Ultimate Guide to Paint Correction

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From personal experience (14+ years in the car detailing industry), most customers have always found it hard to understand paint correction. There are several misunderstandings about this sort of service. Many customers that aren't automobile lovers use synonymous words such as polishing, waxing, and buffing interchangeably and group them all together.

Paint correction is a detailing service that will improve the paint finish of your vehicle by actually correcting paint blemishes on the paint's surface with a polisher and compound applied to a polishing pad. The detailer will use the polisher to heat and manipulate the paint surface, while the compound fills in the paint blemishes. This process removes scratches and etching and then polishes the paint to a high gloss shine.

This article was created to inform and educate the unaware as to what paint correction is, why it's a car detailing service, how it may benefit your automobile's aesthetic appearance, and what to look for when looking for a professional detailer to execute this service.

What does paint correction do?

Paint correction corrects paint flaws, removes paint defects, and polishes the paint to a high gloss sheen. In a nutshell, this is what paint correction does for your automobile's paint finish.

Almost all modern automobiles are painted with an electrostatic paint sprayer that atomizes the paint into very tiny particles of paint/liquid. The reason why this process works so well is that paint particles are so small, the paint spreads easily across the paint finish.

There are several types of paint systems that automobile manufacturers use today including:

  • waterborne paint (most modern-day automobiles)
  • solvent-based paint (old school paint systems)

Paint formulations with pigment particles suspended in a liquid are known as paint systems. If the paint is not properly treated and maintained, it may eventually get dull, discolored, or even peel and flake off over time if it isn't handled correctly.

Paint defects happen because the paint system is not properly maintained, and paint systems need to be handled correctly to maintain paint integrity.

Paint correction

Paint defects include paint blemishes such as paint swirls (spider-webbing), paint scratches (etching), paint discoloration (oxidation), and paint peeling.

The greatest way to reduce paint flaws is to use paint protection on your car. Ceramic coatings are the most long-lasting material available in the automobile detailing industry.

Paint protection shields your vehicle's clear coat from the paint surface. You'll reduce having to perform paint correction over time by giving your car a long-lasting layer of paint protection.

If you want to preserve the attractiveness of your automobile's curb appeal, it will eventually be necessary to get some sort of paint correction on your vehicle's paint.

The following factors can create paint blemishes over time that will require paint correction:

  1. wash mitt pressure when car washing
  2. chamois drying vehicle
  3. applying any type of spray-on paint protection

The paint will develop defects as a result of any car detailing performed by yourself or from paying a professional detailer. Any pressure which is applied to the paint surface will cause paint defects over time.

Additionally, environmental elements may cause paint blemishes to the surface over time, necessitating paint correction. This may include:

  • bird droppings
  • snow brush marks from winter
  • tree sap
  • traffic film
  • road tar

Paint flaws and blemishes are unavoidable. This is why paint correction is a popular car detailing service. Remember that to properly execute this sort of auto detailing service without causing major damage to the car's paint, it will need expert labor.

Issues that would require paint correction

Below are the most common paint problems that would require paint correction to fix. Do keep in mind that some are caused due to environmental factors while others are from general wear and tear.

Swirl marks

Swirls are marks that appear on the paintwork which is generally a by-product of pressure being applied either through hand washing or snow removal via snow brush as an example.

Paint marring

Paint marring is a condition in which the paint on your car has been physically damaged, resulting in an uneven appearance. Paint marring may be corrected by paint correction via a polisher machine.

Paint oxidization

This paint defect is caused by neglect. Without proper paint protection and general car care the paint integrity will decline overtime due in part to the sun's UV rays. This will result in the paint looking dull and faded.

Paint Oxidization

Paint contamination

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Paint contamination is when paintwork has been exposed to various contaminants such as paint over-spray, sap, tar, bird droppings, or other paint impairing elements which will need to be fixed.

What is paint decontamination?

The paint decontamination process is a chemical applied to high traffic areas on the vehicle paint. It removes any paint contaminants and road grime from the paintwork of your vehicle. This is typically a process that is completed during the car wash to help deep clean the painted surface.

What is clay bar?

The paint decontamination process may require the assistance of a clay bar to help remove more stubborn areas. A clay bar is a unique paint decontamination tool that uses a special clay to safely lift contaminants from the paint surface, such as brake dust and road film for example. Over the painted surface, the clay bar is lightly rubbed with lubrication. This is generally done during the wash process.

What is clear coat?

The protective layer on top of the base paint is known as a clear coat. The purpose of the clear coat is to keep the underlying color intact from external factors, such as general wear and tear from the elements.

Clear coat paint can be extremely thin with just enough thickness to protect underlying paint colors. It's applied using various methods including:

  • electrostatic paint sprayers
  • solvent-based paint systems
  • waterborne paint systems

The clear coat works to protect the paint from environmental factors such as scratches, discoloration, and oxidation. As a result, if you keep your car's paint looking brand new via paint protection, you will seldom require paint correction.

Is paint correction the same as buffing?

Buffing paint is not painted correction. Buffing paint is a paint polishing process that creates a high-gloss shine on the paint surface.

