Who hasn’t had the misfortune of coming out of the mall after a day of shopping only to approach their vehicle and find a door ding or scratch from a shopping cart, or even worse, an intentional key line. What might seem like a minor scratch to the person who carelessly damaged your car, can be a major cause of anger and frustration.
As a restyler, you have the opportunity to relieve a customer’s frustration by reconditioning the surface of a vehicle to remove scratches, or possibly correct an intentional key scratch. With diligence and by methodically following the steps outlined below, you can help remove light scratches in a relatively short amount of time and give your customers a “like new” finish.
Vehicles that are not regularly detailed will, over time, get light scratches especially at the door handle or door panel. Light scratches can be categorized as those that only cut through the clearcoat and barely into the color yet not deep enough to clearly see the primer that covers the steel panel. These scratches typically can be repaired without the need to sand.
Here’s what you’ll need to complete the job: professional-grade carwash mix, a jar of rubbing compound, a bottle of liquid polish (compound), soft microfiber towel(s), and a dual action polisher with multiple settings along with compatible buffing and polishing pads.
Wash vehicle. Be sure to wash the vehicle thoroughly, especially the identified scratch areas. Never use dish soap or other household soap cleaners. Dish soaps can cause many problems, such as stripping wax. It is best to use a multi-surface, environmentally safe soap that won’t strip wax or polish. A thorough cleaning provides a clean surface free of grease, dirt and other contaminants. Buffing and polishing, especially with an applicator on a dirty surface, can cause damage, such as scratches or swirls to the paint or gel coat.
After washing the scratch area, dry it completely. Great attention must be paid to the amount of paint, clearcoat and or gelcoat that remains on the surface prior to the process. If marks are still visible that were caused by accidental contact with another vehicle’s rubber, plastic or paint, use a professional-grade aerosol tar or adhesive remover. Then use a professional-grade multi-purpose cleaner for a final spot cleaning.
Remove troublesome spots. After washing the vehicle, some spots caused by bugs, tar, grit, or grime may still be visible. To remove these troublesome spots, use a non-abrasive mesh sponge with a bug and tar remover.
Identify scratches. It is important to first identify the areas where the scratches appear. Take your time to make sure you didn’t miss any. Work in good lighting – fluorescent or halogen is recommended. If scratches appear in multiple areas, it is best to repair each area separately. Determine whether the scratches will require the use of a polisher or can be hand buffed and polished. The use of a professional applicator – buffer/polisher – is recommended for defects such as highly visible scratches, oxidation, scuffs, chemical etching, swirl or sanding marks.
Apply rubbing compound. Carefully open the rubbing compound and apply using a small paint brush or a damp microfiber towel that will not leave lint behind. Look for a product that is formulated for clearcoat and can remove oxidation staining and surface rust. If using a polisher applicator, apply a thin coating over a limited area.
Apply evenly to all damaged areas needing repair – it is best to take your time and get small amounts on your brush and apply evenly to all areas that need to be repaired. If the scratches are deep enough to require sanding, many OE’s typically use a 600-800 white compound. Many consumers and professional detailers prefer a pink compound that is developed for light oxidation that does not require sanding.
Complete final inspection of compound application. For best results, use a dual-action polisher to begin the buffing process. Inspect all areas to make sure the compound is evenly spread across the area to be fixed.
Choose compounding pad. Before you begin buffing out the compounding material, you’ll want to choose a general-purpose, light cutting pad to attach to your dual action polisher. The best buffing pads are made of wool. The standard size is 6-1/2″ in diameter. The compounding pad should be compatible with your applicator polisher.
Position polisher with compounding pad. With your general-purpose, light compounding pad in place, be sure to start at the bottom and work your way up the vehicle working in an orbital fashion. A polisher that oscillates and rotates on varying orbits will help prevent swirls. Typical machine speed settings: 2,500-3,200 OPM is recommended for waxing and buffing; 3,900-4,600 OPM is recommended for polishing and cleaning. Applicators that are 5,500-6,500 OPM can remove paint defects and swirls.
Continue buffing. Whether hand buffing or using a professional buffer/polisher, repeat applications may be required.
Finish buffing and finessing the surface. When the white or pink compound has disintegrated and only the paint surface of the vehicle is shown, the surface can be wiped with acetone or liquid thinner, and swirls and haze do not show back up on the buffed surface.
Select polishing pad – A black foam polishing and waxing pad, 6-1/2″ in diameter, will next be used to polish the area that was just buffed. If you’ve used this previously, make sure it is clean and shows no signs of wear. If it does show signs of too much use, buy a new one before moving forward.
Apply polish or wax with UV inhibitors. Remove the compounding pad and use the polishing pad you’ve selected. You’ll next apply a small amount of professional-quality liquid polish or wax to the pad. The goal of this process is to achieve a bright, smooth shine and high gloss. The polish will help add a protective coating. As you can see in this photo, apply drops of the polish to the polish pad to form a circle. It is not necessary or advisable to cover the entire pad with polish. The benefits of applying wax or polish by machine include control of speed, even coverage, less waste, ease of application, ease of removal, protective coating and a brighter shine. Note: Do not mix products (wax, polish, cleaner) on the same pad. Label each pad to prevent confusion.
General polishing. Grasp the polisher firmly with both hands – in this instance, on the auxiliary handle and the motor housing, and position the polisher with the polishing pad against the work surface – and start polishing. Move the polisher back and forth in a sweeping motion, over-lapping each previous pass. Do not apply additional pressure. Allow the polisher to work under its own weight.
Polish under handle. Using the tool in the Off position, dab the pad against a small work area to distribute the polish on a low setting. Hold the pad against the surface and then switch On. Once the polish or wax has been absorved into the pad, the polisher can work at a higher speed level.
Polish like a pro. Overlap each pass halfway, while polishing up and down and then left to right. Once you have polished enough that only a thin layer of polish remains you may stop. Check to see that you’ve covered all the areas necessary.
Polish. Select a soft microfiber towel to complete a final polish to the area repaired. Don’t use a household bath towel or wash cloth or any paper products – this will bring the scratches back that you just repaired! Use a gentle circular motion to produce the best results.
Final inspection. The goal here is to find any spots you might have missed. Use a detailer spray with UV inhibitors and anti-static properties for a last-minute once over before you hand over the vehicle to your customer.
Enjoy the results. If everything is done correctly, all scratches will be removed for an excellent final finish.