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Do You Over-Polish Your Car's Paint?

Updated on July 29, 2013

Why Abrasive Polish Should Be Your Last Choice

I have been reading a lot of threads on the car forums lately that basically start with people asking "what polish should I use?" I couldn't help but think, how do I best avoid using a car polish all together?

I think it's time for a completely different discussion about car polishing. What I strive to achieve is the highest level of paint perfection without altering the structure of the vehicle's paint. Once I get there, I want to use the proper tools and techniques to keep my paint looking perfect.

When I have a car paint problem, I want to be able to fix it without removing excessive clearcoat that I need to maintain a deep-looking finish. I'm a huge advocate of spot treatment. I rarely take an abrasive polishing compound to an entire body panel, or worse, the whole car. It simply isn't necessary.

I have the distinct feeling from reading many forum threads that people are buying step 1-2-3 products and using all of them because that's what they feel is necessary to achieve the best results. In no way is this use of paint polish appropriate car care.

Car Polishing Rule #1 - Do Less Damage Than The Damage That Already Exists.

My experience shows me that 95% of all paint issues can be resolved with a very fine polish, the right tools and the right technique. So, why is it that so many people are willing to reach for a harsh compound as the first step... when it should be the last resort?

Very fine car polishes, often called pre-wax cleaners, can be used to maintain gloss without the scouring that thins your car's paint. The polishing (gloss enhancing) action is a combination of chemical cleaners that remove embedded dirt and a super gentle polishes that maintains the gloss. The polishing material is about the consistency of talcum powder. My two favorite products are Klasse All-In-One and P21S Paintwork Cleansing Lotion. There are many others.

Car Polishing Rule #2

Don't remove more clearcoat than necessary... you may need it some day!

In the car detailing circles we all talk about gloss, depth and clarity, but are you stopping to think about what you might be doing to each of these final finish characteristics each time you take an abrasive polish to your paint? You might be seeing more gloss, but it's coming at the expense of depth and maybe even paint finish clarity.

Sometimes a corrective polish is your only choice. The picture to the right is a good example. It was badly abused and machine polishing was the only solution.

Most professional car polishes are designed to be used with a rotary buffer, by an experienced technician. When you use these polishing compounds by hand or with a dual-action car polisher, you put scratches in your paint finish that will not come out by using the next polish up in the line. So, what's the solution?

There's no doubt that the clearcoat on the modern car finish creates the beauty of the finish. To retain the good looks, the clearcoat must remain clean and finely polished. Heavy polishing will reduce finish clarity and depth. They must be avoided.

It should be noted that a proper paint finish (primer, color and clear) is only 4-6 thousandths (6/1000) of an inch thick. Removing 1-2 thousandths of an inch of the clear finish happens in a matter of seconds with an abrasive polish.

My business partner got a 3-inch long scratch in the clearcoat of his new Lexus SC. I used a spot pad and a corrective polish to pull most of the scratch out so it would pass the 5 foot test. He said "...but I can still see a trace of the scratch close-up..." I explained that if I removed more material we risked thinning the clearcoat and creating a patch of paint that no longer matches the rest of the finish.

Sometimes, enough is enough. The real skill in auto detailing is learning how to read the paint and knowing what the final result will be when you use a product.

Car Polishing Rule #3

Know for a fact what tasks the products you're using were designed to perform.

Are you using a polish designed to be used on an automotive assembly line by a technician with a 4-inch spot pad on a pneumatic polisher to remove 2400 grit sanding marks? If so, what are the equivalent pad specs, rotation speed and polish time to remove your 5000 grit equivalent swirl marks?

Are you using a refinisher's panel blending compound originally designed to cut and blend fresh paint using a wool pad as a general purpose cutting compound? If so, can your foam cutting pad effectively generate enough heat on your dual-action polisher to break down the abrasives to prevent paint scouring?

The fact is, very few abrasive polish systems were designed from the ground up to be used with a dual-action (orbital) polishing system. Very few others have bothered to correctly match "general purpose" polishes with polishing pads and proper instructions to create a system.

Again, I reiterate buyer beware. All abrasive polishes have cutting particles with different characteristics. Abrasives have different size, shape and hardness. Some particles are designed to break down into smaller, finer abrasives as the polish is applied. Others are designed to cut continuously at the same rate.

