26 May 2021
THAT’LL BUFF OUT: Restoring your car’s paintwork

Years of unsheltered parking and quick-n-nasty washes have left their mark on your paintwork — but can it be saved, or does it need a respray?

Given how expensive cars cost here in Singapore, we’re often keen to preserve the beauty of its paintwork. When it comes to selling your car, too, you’ll often notice that cars with original paint jobs command a slight premium.

Unfortunately, after owning a car, you’ll soon realise that the odds are all stacked against you. Environmental hazards, wear and tear, and even improper car washes can damage your paintwork! All these factors work together to eat away at the gleam of your paint, leaving it dull and marred.

What makes up a car’s paintwork?

Image credit: TeslaTap

Before thinking of restoring your car’s paintwork, it’s a good idea to first understand its components. A typical paint job comprises of three distinct layers on the car’s bare metal bodywork — primer, colour coat, and lacquer.

Primer is essentially a bonding agent that helps the paint bind to your car’s metal surface. Typically, primers are boring colours like grey, black, or white, as they’ll be covered by a brightly-coloured paint anyway. Without primer, the minutest of paint chips will expose metal to the elements, allowing rust to form quickly.

Colour coat, or basecoat, is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s what we know as paint itself, which provides the car with a colourful and vibrant look. In modern cars, there are three main types of paint; solid, metallic, and pearlescent.

Lacquer, or clearcoat, is what gives the paintwork its glossiness and shine. It also protects the delicate paint layer to a certain extent, against damage like scratches and scuffs. Modern cars typically have much thicker lacquer layers, in order to preserve that showroom-fresh shine.

What causes paint damage?          

Now that you’ve understood the components of your paintwork, it’ll be easier to understand the types of paint damage. Most damage such as minor scratches only damage the topmost layer lacquer. However, in more serious cases, damage can penetrate the top two layers — exposing the primer, or even down to the metal in extreme cases.

Wear and tear is the most common cause of paint damage. You and your passengers might’ve inadvertently caused damage, with minor scratches from fingernails, wedding rings, or keys. It could also be due to inconsiderate drivers next to you, who cause paint chips by violently opening their car door into yours.

Improper car washes are also a cause of paint damage. Ever sent your car through an automatic car wash, or gotten it washed at a place where the cloths are only washed at the end of the day? Always ensure that your car is washed with separate buckets for soap and water, with separate cloths for everything. Else you’ll risk having circular swirls on your paint…

Environmental hazards are a gradual but compounding cause of paint damage. Regularly parking your car in unsheltered carparks exposes it to UV light, breaking down chemical bonds and causing paint fade. To make matters worse, you’ll also get acid spots, which are caused by bird droppings and tree sap.

Is there hope for my paintwork to be restored?

While paintwork can be restored, there is unfortunately a limit to the amount of damage that can be reversed.

For damage that has occurred to the lacquer layer, it’s highly likely that a paint restoration effort will significantly eliminate many of these defects. With a restoration, the lacquer will be smoothened out, giving it that shine once more. Do note, however, that this is for damage considered relatively minor — such as dull paintwork, small scratches, and minor marks.

For damage that has cut through the lacquer into the colour coat, a paint restoration effort may make the damage less noticeable. However, it cannot completely eradicate the damage; it simply negates the aftereffects. Examples of such damage include minor carpark scuffs and light paint chips.

How do I know that my paintwork is beyond saving?

For paint that has been damaged beyond repair, getting a respray will likely be more time- and cost-effective. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the look of a fresh new paint job!

The easiest way to identify un-restorable paintwork is the trace of grey primer or silver metal at the damaged site. With both the topmost lacquer layer and paint layer gone, it’s nigh on impossible to fix the damage — for rather obvious reasons.

However, in some instances of environmental damage, your paint might be beyond saving even though the lacquer is still present. This situation is known as lacquer failure. This happens when UV rays have chemically broken it down, to the point where blotchy white patches form. By the time it gets to this stage, no amount of polishing will reverse the damage.

How can I avoid paint damage?

The easiest way to avoid long-term paint damage is the keep your car parked away from the elements whenever possible. This could be inside a sheltered basement or multi-storey carpark, or parked outdoors with a car cover or umbrella.

Paint chips are a bit trickier to avoid. Short of placing a bubble wrap around your car each time you park, paint chips almost inevitable. However, you can reduce the chances of paint chips by parking further away from mall lift lobbies with less footfall. Personally, I go one step further by parking in an individual lot whenever possible, to completely eliminate the possibility of door dings.

Just got a new car and want to protect it from the elements? Check out our comparison of paint coatings currently on the market! If your car’s already battle- or weather-scarred, we can help make it better. Check out the spray painting and body repair services available right here on AutoApp.