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How to Restore Faded Car Paint

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Jun 5, 2020 ·

Have you started to notice that your vehicle’s paint isn’t quite as shiny and vibrant as it once was?

Unfortunately, car paint isn’t invincible—it’s subject to a variety of elements that can cause it to chip, peel and fade over time. Whether you're a collision repair technician or are simply a car owner looking to take care of your vehicle, it’s important to know what can cause fading and how to prevent it.

The good news is that faded paint can often be restored to a certain point, depending on the severity of the damage and the overall condition of your vehicle. Keep reading to learn valuable tips for preventing fading as well as what you can do to restore your paint and make it appear good as new.

What Causes Faded Car Paint?

There are a variety of factors that can have a negative impact on the condition of a car’s paint. These include:

  • Sunlight: The number one cause of faded car paint is sunlight. The sun’s harsh UV rays affect the pigment in car paint and can slowly break it down and cause it to oxidize. Over time, the paint will become visibly dull, rough and may even flake off in patches in more extreme cases.
  • Road salt: Salt is often used on roads to melt ice and snow. However, when road salt accumulates on a car, it can fade the vehicle’s paint and cause it to rust. If you live in a colder climate, it’s essential to wash your car regularly during the winter months to avoid this.
  • Bird droppings: Believe it or not, bird droppings are highly acidic and can eat away at your car’s paint when left on the surface too long. If you notice bird droppings on your vehicle, it’s best to act immediately. Use a wet towel and detergent to gently clean the area. Avoid scrubbing, as this can scratch your paint.
  • Type of paint: The type of paint applied to a vehicle can make it more susceptible to fading. A single stage paint, which mixes the color and the clear coat together, has a higher chance of fading versus a vehicle painted with a base coat and clear coat separately. When the clear coat is applied on top of the base coat, it can provide UV protection and help to keep the paint from fading.
  • Lack of proper care: How you take care of your vehicle will also contribute to whether your finish will shine or fade. People who wash and wax their vehicles on a regular basis have a better chance of their vehicle’s finish staying in good condition.

To learn more, check out our list of 13 things that can damage car paint.

3 Ways to Prevent Faded Car Paint

When it comes to preserving your car’s paint, prevention is key. Taking steps to care for your vehicle’s finish now can save you from costly repairs in the future. Plus, if you ever plan on selling your car or trading it in, you’ll be able to preserve its value and visual appeal.

Park in a Covered Area

Whenever possible, it’s best to park in a covered area. As mentioned, the sun’s rays can be incredibly damaging to a car’s paint, so finding covered parking, whether it’s in a carport, garage or even under a tree is always a good idea. If you do park under a tree, just be sure to watch out for bird droppings, as they can damage your paint.

Wash Your Car Regularly

Sticking to a regular wash schedule is one of the best things you can do to protect your car’s paint from the sun and environmental damage. Car owners who do not wash their vehicle on a regular basis will not only have a dirty vehicle, but they are likely to accumulate micro dirt, which becomes embedded in the car’s finish.

Every few weeks, run your car through the car wash or wash it yourself. If you do decide to take the DIY route, be sure to use the right products—never simply grab a rag and dish soap from the kitchen!

Instead, use a gentle cleaner specifically designed for automotive paint and either a soft sponge or mitt. When cleaning the wheels and tires, use a separate sponge to avoid transferring any brake dust, sand and other debris to your car’s surface, which can scratch it.

Wax Your Car After Washing

Waxing is a great way to add another layer of protection to your vehicle’s paint. Plus, it will make your vehicle look beautiful and shiny when applied after a wash.

There are a variety of different waxes to choose from, such as paste, liquid, spray and wipe-on/wipe-off. No matter which formula you choose, always be sure to closely follow the directions for applying.

Waxing your car every three months or so will help to extend the longevity of your paint, especially if you live in a cold climate. However, remember to not overdo it, as this can cause build-up on your car’s surface.

How to Fix Faded Car Paint

If your car’s paint is already faded and not looking quite as vibrant as you would like, you might be wondering, ‘How do I fix it?’ Luckily, faded car paint doesn’t always require a fresh coat of paint. There are several things you can do to bring your existing finish back to life.

If the paint has faded but the quality of the surface is in good shape, you may be able to buff the shine back into the paint. During the buffing process, keep in mind that you’re using an abrasive compound that, when not used properly, can do even more damage to the paint.

How to Properly Buff Out a Car

To start the buffing process, give the surface a good washing. Then, to remove micro dirt embedded into the surface of the paint, use a clay bar product. Follow the recommendations of the clay bar manufacturer to learn how to use their product. When used properly, you should be able to feel a smoother surface where the clay bar has been used.

Now, you’re ready for the buffing process. To begin, it’s important to ensure you have the right equipment. You will need a quality buffer, which can be electric, battery powered or air powered. In the Collision Repair Program at UTI, students use Snap-on air powered buffers.

Next, you will need buffing pads and buffing compounds. Students at UTI use 3M’s “Perfect-It” buffing system, which includes a buffing compound #1 and a matching #1 buffing pad. This compound does the heavy cutting of the service as we start to bring back the shine. Without proper use and care, this compound can also easily cut through the paint on edges and bodyline areas that can only be repaired by repainting, so be careful.

While working and buffing two-foot square areas at a time, the #1 compound will start to produce an improved shine. After wiping any excess #1 compound residue off the surface, reach for the #2 “Perfect It” machine polish and the matching #2 buffing pad and go over the area that was buffed earlier with the #1 compound, continuing to work in two-foot square areas at a time.

At this point, you should see a noticeable difference in the shine. Before moving to the next step, wipe off any excess #2 compound residue and use the “Perfect-It” #3 Ultrafine machine polish.

During the buffing process, the buffing pad can leave what is known as ‘swirl marks’ on the finish. The #3 Ultrafine machine polish will help to eliminate swirl marks and also bring out a shiny, polished finish.

It’s important to remember that this process opens up the microscopic pores of the surface of the paint. For this reason, you must seal the surface of the finish with a good automotive wax or an automotive style ceramic coating. As always, follow the manufacturer's recommendations on how to apply and how often to apply.

Tips for Buffing

  • Never lay your buffing pad face-down on the ground. The pad can pick up dirt that will scratch the paint.
  • Always use the right buffing pad with the correct compound or polish.
  • Follow the product manufacturer’s recommendation for buffer RPM speeds.
  • Be extra careful when buffing near edges and body lines.
  • Store your buffing pads separately in clean, sealable plastic bags.

What if the Car’s Paint is Too Damaged?

If your paint is too faded or damaged for the buffing process to work, the only other way to bring back the shine is to refinish the vehicle. This could consist of just painting the panels that are corroded or refinishing the entire vehicle.

If this is the case, reach out to a collision repair center near you. A skilled collision repair technician can evaluate the condition of your car and tell you what the best plan of action is to get your vehicle’s paint looking good as new.

Learn About Becoming a Collision Repair Technician

If you love working on cars and are obsessed with the details behind what makes them run, training for a career in the collision repair industry may be perfect for you.1

In UTI’s Collision Repair & Refinish Technology (CRRT) program, students train with the tools, equipment and technology used in collision repair centers across the country. Classes begin every three to six weeks, so you may be able to start training for your career sooner than you think.

To learn more, request information on our website and check out the following resources:

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