COMBATING PAINTWORK FLAWS & DEFECTS
As I tell all of my clients, the bread and butter of my business is car care protection and preservation. My objective is to help you find a long-term solution with respect to keeping your investment looking new for years to come. To put things into perspective, if I were to grab a stranger off of the street and ask them what their interpretation of car care protection is, nine times out of ten you'll hear a response such as, "I usually throw on a layer of carnauba wax or paint sealant, paste it on, buff it off, and I'll be in good shape."
While this is certainly a trusted form of protection, one should note that this method is labor-intensive, outdated, and is now considered by many within my industry as meeting the "bare minimum". At Blackstone Detail, I do not subscribe to the "bare minimum". My clients deserve a better solution. In comparison, the glass and ceramic coatings that I offer are 200-350 times thicker than that of your traditional carnauba wax or paint sealant. Why does this matter? Ultimately, this provides you with a long-term solution against the elements. In addition, you're receiving even greater aesthetics including major hydrophobic properties, glass-like reflections, self-cleaning properties, and more. More than anything else, I explore the marketplace and test what performs exceptionally well versus what is labeled as substandard. With this in mind, I only subscribe to a very small handful of manufacturers that eat, breathe, and sleep car care protection, but are also consistent in principle of application and are backed with substantive data rather than following a trend-setting agenda.
Conversely, I'll exchange dialogue with clients who had recently purchased a brand new vehicle, only to spot flaws within their paintwork almost weeks after they drive it off the lot. As a result, the owner is now faced with a monstrous headache of contacting the manufacturer, reading through the fine print of their supposed "warranty", and seeing if they can find a silver-lining to their woes of vehicle ownership.
Contrary to popular belief, each manufacturer will have some form of oversight within the manufacturing process. Much like that of going to the doctor or repairing your vehicle at a trusted shop, the cost of maintaining your hard-earned investment is negligible in comparison to what you might pay if major damage already starts to form. This is what I call "preventative maintenance". Most vehicle owners are incredulous to the reality of paintwork damage, but I can't tell you how many times I've had to turn around and address issues that leave the owner crying in angst over what they're expected to pay to replace hoods, bumpers, new paint jobs, etc.
Collectively, there are 11 (broad generalization) major types of damage with respect to your paintwork. Below you'll find a list addressing each one. citing an example, and what remedy is best to resolve the problem.
If you live in an unforgiving climate where oppressive heat should radiate 11 months out of the year, your paintwork will invariably become exposed to excessive temperatures. If your vehicle is categorized as a "daily commuter", these harmful UVA/UVB rays can penetrate through your clearcoat over time, resulting in white blotches. In a worst-case scenario, a wet-sanding process will be required, whereby one "might" be able to level or blend the affected areas, thereby showing a uniformed finish. In some cases, the damage may be so severe that the only solution would be to repaint the affected area, which, in turn, can be done with either a dedicated spray gun, or if you're looking for a cost-effective solution, an aerosol formula will suffice, just so long as it's applied in a controlled environment.
Scratches are inevitable, this is the harshest reality that we have to face as humans. Further, paintwork scratches come in all different shapes and sizes. While some may appear minor, others may cut deeper into the finish drifting past the clearcoat, primer, and in some severe cases the substrate or bare metal. While there are many different factors that attribute to the introduction of scratches, some of the largest culprits are from improper use while washing, introducing dirty and coarse materials to your finish, or simply driving in wretched driving conditions causing debris to skate across your paintwork.
If you were to look at a cross-section of any modern basecoat, clearcoat system, you'll see that scratches will create peaks and valleys. These peaks and valleys vary depending on the severity of the scratch. With clearcoat becoming dangerously thin, using the least-aggressive method is better than chasing every single imperfection. Chasing perfection only comes in small doses, and when you try to fight those odds, you'll be left with disappointment and an invoice from a trusted body shop. Depending on the severity of the blemish, an appropriate mixture of compounds and polishes will cater to the needs of most, but you'll be interested to know that an effective sandpaper method will remove less material than that of many compounds and polishes. Mind you, this can only be done a certain number of times before you start sacrificing the resiliency of your clearcoat.