Paint correction doesn't necessarily create a high-gloss shine, but instead, it removes paint defects, blemishes, and scratches to make the paint look new again. These paint defects can be difficult to remove without paint correction, but paint correction will either completely remove paint defects from the paint finish or reduce their visibility drastically.

It's part of the total process. If you had to combine buffing and paint correction, it'd be in the overall procedure. The vehicle paint is first corrected to remove and repair paint flaws by a professional car detailer. The paint is buffed as a final polish to remove any remaining marks from the paint correction procedure and give a deep gloss shine after it's finished.

Is paint correction worth it?

If paint correction is performed correctly, it can restore paint to its original appearance with little paint damage.

However, paint defects are much more noticeable in paint that is dull or oxidized instead of high-gloss paint finishes. If the paint system was not properly maintained over time and suffered from an accumulation of minor paint defects, certain corrections may be necessary to give the paint a uniform appearance.

Every paint system will vary in paint defect severity based on paint color, paint type, paint finish, and paint care maintenance over time.

When it comes to spending money on paint correction services, you should look for a car detailing business that has a lot of experience with paint correction equipment and can do the task effectively.

Split-view Paint correction

Does paint correction remove scratches?

Yes, scratches can be removed with paint correction. Some clients may find it perplexing to understand that both waxing and polishing do not remove scratches. This is a very widespread misconception, which is why I'm addressing it right now.

To remove scratches caused by your baggage going in and out of the vehicle to the parking lot dings for the most part can be removed via paint correction.

What you should realize is that if a scratch is on a non-metallic surface, such as the bumper, and extends beyond the depth of your fingernail, it can't be removed or repaired. In this case, your vehicle's paint would have to be re-painted.

Factors that go into scratch removal:

  1. compound - different levels of an abrasive liquid chemical when placed on a polisher pad and operated by the polisher will manipulate and fill the scratch
  2. pad - different pads are more coarse than others, the more coarse in combination with compound will remove deeper scratches
  3. polisher - the faster the speed with pad and compound, the deeper the scratches will be removed

Does paint correction remove clear coat?

Yes, the speed of the polisher and the level of abrasiveness of both the pad and compound will all influence how much clear coat is removed during paint correction.

You need to comprehend that the total paint thickness will vary depending on the location of the automobile. This is due to how well the paint adheres to particular angles and sections of the paint surface.

This is one of the reasons why some car detailers use a paint gauge instrument to meticulously inspect the automobile's regions that will be paint corrected. The paint gauge reading can assist the car detailer to figure out what degree of abrasiveness they should use depending on paint depth to avoid harming the clear coat.

How many times can a car be paint corrected?

There is no simple answer to this question. Every car has a distinct paint depth. What can be resolved is that, when new, every automobile has a clear coat layer. The amount of clear coat varies by manufacturer, model, and even the day it was assembled.

With that in mind, our working car detailing shop does offer a very popular finishing polish which is designed to fix minor paint blemishes i.e. snow brush marks.

This service may be done on a typical customer car many times without issue. The following are some of the reasons for this:

  1. fine pad and finishing polish compound (the least abrasive)
  2. operating polisher at the lowest speed

When we consider these elements together, we're able to achieve a high gloss paint finish. The downside is that there is minimal repair to deeper paint blemishes.

As long as you keep your automobile's aesthetic care through semi-annual to annual car detailing, including paint protection, your vehicle's paint service will never require in-depth paint correction unless unforeseen circumstances occur.

If you find yourself in the position of needing a full paint correction, the standard guideline is no more than two to three times before there isn't enough clear coat left.

How often should I do paint correction?

Scratches are usually the biggest concern among paint correction clients. With that in mind, it will most likely be a random event that will require paint correction for scratch removal.

Customers who often receive a comprehensive paint correction typically get it as a result of years of neglect or as a consequence of an accident. In light of this, the two events are uncommon, so you shouldn't anticipate paint correction to be a regular service.

Consider applying a finishing polish more frequently, because it is less abrasive to the paint and wallet. In this perspective, should you be a car care enthusiast, a finishing polish may be required every few years or so.

How long does a paint correction take?

Typically a full paint correction is completed within one to two days. The paint correction itself takes about three-quarters of the time, while paint protection application takes the remaining quarter of the time.

What are the different levels of paint correction?

  1. finishing polish - paint enhancement to restore gloss finish
  2. single stage polish - correct minor paint blemishes
  3. cut & polish - correct scratches, swirls, and other visual paint defects
  4. wet sanding - fix orange-peel and other deep paint blemishes

The amount of labor time required to finish varies depending on the results. A finishing polish takes approximately a half day to complete, while the single-stage takes between 4 and 6 hours, cut & polish up to 8 hours, and wet-sanding requires multiple days.

cut and polish

How much does it cost for a paint correction?

Up until this task begins, paint correction is a subjective service when it comes to pricing.

Customer expectation plays a major role in paintwork that goes beyond paint correction services. These can include additional services such as paint decontamination and paint protection.

