7 solutions to classic car paint imperfections
A classic car's paint job can be its greatest feature or its greatest weakness. If you're looking to upgrade the finish on your vintage ride, check out these tips to help achieve an imperfection-free paint job.
1. UV fading
When paint is exposed to the elements for an extended period of time, it can eventually start to exhibit a chalky, white appearance. This type of paint damage is also known as oxidation, and it occurs when the top layer of the paint starts to break down. Older vehicles that don’t have a layer of clear coat are especially vulnerable to oxidation and UV fading.
If you're unsure about your car's paint, it’s a good idea to have a paint shop with experience with older vehicles determine if your classic car has single stage paint. Since single stage paint is typically thin and fragile, it's remarkably easy to damage and should be handled by an experienced pro.
If you decide to tackle UV fading or oxidation on your own, the most important tip to keep in mind is to use the least aggressive product that’s capable of getting the job done. That means you should start with a nonabrasive product and move on to increasingly abrasive products only if it’s absolutely necessary.
If you notice any pigmentation on your buffing or polishing media after you start working on your paint, that means your vehicle doesn’t have a protective clear coat. That’s your cue to either take it easy and tread lightly or take the job to a professional.
For classic cars that have single stage paint, the best way to deal with UV fading is to start by washing and claying the vehicle. After you’ve removed all of the surface contaminants, you can condition the paint with a sealer and reseal glaze. If that takes care of the fading and oxidation issues, you can finish off the job by applying a coat of wax.
2. Small paint chips
Chips in the paint are often very minor imperfections, but even a tiny chip can pose a danger to the integrity and value of a classic car. If you notice any chips in your paint, it’s vital to take care of them right away. If you don’t, even a tiny chip can become a rusty mess in a short period of time.
Small chips are relatively easy to take care of. You’ll need to prepare the area by washing it and then gently wiping it with a polishing compound, which will help to soften any rough edges. A quick wipe with some denatured rubbing alcohol will finish the preparation. You can then apply a small amount of primer to the chip and finish it off with some touch-up paint.
If you use a correctly matched touch-up paint color, the repair should be indistinguishable from a few feet away, and it will also protect your car from rust. However, you’ll need to visit a body repair or paint shop if you want a repair that will stand up to close scrutiny.
3. Dents and dings
The key to removing a dent or ding is to apply a force that’s equal and opposite to the force that damaged the metal. That can sometimes be accomplished by pulling sharply on the panel with a bathroom plunger, but more often, dents have to be pounded out from the back side with a hammer and dolly.
Some dents and dings are relatively easy to repair, but a valuable classic car isn’t the best place for beginners to practice the craft.
4. Minor scratches
The basic idea behind the repair of scratches is to remove a small amount of paint in the surrounding area. Since minor scratches are relatively shallow, they're typically limited to the top layer of paint. If your classic car has a clear coat, minor scratches may not even penetrate to the pigmented paint layer. In that case, you need to gently buff or abrade the paint until the scratches are no longer noticeable.
If your classic car has single stage paint, you need to proceed with extreme caution. Since the paint is thin and fragile, it’s essential to avoid using any kind of heavily abrasive rubbing compound or buffing media.
5. Major scratches
Unlike minor scratches, major scratches can penetrate several layers of paint. That means major scratches typically need to be dealt with like paint chips. If there’s any danger of rust, it’s essential to take care of the scratch immediately.
In most cases, if a scratch penetrates all the way to the base coat or bare metal, it can't be buffed out. Applying touch-up paint will prevent rust damage, but the only way to really fix the problem is to reapply new paint.
6. Swirl marks
Swirl marks are typically scratches that were caused by an overenthusiastic buffing job. If you lean into a power buffer, it’s very easy to leave rough scratches that take the form of ugly swirl marks.
The easiest way to remove swirl marks is to use a dual-action polisher with foam pads. The key is to remove the smallest amount of paint necessary to eliminate the swirl scratches.
7. Compromised paint integrity, wearing or patina
Many paint imperfections can be taken care of at home, but there is a point where even the most experienced classic car owner needs to consider placing a call to a professional paint and body man. If the integrity of the paint has been compromised in any way, your car will most likely need to be repainted. The same is true of single stage paint that’s excessively worn because old paint tends to be so thin and fragile.
If your classic car has developed a patina over the years, you have a few choices. It may be possible to make the paint shine by washing, claying, resealing and waxing it. If your case is more serious than that, a lengthy visit to a highly skilled professional will be in order.
However, many classic car owners appreciate a little patina. Classic cars are true warriors of the road that have stood the test of time, and some natural wear and tear helps tell their stories. A car with a healthy patina might not be ready for the show floor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of it anyway.