While somewhat similar to sun damage, oxidation is a process by which your vehicle's paintwork loses its luster over a longer period of time. This is a slow-moving process and often goes unnoticed by the owner until the damage becomes more pronounced. When moisture and oxygen should mix, it will invariably cloud the surface, which in turn creates the oxidation that we see on the surface. When it comes to oxidation, some of the best remedies include the use of compounds that are specifically formulated for your particular paint system. Interestingly enough, single-stage, lacquer-based paint systems that are typically seen on older classic vehicles are easiest to rectify.
Why is this, exactly? Before modern basecoat-clearcoat paint systems started to become the new standard in the 1980's, single-stage paint systems were excessively thin and fragile, thereby making them malleable and easier to work with. While it may be tempting to reach for a coarse compound, it's what many would consider excessive. You wouldn't wash your skin with acid, would you? Well, let's hope not. In many cases, the oxidation that accumulates on older classics will be minor, so what may look like a labor-intensive project is actually fairly straightforward. Much like that of hydrating your skin, single-stage paint systems may only require the use of a light polishing agent, or even the use of a glaze to hydrate the failed layer will suffice. Weigh your options carefully and take a path of least resistance.
Sometimes I feel like birds are just vindictive creatures whose only goal is to wreak havoc on your paintwork. Ready, Harry? Bombs away! Bird droppings should be treated with a sense of immediacy. Why, do you ask? The main ingredient within a bird dropping is uric acid. Yes, you heard that correctly. Any form of acid eats its way through any surface like a pernicious disease. I've had countless conversations with clients where I drew their attention to bird droppings that were never treated, thereby resulting in the substance eating through the clearcoat and etching into the clearcoat, or even worse.
Depending on how long the dropping had been sitting on the surface, the best removal process could be as simple as using any form of lubrication, whether that's through the use of a spray bottle filled with a rinseless wash product, water, or in some cases you may have to dig deeper by reaching for a particular grade of abrasive. Instinctually, we have to think about the long-term effects of any solution, so just keep a watchful eye on your paintwork and treat with good judgement.
Not only is tree sap an arch-enemy to your paintwork, but when coupled with excessive heat and sunlight, tree sap can act as a catalyst where it can etch its way deep into your clearcoat. Once again, I'll refer you to the point I made when dealing with bird droppings. Again, tree sap should also be treated with a sense of immediacy. If it should still remain on the surface, simply taking a microfiber towel saturated with hot water should do the trick to break apart the natural sugars that get excreted from the tree. In cases where it's left for a longer period of time, a 50/50 mixture of denatured alcohol and hot water should be enough.
As you travel down the highway at moderately high speeds, you'll most likely face a situation where small pebbles, debris, and other foreign substances projectile straight for your paintwork, but more specifically your front bumper. When this happens, these substances can pit the surface, and in some situations could cause considerable damage depending on the circumstances.
One preventative measure is to avoid traveling at excessively high speeds, and choosing lanes where dump trucks and other service vehicles aren't present. This may be a pedantic view of vehicle ownership, but by doing so, you're simply reducing the potential of chipping from happening. Again, I'll revert back to the statement I made at the beginning of this article which is "preventative maintenance". Paint protection film (PPF) is your best form of armor against these unsightly nuisances because it's specifically formulated to absorb the damage. Moreover, most PPF technologies have self-healing characteristics. If you'd rather not venture down the road of PPF installation, employing the use of a paint chip repair kit will certainly become a viable solution, but in order for it blend well with its surrounding area, a tedious process of dabbing, drying, sanding, and polishing is required.
This next category has been an ongoing debate for as long as automobiles have been in existence, and in many ways divides the pragmatist from the crowd of absolutes. Orange peel, at least from my perspective, is viewed as a distortion, not a defect. Some can live with this level of distortion, but only on the condition that every other conceivable surface is flawless.
On the other hand, there are those who will chase everything just for the sake of chasing it, and that's what creates a rift in the divide. When it comes to orange peel, no one can target the single cause behind the difference in texture but when we view that difference in texture, it's undoubtedly unappealing. From a chemical standpoint, any solvent is borne from either the hand of a robot or a human.
Either way, each source has the potential of making mistakes, and in some cases, there are variables outside of one's control being that the solvent will act independently from the media, When solvents dry, they'll react with their environment accordingly, and when those solvents are lifted prematurely, that's a perfect recipe for changes to happen in the paintwork once the curing cycle begins.