With so many variables to consider, most car detailing businesses provide paint correction on an hourly basis. The hourly rate will differ, but a decent rule of thumb is between $75 and $100 per hour.

You can get an approximate starting price for the following:

  1. finishing polish - minimum starting price of $300
  2. single stage polish - minimum starting price of $450
  3. cut & polish - minimum starting price of $600
  4. wet sanding - minimum starting price of $1500

Can you wax a car without paint correction?

Yes. Most customers from my experience opt for basic paint protection over a full paint correction. The reasoning is usually two-fold:

  1. customer is not interested in spending the money
  2. customer expects that because of the general wear and tear, paint correction outcome won't last long

Do paint corrections make paintwork last longer?

This is a frequent question when a consumer wants paint protection and also wants to repair and remove any paint flaws without having a specific course of action.

Paint correction might help paint keep looking good for a while. I say "period of time" because this is dependent on various factors, including general wear and tear as well as a variety of other elements, including:

  • how often do you drive
  • driving in inclement weather
  • how you maintain your vehicle

Of note, after a paint correction where paint protection is applied, this gives a better opportunity for the paintwork to stay clean and glossy between subsequent polishing services.

Can you do paint correction yourself?

Detailing a car at home is very different from paint correction in a professional shop. It's important to understand that paint protection by itself doesn't equal paint correction.

Paintwork clarity, paint thickness, and paint smoothness affect the outcome of paint correction; these elements are not factors when doing paint protection.

Doing paint correction by yourself is time-consuming and difficult if you don't have the experience. Without the proper equipment, tools, skills, and many hours of practice are needed to even come close to paint correction results available by a professional car detailing business.

Take note that when you use a polisher to correct paint, you run the danger of burning it. It can happen even to the most expert car detailer. If this happens to you, your vehicle will need to be repainted.

Factors to consider when seeking paint correction

With paint correction requiring time and effort, just like any automotive detailing service, it's important to understand what you want and need.

Below are some general questions you should ask yourself before paint correction:

  • what paint correction level do I need?
  • why do I need paint correction?
  • how much is my budget for paint correction?

Having these basic questions in mind will not only help you to understand the service which best fits your needs, but it will also help the car detailer who will be providing the service to set the outcome for expectations.

Communication must be properly established between you and the car detailer performing the paint correction. This will ensure you're getting both the proper service for the money spent, as well as managing the expectation that comes with the results from the service provided.

What to look for in a car detailing business?

Paint correction should only be completed by paint correction experts. There are other paint protection services offered at body shops, collision centers, and car washes; these other paintwork services don't equate to paint correction.

It's important to choose paint correction specialists who use the right equipment and are experienced.

Experience is key when choosing a paint correction specialist; experience ensures better results for paint correction. Another way to tell an expert from an amateur is their attention to detail during paint correction service execution. An experienced detailing business will pay close attention to even the smallest paint flaws while paint correction is being performed.

Consider the following simple steps when seeking a paint correction expert:

  • online reviews
  • local forms such as Reddit or Facebook groups
  • see if there are before/after pictures, videos or other visuals showcasing their work on social media
  • comparison shop as well as for getting paint correction estimates

When you're looking for a paint correction specialist, be sure to compare apples to apples, and that all quotations include paint protection after paint correction so that your paintwork is in top condition when it's done.

Some questions to ask a prospective paint correction specialist:

  1. what paint correction service do you offer?
  2. what's involved in your paint correction service?
  3. what do you do if the paint gets burned?
  4. can you provide me with a service quote?

As long as you're comparing paint correction specialists who have similar qualifications, then it's safe to assume that they will work similarly. However, there could be variances in how paint correction is performed, but the outcome should be similar.

Different paint correction levels will yield different paint improvement results. When specifying paint correction levels, it's best to give paint correction specialists a generalized version of what you want. Paint correction levels vary in aggressiveness, but this doesn't mean you should be vague when describing paint correction service to them.

You should look for indicators to help paint correction professionals understand the service you're looking for, such as paint correction levels and paint protection.

An important step to take with the service provider is the paint inspection before and after the paint correction process. This will ensure all of your concerns have been addressed and expectations established. Upon final inspection, If any paint defects remain on the vehicle's surface after being corrected, this can be either fixed or the paint correction specialist can explain why it was unable to be fixed.

Sometimes paint correction experts might miss paint defects during paint correction due to lighting conditions, paint thicknesses, or paint types. It's important that you're able to communicate this with your paint correction expert so they can resolve any paint finishing problems.

Final thoughts

The paint correction process can remove paint defects and blemishes so that the surface of your paintwork looks even without any noticeable paint imperfections. This service can give many benefits to your paintwork but it's important to be specific with the paint correction expert about the specific level of paint correction you require for your vehicle.

Take a look at the paint correction business's feedback to see if they've ever done paint correction on cars in your area or similar. Also, look for paint correction before-and-after pictures as well as other paintwork to assess their level of experience. Remember to compare several quotes to be sure you receive the best paint correction service available.

I hope you all learned a lot and are excited to try paint correction for yourself!

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