If your car isn’t garaged or covered when parked, the paint and trim will fade away under the sun’s brutal UV rays. If you don’t provide proper care with regular polishing and waxing, the paint will oxidize as well, accelerating the damage.
Faded and heavily oxidized paint can often be restored, but it really depends on several factors including the type of paint system (clear coat or non-clear coat) and the color.
In reality, a clear coat finish restoration is possible up to the point where clear coat failure begins (blotchy white areas). On a traditional paint finish, without a clearcoat, restoration generally isn’t realistic once the color coat weathers away and exposes the primer.
When either of these two situations occurs, the affected panels or the entire car will need to be repainted.
Prevention is Obviously Best
If you must park your vehicle outside, you can avoid sun fade and oxidation damage with regular polishing and waxing, and by using a car cover.
Left unprotected and out in the elements, your car’s paint will quickly oxidize. You won’t notice the damage over a period of a month or two, but it’s there. After a year in the elements without protection, your paint will be noticeably dull and rough.
Paint oxidation isn’t the kiss of death. Light oxidation is easily removed through regular paint cleaning with a clay bar (see Clay Bar Detailing).
Once the paint surface begins to dull and fade, you will need to clean away the dirt and oxidation with detailing clay and restore the shine by polishing.
Heavy oxidation, recognizable by a completely dull, chalky surface, is likely beyond complete restoration. However, even heavily oxidized paint can be polished to bring back shine.
As with any form of paint damage, use the least abrasive polish necessary to get results. Even moderate paint oxidation causes paint thinning. As you polish, the oxidized (dead) paint is quickly removed.
One question that frequently appears in my e-mail is, “My car’s clearcoat is flaking off. How do I repair it?” Unfortunately, the answer is to repaint the damaged body panels.
Once a clearcoat fails, due to heavy oxidation, it cannot be restored by polishing. In this regard, solid body paints are far more resilient.
In any case, the best way to restore the shine and color lost to oxidation is to polish the damage (if possible) using a dual-action car polisher, like the Porter Cable 7424XP.
Doing the work by hand is not really effective!
Fixing Severe Paint Oxidation
Here are the step-by-step instructions to restore a paint finish that is severely faded (excluding paint that has completely failed):
Start by Cleaning The Paint
The first step is to thoroughly wash your car with Dawn dish washing liquid and then use a clay bar to remove the bonded contamination and dead paint. As your car’s paint oxidizes, small particles of the top layer of paint flake off. This “dead paint” and the grime that sticks to it needs to be removed.
A good automotive clay bar system is the fast and easy way to remove the dead paint and bonded contamination. You might as well use the least expensive detailing clay you can find, because it’s going to be trash when you’re finished with it.
Polishing The Paint is Next
The cleaning step was the easy part. Now the fun begins. You need to polish your car with two different grades. The first grade is a cutting polish, commonly called a compound. Second is a finishing polish.
The cutting polish I recommend most is Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound. It uses a micro abrasive technology that removes the top layer of damaged paint without scouring the finish. This is important because you need to remove as little paint as possible. After all, the oxidation has already taken its toll.
The finishing polish I recommend is Klasse All-In-One. I love this polish for this job because it uses chemical cleaners with its super-fine polish to get deep in the pores of your paint and bring up the shine. Plus, it’s easy to apply.
The Possibility of Doing it by Hand
A lot of people ask me if they can do this job by hand. The answer is “yes,” but it won’t be easy, fast or the best job possible. To use a micro-abrasive cutting polish, like Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound, you really need to apply the polish with a dual-action car polisher.
Again, I recommend the Porter Cable 7424XP (my personal favorite). If you aren’t familiar with dual-action car polishers (very safe), see our Car Polisher Buyer’s Guide.
To learn how to use a car polisher, read How-to Use a Dual-Action Car Polisher.
WARNING: If your car’s paint is badly oxidized, be very careful polishing plastic bumper caps, plastic mirrors and anywhere with a raised edge. Painted plastic parts oxidize faster than painted metal parts. Polish these areas by hand using a finishing polish only.
Also, do not use a cutting polish on painted plastic parts. Be careful on raised edges, too, as the paint tends to be thinner.
Don’t Forget to Seal The Paint
The final step is to use a paint sealant. For this I recommend Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze because you can apply multiple coats for better protection and a deeper shine.
Most car wax products contain a petroleum distillate to remove old the layer of wax. Klasse Sealant Glaze is an acrylic formula with a shine that noticeably deepens with two to three coats.
To learn more about the Klasse products and how to use them with shining success, see our Klasse Car Wax Guide. It’s different than a traditional car wax. A little goes a long way!
The next topic in our Paint Repair Clinic Series: Paintless Dent Repair!