I don’t know about you, but I love pulling up in a shiny car. Call it what you will… pride of ownership, flexing, whatever…. It just feels good. You may have heard about getting a paint correction to bring your car’s appearance to the next level. But what is paint correction? Is paint correction worth it? And what about do-it-yourself paint correction?
I’ve received lots of questions about paint correction. Let’s start with the big one first….
What is paint correction?
Simply put, paint correction is the process of using a power polisher and some polish to remove tiny scratches from your car.
Let’s spend some time understanding the big picture…
And I’m not even talking about the big ones… like the scratch you got in the grocery store parking lot when someone got a little too close with a shopping cart.
I’m talking about the tiny ones that you take for granted. You might only see them if you look at your car at just the right angle in just the right light. These scratches are often referred to as swirl marks or spider webbing.
Here’s a few pictures to illustrate:
You might be thinking that swirl marks aren’t really scratches.
And you also might think swirl marks aren’t even all that bad.
And most car owners (myself included) have come to accept swirl marks on your paint as just a part of owning a car.
Like I said before: scratches happen. And they will continue to happen.
But as shown in the image above, there are varying severities of swirl marks. They tend to develop over time, little-by-little. And if you’re not aware of sources of swirl marks, these tiny scratches can accumulate and start to become very noticeable.
Depending on your own tolerance level, you may want to have these swirl marks removed. And if you do, paint correction is what you’ll need to do.
Where do swirl marks come from?
Let’s take a look at some of the most common sources of swirl marks.
Poor car washing technique
The most common cause of swirl marks is shitty car washing technique. Most people, even self-proclaimed gear heads, have no idea how to properly wash a car.
Even yours truly had no idea…. For years I washed my cars the way my dad showed me: fill a bucket with soapy water, hose down the car, wash with a sponge, then hose off soapy water.
And for all those years I swirled the hell out of the paint on all the cars I owned.
But how does this cause swirl marks?
Every day, our cars are exposed to tons of particles floating around in the air and crap being kicked up on the road.
So come wash time, if you slop a sponge on your car and wipe it around, you are likely scrubbing fine grime into your car’s paint, creating tiny swirl marks.
Automated car washes
Automated car washes are great in a pinch. But their convenience comes at a price. Those spinning brushes are loaded with grime from all the other cars that have passed through.
Think about it… What if the last vehicle to go through the car wash before you was a truck that had just been mud bogging offroad? There’s probably some dirt left behind on the brushes.
Granted, your car’s finish won’t get severely scratched…. But you’ll likely add to your ever-growing swirl mark collection.
Got kids? Then you got swirl marks.
No matter how careful you are or how careful they are, your kids will scratch your car.
They’ll rub up against it, they’ll sit on it, they’ll “help” you by cleaning it with a dirty rag….
They’ll scratch your car. But you still love them. Most of the time.
If you live in an area with harsh winters, you know how grimy your car gets in the winter.
Add on a layer of snow on top of that grime and guess what? When you clean that snow off your car, you’re also dragging the salty, sandy grime across your car causing swirl marks.
Parking lot assholes
If you park in a parking lot, your car is in a war zone. Irresponsible people open their doors and give you dings, they brush up against your car, and don’t even get me started on what they do with shopping carts!
I can go on and on, but I think you get the point. Your car is under constant attack.
Do I have to fix swirl marks?
Unlike a deep scratch that may go down to the metal and cause potential rust, swirl marks are generally tiny and rarely cause degrading damage. If you don’t mind swirl marks being there, then keep on driving!
What does paint correction before and after look like?
Lots of swirl marks can seriously dull a car’s finish. They create a cloudy haze on your car.
But here’s the thing… swirl marks generally happen slowly, one scratch at a time.
It’s not like you put your car through an automatic car wash and it comes out the other side looking like hell. If this were the case, there wouldn’t be a single automatic car wash in business!
The fact that swirl marks develop gradually over time is good in a way because you don’t really notice them. But as they build up over time, they will eventually get to a point where they start to bother you.
However, when you have them removed with a paint correction, the difference is immediate and shocking (in a good way!). You’ll be amazed at the difference…. Especially if you have a lot of swirl marks.
Here’s an example of what paint correction before and after looks like:
A picture only speaks a thousand words. Seeing paint correction before and after with your own eyes on a car that had extensive swirl marks will make your jaw drop.
How does paint correction work?
In understanding what is paint correction, it’s important to know how the process works.
In its most basic form, paint correction is a lot like sanding a wood surface or filing your fingernails.
The surface of your paint is (microscopically) rough and you use a power polisher to apply a polish that has some grit to it. The process wears away a tiny layer of your clear coat and makes a nice, smooth surface that’s free of scratches and super shiny.
A lot of detailers call this process leveling. This is because they are basically working your clear coat down to the level of the deepest swirl mark. Doing this brings your clear coat to a flat, highly-reflective surface.
To illustrate, check out these fancy cross section diagrams I made. The dotted line represents the level of the deepest swirl mark. The paint correction process polishes (like sanding or filing) the clear coat down to the level of the deepest mark. Notice on the third diagram how the clear coat is now free of swirl marks… but it is lower than it was before.
Does paint correction weaken my clear coat?
Yes, paint correction will weaken your clear coat. Remember, you’re basically sanding it down… so every time you do a paint correction, you have less and less clear coat! Again, look at the AFTER photo in the above diagram… there’s less clear coat than when we performed paint correction.
