How to Restore Faded And Oxidized Paint

It’s a fact that paint and trim will fade away under the sun’s brutal UV rays.

This often happens to cars that aren’t kept garaged or covered.

In any case, there’s a key aspect to this type of damage that you need to understand…

Car paint will begin to oxidize (at which point the damage starts accelerating). Soon your paint is permanently toast!

But here’s the good news:

This is what clear coat failure (caused by UV exposure and oxidation) looks like. It cannot be fixed by polishing.

Faded and heavily oxidized paint can often be restored (to a point).

Whether it’s possible depends on a few factors including your paint’s color.

But, often it simply comes down to the condition of the clear coat finish. Restoration is only doable up to the point where clear coat failure begins (blotchy white areas).

No clearcoat? Oh man!

Without a clearcoat, restoring the paint generally isn’t realistic. You can forget about fixing the damage if your color coat has already weathered away and exposed the primer.

Is this the situation you face?

Don’t be shocked to learn that affected panels, preferably the entire car, needs a complete repainting.

Prevention is Always Best

Try not to park your vehicle outside (at least on a regular basis).

While you can avoid sun fade and oxidation damage with regular polishing and waxing, using a car cover is your best bet.

I saw my neighbor washing her Mazda Miata. I looked at the trunk and was horrified to see the level of oxidation. As you can see, the paint was very dull (not yet chalky) and covered with water spot stains.

Left unprotected, and out in the elements, your car’s paint will begin to oxidize.

And the thing is…

You really won’t notice oxidative deterioration over a period of a month or two, but it’s there!

Paint typically gets visibly dull and rough after approximately 2 years in the elements – without protection.

Of course, paint oxidation isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

Yup! It’s true that light oxidation can be easily removed. It simply takes regular paint cleaning with a clay bar.

(Be sure to read about Clay Bar Detailing here).

Basic Restoration Process

Let’s go into more detail about fixing up a paint surface that has started to dull or fade.

First, you’ll need to clean away the oxidation. Again, you do this with detailing clay. Then, you would restore to a shine by polishing.

On the other hand…

Heavy oxidation (recognizable by a completely dull, chalky surface) is likely beyond complete restoration.

There’s hope though!

I can confirm that even thoroughly oxidized paint can be polished to bring back shine. It’s not uncommon.

I pulled a old can of polish and an applicator off the shelf, and spent about five minutes polishing away the oxidation on the trunk lid. I then switched to a foam applicator for a second pass. The result is pictured above. The heavy polish removed all of the stains, water spots and oxidation. A quick hand buffing with Klasse All-In-One restored full shine and brought back some depth.

Be sure to use the least abrasive polish necessary to get results. Even moderate paint oxidation causes paint thinning.

Done right, oxidized (dead) paint is quickly removed!

Here’s a question that always appears in my e-mail:

“My car’s clearcoat is flaking off. How do I repair it?”

Unfortunately, they never like the answer. I tell them to repaint the damaged body panels. There is no way around the fact that polishing won’t restore a clearcoat once it totally fails due to heavy oxidation.

FYI: Solid body paints tend to be far more resilient. That’s why color matters!

But for mild onset of paint oxidation, restoring shine is a piece of cake (if you have the right tools).

Polish, but do it using a dual-action car polisher.

Porter Cable 7424XP is best.

Don’t cheap out. Doing the work by hand isn’t really effective anyway!

How To Fix Severe Paint Oxidation

Do you have a fairly serious case of sun-damaged car paint?

Here are step-by-step instructions to restore a finish that’s become severely faded (excluding paint that has completely failed):

Dead paint and dirt build up on the surface when paint oxidizes. The first step is to clean the oxidation and dirt away.

Start by Cleaning The Paint

First thing’s first:

Thoroughly wash the car. Use Dawn dish washing liquid.

Then, use a clay bar to remove bonded contamination and dead paint.

Why do we do this?

So-called dead paint and the grime that sticks to it needs to be removed.

As paint oxidizes, small particles of the paint’s top layer flake off. Take care of this before anything.

A good clay bar detailing will feel slick and have a little more shine to it. But any damage needs to be repaired.

An automotive clay bar system is great for removing dead paint and bonded contamination.

Polishing The Paint is Next

The cleaning step was the easy part. Now the fun begins…

You need to polish your car with 2 different grades. A cutting polish (commonly called a compound) and a finishing polish.

The cutting polish I recommend most is Meguiar’s M105 Mirror Glaze Ultra-Cut Compound.

It uses a micro-abrasive technology. This stuff removes the top layer of damaged paint without scouring the finish.

This process is very important!

Keep in mind that 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 (perfect for this particular job).

It uses chemical cleaners with super-fine polish to get deep in the paint’s pores which really brings up the shine. Plus, it is easy to apply!

Is Polishing Possible 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 or fast or the best job possible.

Again, my advice is to use a polish with a dual-action car polisher.

Polishing your paint removes a thin layer of paint to cut away the damage. This allows the shine to be restored.

The Porter Cable 7424XP will always be 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.

A dull, lifeless finish like this can be restored in a couple hours. The secret: A safe dual-action polisher and the right polish.

WARNING: Be very careful when polishing plastic bumper caps, plastic mirrors and anywhere with a raised edge.

Painted plastic parts oxidize faster than painted metal parts.

Take it from me…

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. The paint tends to be thinner.

Don’t Forget to Seal The Paint

The paint has full color, gloss and depth after polishing.

The final step is to use a paint sealant.

For this I recommend Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze.

You can apply multiple coats for better protection and a deeper shine.

I like Klasse because it is different from the others.

Basically, most car wax products contain a petroleum distillate. Klasse Sealant Glaze, on the other hand, uses an acrylic formula.

Translation: The shine noticeably deepens with two to three coats.

See our Klasse Car Wax Guide to learn more about their products and how to use them.

You can also head over to our Paint Repair Clinic for in-depth information on related topics. Be sure to check it out!