In order to tackle orange peel, you'll invariably put yourself in a position where various grades of sandpaper will have to be used. Since there's no universal manual that you can refer to, each and every vehicle will require a slightly different approach to orange peel removal. However, as a general rule of thumb, it's best to start with a dry sandpaper to lay the foundation of removing the "high spots" where the orange peel is most noticeable, followed by a higher grade of wet/dry sandpaper to follow. At this stage, you'll start to see a level of clarity restored to the paintwork. Finally, a dedicated compound and polish will finish the job and a mirror finish will become patently obvious.
Another article covering a step-by-step process will follow, so keep your eyes peeled for a separate article dedicated to this process. Finally, I do not endorse orange peel removal on mass-produced vehicles. I'm not in the business of destroying and diminishing the protection that should always exist. Of course, everyone has a different objective, which is why I always screen my clients before a decision is reached.
A lesser known flaw in paintwork is that of "fish eye". What exactly is fish eye, you might ask? While it's more common to see fish eye in aftermarket paint, or paint jobs that were applied by a human hand, it's far less common in mass-produced, or OEM paint jobs. When existing silicone particulates interact with a freshly painted surface, this chemical reaction will produce a crater, or deep valley that resembles something similar to that of a crater like you would find on the moon.
In order to rectify this defect, you have to consider two steps. One, you need to fill-in the void with the existing paint color, and when I mean fill-in, you need to overfill it to the point where it flows over the void like a bubble. As soon as the paint cures, then you'll need to sand any high spots, which in turn, will sit flush with the surrounding area. In some instances, perfection cannot be achieved, in which case the entire panel needs to be resprayed.
Solvent Popping & Boils
Just as the name suggests, solvent popping occurs when one or more criteria within the painting process isn't properly executed, thereby causing bubbles to form. Some of the most well-known culprits to this phenomena include insufficient drying times between coats, substandard paint quality, allowing the heating source to sit too close next to any given panel, and so on and so forth. While it could be a host of other things, there's typically one method of rectification, sanding and leveling. Now, because you can't simply gauge how far into the clearcoat the defect sits, it's always best to proceed with caution because the moment you abrade too far, you've reached the end of the road. In extreme cases where sanding and leveling the texture doesn't work, a complete sand and respray of the panel will be the only effective solution.
Dirt & Debris
Now we come to an all-too common phenomena in paintwork defects, and that comes in the form of dirt and debris. No, we're not talking about mild surface contaminants that sit on the surface, rather particulates that can escape both a robotic mechanized arm and a human. Whilst a vehicle is being painted, no matter how sterile the environment is, there are particulates that continue to circulate in the air, which in turn can unavoidably become lodged within the layer of clearcoat.
Now, here's where things start to become nuanced. Some pieces of dirt or dust (more commonly known as dust nibs) can be more pronounced than others, which can make them a lot easier to identify, ergo, allowing you to find a quick and clear-cut solution. However, some may require the use of sandpaper because they sit shallow. If the particulate should sit well into the clearcoat or deeper than others, then it's necessary to use what's known as a denibber (fig. 11). The piece is comprised of a laser-cut tungsten carbide blade, attacks any surface-level imperfections, and is specifically formulated to shave away any irregularities. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to pair your denibber with a piece of sandpaper that correlates to the defect being removed. Once this process is complete, you can then follow with your regimen of compound and polish to finish.
Sinkage & Dropback
Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and this is a perfect segue into what we call shrinkage. Most of the time, this is limited to high-performance machines or those that carry an extraordinarily high price tag. Whenever you're dealing with high-end manufacturers, their paint systems are polarly different than that of what typically comes out of a mass-produced assembly line. In these rare cases, layers upon layers of color coat (we'll save the confusion of labeling it base coat), sit on top of one another, and if one should become compromised, or evaporates at a rate that's too irregular, that will change every other subsequent coat, which then carries a domino-like effect.
With that being said, we can handle this defect in a few ways. First, you can employ the use of a corrective compound along with a finishing polish, but you need to understand that it will only minimally alter the condition of the clearcoat. Think of this method as producing a more vibrant basecoat, but you're still viewing the surface like that of frosted glass, you're just not going to see exceptional clarity. Don't get me wrong, it'll improve the clarity of your clearcoat, but not to a high standard. If you want to see exceptional results, then you're going to have employ two grades of sandpaper, followed by a compound and polish regimen to eliminate not only the issues concerning clarity in the clearcoat, but you'll be able to target the texture that comes with shrinkage. If all else fails, then the panel needs to be resprayed and you'll need to start over again.