However, it’s general practice to apply some sort of protectant to your car after performing a paint correction…. Something like wax, sealant, or ceramic coating. You should definitely add a protectant if you have paint correction performed.
Will paint correction make my car look better?
Most likely, but it depends on how bad your swirl marks are. If you just have a few marks, you’ll barely notice the difference.
But if you just bought a used car that was clearly run through weekly automated car washes, the difference will be dramatic.
Does paint correction fix scratches?
Yes. Paint correction fixes (and often eliminates!) small scratches like the swirl marks we’ve been discussing.
But for deeper scratches, paint correction probably isn’t going to help.
A skilled detailer can do some polishing to make deep scratches less noticeable. But if you want them to be completely erased, you may have to take your car to a body shop. It all really depends on how bad the scratch is.
Does paint correction fix chips?
No. Chips are usually pretty deep.
Just like we just discussed with deep scratches… a skilled detailer may be able to make a chip a little less noticeable, but in order to have it completely erased, you’ll have to talk to a body shop.
You can also break out your old school touch up paint to fix chips!
Is paint correction the same thing as buffing?
Pretty much. Buffing is an old-school term. As the car care industry evolves, so does the terminology.
What about do it yourself paint correction?
You can absolutely perform a do it yourself paint correction. Just be sure to educate yourself first!
Remember…. Paint correction is a lot like sanding down your car’s finish.
If you don’t know what you’re doing with a power polisher, you can sand too deep and start to remove paint! And once that happens, you’re looking at having to re-paint part of your car.
How much is a full paint correction?
You’re probably looking at several hundred to just over $1,000 to have a professional do the job. There’s a lot of factors that go into coming up with a price… The condition of your paint, size of your car (bigger cars take more time!), and even the color or your car all play a factor (darker colors show more scratches and therefore often require more work).
Of course there’s always a do it yourself paint correction like we just discussed. You’ll have to invest in a polishing machine and some supplies, but it will certainly be less expensive than having a professional do it for you.
Is paint correction worth it?
So now that you know the answer to what is paint correction, let’s discuss is paint correction worth it?
Well… it all depends on you.
Here’s my take… Paint correction does wonders for your car’s appearance. It brings out crazy-good reflections and deepens the color.
But it’s so darn expensive. And it’s not an easy do-it-yourself job.
If I bought a used car and it looked like the last owner let his sponge-dropping 5-year-old wash it every weekend, paint correction is definitely worth it.
On the flip side, there’s a lot of people out there who recommend paint correction on brand new cars.
This is stupid.
It’s like getting plastic surgery on a new-born baby.
Yes, some brand new cars will have swirl marks. Shoppers on the car lot will brush up against cars. Maybe the lot boys run new cars through an automatic car wash. There’s a bunch of ways swirl marks can happen.
But how many swirl marks are on a brand new car? You can probably count them on one hand.
If you want to spend a thousand bucks on your brand new car’s finish to make it perfect, you-do-you, my friend!
Just remember…. My words:
And they will continue to happen.
Unless you put your car in a bubble.
Well, my car is scratch-proof now because I am getting a ceramic coating!
Ceramic coating is NOT scratch proof.
I don’t care what the internet says.
And I certainly don’t care what your buddy’s neighbor’s uncle’s cousin (who happens to work at a detail shop) says.
I’ll say it again: Ceramic coating is NOT scratch proof
Just use some common sense here. If ceramic coating was truly that revolutionary, don’t you think all car companies would put it on their new cars?
Ceramic coating is literally a few microns thick.
It will scratch.
And if you don’t believe me, listen to Todd Cooperider from Esoteric Auto Detailing. Todd is the founder of Esoteric and he’s one of the leading detailing experts in the country. People ship their six-figure super cars to him to have them detailed. If that’s not proof that Todd is an expert in the field, I don’t know what is.
In this video, Todd echos my statement: Ceramic coating is NOT scratch proof.
A word on all-in-one products
Before we wrap up this article on what is paint correction, I want to touch on all-in-one products.
These are the over-the-counter products that will polish, fill swirl marks, and wax your car… all in one step. And they can deliver similar results to a paint correction on a car with minor swirl marks.
A lot of people talk shit about these products because they’re not truly paint correction. And they only temporarily cover swirl marks. And they only last a few months.
Yes, it’s not a substitute for paint correction at all.
But I honestly think all-in-one products are among the best solutions to maintain your car’s finish AFTER you have a paint correction or if your car is brand new.
All-in-one products fill swirl marks
Yes, it’s only temporary. But remember, scratches happen and will continue to happen. And as they do, you can keep them hidden with an all-in-one product.
All-in-one products are easy to apply
Applying an all-in-one product is generally pretty easy to apply yourself. And the dangers associated with ceramic coating or a do it yourself paint correction are nonexistent.
All-in-one products protect your finish
Yes, it won’t last years like a ceramic coating, but you’ll get several months of wax protection from these products. They’ll help prevent new swirl marks from happening.
Paint correction is a great way to restore paint that has a lot of swirl marks and other environmental damage on your car’s clear coat. But it’s not really necessary every time you see a swirl mark (unless you’re obsessive over your car’s finish). A layer of protection (like wax or ceramic coating) is vital after you have a paint correction. And an all-in-one product is something to seriously consider after getting your car’s finish to maintain a nearly-perfect baseline.