How to Wet Sand an Aged Paint Job

Among my peers I often encounter discussion surrounding the lack of brilliance left in their dated cars paintjobs. More often than not this lack of luster is attributed to years of abuse, mag-chloride, salt, and general weathering. A car is meant to be waxed periodically throughout its life yet many cars never receive the attention they warrant, and deserve. This leaves car owners yearning for a new car, a new paint job, or the increasingly popular automotive wrap. But wait!! Don’t lose all optimism; your paint may be repairable!! If your car is fitted with a basecoat as well as a clear coat (most modern cars are however this is not a given, contact your local dealer for details), your cars paint can be wet-sanded to restore its previous luster. Wet sanding is a technique that has been used for many years to revivify finish and brilliance to exhausted, faded paint jobs. If your car is only equipped with a single stage paint job then wet sanding is not an option. Unfortunately you get what you pay for when it comes to paint. But if you do have a clear coat here are some easy steps that can be taken to restore your paints gloss:

  1. Thoroughly wash your car insuring that all debris is removed.
  2. Wipe the car with a grease remover or mild solvent.
  3.  Purchase 4 sheets each of 2000, 1500, and 1200 grit wet and dry sand paper.
  4. Fill a bucket full of warm water and add a couple of drops of detergent, or whatever you have on hand for washing your dishes with. The detergent is simply an agent in lubrication.
  5. Soak the sand paper in the water until it begins to curl up. We want the sand paper to be saturated for this process.
  6. Wrap the sand paper around a sponge or sanding block and begin the sanding process dunking the paper often. The more you dunk the paper the longer it will last you.
  7. Every wet sanding job requires usages of different grits and time commitment but these are my suggestions to you. Start with the 2000 grit (the finest grit) and begin to level the surface. If you determine that the 2000 is not taking enough off then graduate to the 1500 grit and so on successively down to the 1200. After using the 1200 grit (or the roughest grit you’ve deemed necessary) return to the successively less abrasive grits as to smooth the tops off of the deeper grit scratches.
  8. When this process is complete the surface will look very dull and it takes the next step to bring it back to its original “showroom shine”. This process will remove the sand scratches and further level the surface.
  9. This next step requires the use of a 7” polisher which can be rented or purchased from about $75 dollars to $400 dollars depending on the quality of the product. In addition to the polisher you will need two pads: a firmer dense pad for compounding and a softer pad for polishing. These pads can be either wool or foam and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The wool will last longer whereas the foam will less likely scorch the surface. I prefer the foam pads because they’re more forgiving and allow for better results.
  10. In the past a rubbing compound with an abrasive in it was used to scourer the surface but with contemporary urethane clear coats it is best to use a compound that reflows the clear coat itself. The first step of this process is to “butter” the area with the compound. Squirt some of the compound on the desired location and, at a low speed, allow the polisher to gently work the compound around the area you’re working on. This is area should be about a 4×4 square.
  11. Turn of the polisher and let the compound set for about 30 seconds as to allow for a chemical reaction to initiate.
  12. Turn the polisher back on at the lowest speed and allow the polisher to lead your hand across the panel. Do not press down. Allow the polisher to gently work in all of the compound and soon it will begin to look good. You will see swirl marks in the paint especially on darker colored vehicles. This will signal the next step.
  13. Now we are going to use a polymer sealant to further level the surface and give that antiquated paint job its life again! We are NOT going to use wax. With recent developments of polymer sealants waxes have become outdated and do not offer the lifetime or effectiveness of polymer sealants. These sealants can strengthen your paint and keeping it shining longer. Meguire’s, 3M, and Finish Kare all make very good sealants. I use Finish Kare’s Polywipe. These sealants are applied just as waxes are and follow a wax on, wax off process. Work in small areas and allow the sealant to dry for about 5 to 10 minutes. After letting it rest, buff the area with a foam pad and micro-fiber cloth.
  14. Be sure to pay close attention to cracks in between doors and along the hood where sealant can build up as you’re going as it is important to cleanse these areas of residue before the sealant hardens.
  15. Last Step: Revel in the glory of your old paint job turned new!!

Credits: Emmett Vick and Jim Lyons

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