffing heat.) Crow's feet looks like it sounds-like tiny bird tracks covering the surface of the paint. These tracks are actually cracks in the paint, and nothing can be done about them except repainting. You may have seen crazing before when using super glue on clear plastics-around the glue, the plastic may become hazy and rough. This is similar to crazing on paint, but comes from other sources. Waxing or buffing makes crow's feet and crazing more prominent since the buffing compound or wax gets into these cracks & rough surfaces and stays there.
- What is spiderwebbing?
Everything that comes in contact with your car's paint causes abrasion and scratching-but you might not see it right away. Even wiping a finger across the paint can cause microscopic scratching, especially if the paint is dirty. This microscopic scratching is called spiderwebbing, and looks just like it is called. When spiderwebbed, the paint surface will appear to have faint layers of spider webs laying flat on the surface, which is more noticeable in sunlight. Spiderwebbing is also common on cars that are washed in automatic car washes on a regular basis due to the constant friction, however slight, of the wash brushes. The same thing happens on a greater scale with the plastic windows of convertibles and soft tops of Jeeps, since the plastic is softer than paint. You can also see this on the rims of cars that are frequently put through automatic carwashes-caused by the more-abrasive wheel-cleaning brushes. So the next time the neighbor's kid writes 'Wash Me" on the back of your car, be sure to slap him in the puss for causing microscopic scratches in your paint-that little bugger!
- The paint is peeling off of my car! What can I do?
Nothing, except schedule an appointment with the body shop. Peeling paint, known as delamination, is most often caused by problems with the original paint application. The cause of this can happen even at the manufacturing plant where the car was built and painted. The delamination is most prevalent on the front edges of the car and along crease lines in the body. Stone chips are the first step to delamination on the leading edges. On the crease lines, sunlight is reflected and refracted back onto the paint surface, causing increased UV exposure, which hastens the delamination. You'll see this a lot on older Ford & Chevy pickups, Dodge Neons & full-size vans, and many other late 80's/early 90's vehicles. It took a few years for car manufacturers to figure out the basecoat/clearcoat paint technology when they switched over from single-stage paint, and because of that, peeling paint is a problem on many older vehicles.
- My plastic trim is faded and dull-what can be done to rejuvenate it?
This can be seen on any older vehicle, especially on southern cars that get more sun. Look at any Jeep Wrangler that's more than a few years old and you'll see how the black plastic fender flares have started to fade to a dull gray color. There are kits available to recolor dull, faded trim, such as Valugard's ETR II kit. It comes with toner pigments, new car prep, and a UV-blocking sealer. You simply mix the pigment to match your original trim color and then apply the sealer, which is supposed to be permanent fix for faded plastic. I have used these kits before but I cannot say how long they last-only time will tell.
The other option is to routinely apply protectant or dressing to the plastic, which gives it the new look and provides UV protection, but this is not a permanent fix, and sometimes does not bring back the original color.
- I have plastic parts that need polishing. Can you do that?
Yes. Plastic parts, like convertible windows, composite headlights, bumpers, etc. can be polished and restored. If you have an 80's or 90's Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, you know how yellow and dull the plastic headlights can get. These can often be wet-sanded and/or polished to remove of some or all of the yellowing and dullness.
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