CAR PAINT CARE WITHOUT ABRASIVES

Most new car finishes can be properly maintained without using abrasive (corrective) polishes. Doing so requires smart paint care, including regular washing and waxing, use of proper wash and wax tools (wash mitts, applicators, towels, etc.) and cautious parking. Finish damage avoidance is the best way to maintain a perfect finish. Nothing will swirl and dull a new paint finish faster than a bad wash mitt or cheap drying towels.

If you park away from soccer moms and shopping carts, and wash your car using proper tools, you can keep the finish free of light surface damage for a long time. When your paint does get marred, the problem can be locally treated by hand or with a spot pad with a corrective polish.

One approach to this problem is to use "cover-up" products. Many car wax products can be layered to help cover minor surface marring. My favorite combination is Klasse All-In-One followed by P21S Carnauba Wax. Others swear by the Zaino Show Car polish system (Z-2, Z-5 and others).

5 Tips That Will Keep Your Car Looking Like New

I offer the following tips for proper long-term paint finish on both new and like-new cars:

  1. Wash weekly (as possible) using a quality car wash, wash mitt and drying towels.
  2. Deep clean paint twice a year with detailing clay.
  3. Polish paint 3-4 times a year with a pre-wax, non-abrasive polish.
  4. Seal paint 3-4 times a year with a quality paint sealant.
  5. Protect your paint finish from damage by other motorists and pedestrians.

These five simple steps will keep your automobile looking great without the need to use heavy compounds for corrective action. For more car care tips, I invite you to visit my Autofanatica blog.

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About the Author

When David Bynon is not on Squidoo you will find him blogging about health care and senior's issues on MedicareWire.com.

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    • profile image

      laskhmanteja 3 years ago

      This lens helped me a lot thanks

    • LornsA178 profile image

      LornsA178 4 years ago

      I have to show my husband this lens. Thanks!

    • autofanatic profile image
      Author

      autofanatic 4 years ago

      @rayne-mann-7: Basically, you can follow the information in this lens: https://hubpages.com/autos/how-to-remove-oxidation

    • autofanatic profile image
      Author

      autofanatic 4 years ago

      @rayne-mann-7: Rayne-Man, sorry to hear that your pain was scoured by an aggressive compound. The only solution is to polish out the damage using a micro-abrasive compound, like Meguiar's Ultimate Compound. If the rubbing compound you used was really heavy, you're going to need to do the refinishing work with a polisher. You can buy the Meguiar's G100, pads and polish for less than $200 or take it to a pro for $250 to $400.

    • profile image

      rayne-mann-7 4 years ago

      high, thanks for the advice, my problem is I used a compound and it caused more scratches, now I'm trying to get them out.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I don't own a running car right now, but I do like to keep a car polished nicely. It does make them sparkle.

    • athomemomblog profile image

      Genesis Davies 4 years ago from Guatemala

      I definitely don't over-polish . . . my poor car has never been polished. At least not by me.

    • PristeamDetail LM profile image

      PristeamDetail LM 5 years ago

      Coming from an Auto Detailer, Clay itself makes a HUGE difference and you're absolutely right on all your content! really nice lens, I hit you with a Squid like!

    • profile image

      wecomparebooks 5 years ago

      OK, now that I know about car polish the next step is to get a car! LOL

    • profile image

      AngelPadillia 5 years ago

      I polished my car to remove the oxidation and a bunch of color came off. Do I need to be worried.

    • profile image

      waqastariq 5 years ago

      A very nice put lens, I have always wondered if I was getting my car polishes done rather quickly, having a lust for shine I gave my car for a detail every other week, the auto detailers franchise I usually sent it to said I should not get it this often but I did not believe, looks like they were right.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I tend to underpolish mine. ha!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      enjoyed my visit to your lens tonight, squidliked it.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      My car is very old and needs waxing badly. Interesting to read what's best to use.

    • profile image

      ekkoautos 5 years ago

      good job, so I can keep my car in its new status, thank you

    • profile image

      naugleb 5 years ago

      Great info, I enjoyed your lens.