Automotive Blemishes happen. You can’t avoid it, well that is if you use your vehicle as a vehicle, and don’t keep it locked up in a glass box. Whether it is a deep scratch or swirl marks from improperly being washed, these blemishes will stand out to you.
But don’t be afraid. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars at repair shops. For the most part, will the right tools and some basic knowledge you can fix that ugly scrape yourself. Before you dive into sanding and buffing your vehicle, you should always make sure you have a clean surface to start with. If your vehicle is dirty, sanding or buffing over top of the dirt will cause more damage. If you are unsure of the correct way to wash your vehicle read this article on how to properly wash a car.
Identifying the scratch – Will it buff out or not?
Unfortunately not every scratch will be able to buff out. It all depends on how deep the scratch is. But how do you know if you will be able to buff it out? A good full of thumb is the fingernail test. If you can feel the scratch with the edge of your fingernail, it generally won’t buff out completely. However, this isn’t always the case. With some light sanding, you could get it fixed.
Sanding the scratch out – What grit to start with?
Once you have washed the vehicle and you have determined whether it will buff out or not, it’s time to lightly sand the scratch out of the clear coat. It is important to remember that clear coat is only the top layer of your paint, and it is possible to sand too far. To avoid this only use sandpaper grits that are meant for detailing.
What is sandpaper grit?
So what do I mean when I say Sandpaper grit? The abrasive texture on sandpaper is rated by grit. The smaller the number of grit, the more aggressive the sandpaper will be. For detailing purposes, you will want to start with 1000 grit and work your way up to 2000 grit or more. Anything more aggressive than 1000 grit and sand scratches won’t buff out completely.
Types of Sandpaper
There are more options with sandpaper as well. For instance, you can choose between wet sandpaper, dry sanding discs or sanding blocks. Wet sandpaper is just what the name implies, sandpaper that is designed to use wet, usually just water. Often times you will find that wrapping the sandpaper sheet around a sponge and sanding imperfections works best.
Dry sanding discs are similar to normal sandpaper but commonly have holes throughout to prevent plugging with sanding dust. Used in combination with a finishing DA, you can sand out large scratches quickly. Sanding blocks are solid blocks that have a uniform grit surface and are typically used wet. They are commonly used for sanding sags, runs or dirt nibs out of a newly painted surface. Each one has its purpose, but what you use is ultimately up to the job and what you prefer to use.
Weapon of choice – Picking Your Polisher
After you have sanded the scratch out now it’s time to make it shine again. To do that, you will need a polisher. There are three different power options, corded, cordless, and pneumatic. Each one has its place and depending on your situation, you might have more than one.
If you are doing a complete detailing job, a corded or pneumatic polisher would be best. However, for spot repairs, a corded polisher would work wonders. If you are looking to purchase a polisher check out this list of the Top Automotive Polishers.
Check out this video for a detailed look at repairing a scratched vehicle
How to Buff properly
Buffing can be a simple task, but if you aren’t careful it is possible to do more harm than good. That’s why it is important to use the correct type of pad and polish for the task you are trying to do. You will also want to keep a steady speed, moving back and forth, being sure not to hold the polisher in one spot for too long. This will create excess heat and can cause you to burn off the clear coat.
Types of Buffing Pads
You also have to decide what buffing pad you will need, along with the size of the pad. Not using the appropriate pad to match the job you are doing can result in damaging your paint finish. There are three common types of pads to choose from; foam, microfiber, and wool.
Foam pads are a great all-around pad. They are typically used for fixing paint blemishes. Foam pads come in different variations for different purposes. Some styles are meant for use with buffing compound for aggressive polishing. While others are meant for applying sealers or protectants to protect the vehicles finish.
Microfiber pads are slightly more aggressive than foam pads. They slide over the finish easier, which increases pad rotation. This then results in an increase in defect removal. Meaning you will see more progress with less work on your part. This also makes microfiber pads a great selection for heavy imperfections.
Wool Pads are the most aggressive pad available. They are often used on the first pass with buffing compound for removing heavy imperfections fast. However, because they are so aggressive, it does make it easy to overheat the paint and cause damage to a finish. So I wouldn’t recommend them for a beginner or DIYer.
Making it shine – What Polish to use
There are several different options when it comes to polishes and it can be kind of overwhelming if you don’t know what to look for. For repairing automotive blemishes there are really only two forms that you need to look for, rubbing compounds and finishing polish.
When paired with the appropriate pad, those are the only to polishes you will need. Rubbing compound is an aggressive type of polish that is used to remove sand scratches. Depending on the type and severity of the blemish on your vehicle you could possibly remove it by just buffing it with rubbing compound. The downfall of the rubbing compound is that it almost always leaves a haze or swirl marks from the buffer in the finish. That’s where finishing polish comes in.
The finishing polishes are designed specifically for removing slight imperfections left behind by rubbing compounds. Used with a finer pad, you will be able to achieve a high gloss and deeper finish. Typically when you purchase the polishes the manufacturer will sell them in kits. This will tell you what polish to use in what step of your repair, and what pad you should use to match it.
Scratch too deep to buff? Touch it up!
Occasionally you will run across a scratch or ding that is too deep to buff, or plain has paint chipped out. If you can’t afford to have it fixed by a professional, or simply don’t have the time to take it to a repair shop, you can still keep it from rusting.
Touch up paint is a simple fix that can save you hundreds of dollars. Almost any automotive store will have touch-up bottles that will be close to your paint color. However, if you want an exact match, you can take your vehicle’s paint code to an automotive paint provider and they can mix paint to make your vehicle.
Once you have the touch-up paint, clean the area to be repaired and use the provided brush to apply the paint.
If you have a scratch or paint blemish that you want to fix yourself, you should find this guide to be a helpful starting point. With a good polisher, pad and polish combo, you will be able to repair scratches, clear up foggy headlights or even shine up a faded paint job.