Car Paint Restoration 101

classic red car after paint restoration

Car paint restoration is something that comes across many car owners’ minds at some point, almost like an unavoidable and dreadful quest. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be all that hard. In this article, I’ll share with you ALL my tips and tricks for success! 

But why do car owners dread car paint jobs? 

From my experience, I can say that the feeling of purchasing a car is exciting. When it comes to a new vehicle, nothing compares to that new car smell, the novelty of the dashboard, and the sheer beauty of the paint. 

Fast forward a few years, and you’ll notice how getting a car paint restoration job isn’t an option anymore. It becomes a MUST – if you really do love your four-wheeled beauty, of course.

No need to deny it, though. Paint restoration is not all that exciting. Some even face it with a bit of fear. How much will it cost? Can faded car paint be restored? What products should I use? The list goes on. 

Read on to find out all you need to know, including instructions, tips on the restoration process, and my favorite products. Let’s go!

What Happens To Car Paint Over Time?

After a while, regardless if it’s one year, two, or five, your car’s shine will start toning down. The leather will show visible marks of wear and tear, a myriad of micro-scratches might appear on the coat’s surface, and the paint will dull down to a faded version of what it once was. 

Car enthusiasts know this process better than anyone, since they’ve experienced it first-hand. And it’s really not pleasant. 

This is when most people start turning to professional detailing products and services to help them revive their car. All they want is to feel proud of their vehicles like they did when they first bought them. 

Oxidized and faded paint makes your vehicle look older, and will change any buyer’s perception regarding its selling value. 

But why does car paint dull down anyway? Can it be avoided? Is this related to the degree of car care you’ve invested in your vehicle since the day you brought it home? Or is it, perhaps, related more to the quality of the paint work? 

Can Car Paint Restoration Fix Anything?

All of these questions are perfectly valid and usually take the spotlight in all car owners’ minds after they’ve had their vehicle for a while.

When it comes to paint damage, many factors can impact the quality of your car’s paint over time. Unfortunately, most of them are quite unavoidable. You’d have to keep your car in the garage at all times, which would be an absolute shame! 

Let’s take a look at why car paint deteriorates to the point of losing its beauty and shine altogether. By understanding the factors leading to this, you’ll get the hang of how the car paint restoration process works and what it can do for your car.

 old looking car with oxidation and peeled off paint

What Are The Factors Involved In Fading Car Paint?

Behind the terrible long process of fading paint is oxidation. 

Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs naturally when heat and oxygen come together and break down the molecular bonds of the paint. 

The oxidation process is pretty much impossible to stop, but there are certain ways car owners can slow it down. Car paint restoration can actually be performed at any stage of the oxidation process, and turn things around for the better. More about this later on in this article!

UV Rays

The sun’s powerful rays are perhaps the most damaging factor behind the ruthless process of fading paint. While it’s sometimes thought that paint coat failure and oxidation come from direct sun exposure, the most amount of damage comes specifically from UV rays. 

This said, UV light can penetrate the car’s paint coat without your car necessarily having to be parked directly in the sun. Oxygen will get into the under-layer of paint and, before you know it, the oxidation process has started. That’s why it’s best if you can offer your car a high degree of UV protection. 

The process of car paint restoration is quite effective in clearing up the visible effects of oxidation and bringing back the shine to your vehicle’s surfaces.

However, it all depends on the degree of oxidation, the type of paint used on your car, and a series of other factors – which we will expand further down in this article.


Pollution is already a common subject, but we still need to talk about it since it also affects the integrity of your car’s paint.

In large cities, a great degree of air pollution comes from cars. Even the most advanced engines out there can only burn 95% of the fuel at most. The remainder of this unburnt fuel gets expelled through the car’s exhaust system, gradually causing air pollution. If you’re a car owner living in a highly polluted environment, know that car paint restoration should never be off the table as a solution for your car’s well-being.

Burning coal is also one way to contribute to pollution as the leftover carbon particles will end up on your car’s surface. The chemical composition of coal burning waste actually makes up a combination of hard molecules that, over time, can degrade the clear coat. 

Your car’s clear coat is a protective, transparent layer sitting on top of your vehicle’s factory paint. Once this layer is compromised, there’s nothing protecting the original paint anymore. And this is how the oxidation process starts.

Pollution is also the culprit behind acid rain in some parts of the world. Needless to say, acid rain is extremely harmful to the integrity of the paint, breaking it down relentlessly and almost irreversibly. If you’re lucky, car paint restoration can successfully undo some of these negative effects.


Salt is a frequent damaging factor for those living near the ocean or in cold climates. As harmless as it may seem, salt can cause a great degree of damage to various parts of the car. Fast.

In fact, salt is one of the leading causes behind the rust that builds on the motor mounts, undercarriage, body panels, and exhaust pipes. Sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt, is not an acid; yet, it’s terribly corrosive. The only way around this is to prevent salt from sitting on your car at all times – for which you could use a car cover.

However, if salt has been left there for too long, and joins forces with the other automotive nemesis, UV rays, it ends up wreaking havoc on the car’s paint. It can eat away the clear coat, and into the original color coat. It can get even deeper until it reaches the metal of the car, where it creates rust. If you’re interested in car paint restoration and want great results, you’ll first need to fix any rust.

Abrasive Cleaners

Although it may be difficult to comprehend why they still exist, some automotive cleaners out there contain metals. 

Utterly prohibited in car care, these kinds of abrasives dig into the surface and act like sandpaper. The under-layer of the paint is thus left exposed to UV rays and oxygen. Which, as we discussed earlier, is not good at all. 

Other Contaminants

If you thought this list is over, you are wrong! Many other natural contaminants will ultimately have a say in how your car’s paint holds up over the years.

Car paint restoration can, indeed, reverse the effects of these contaminants, but it will still depend on their severity.

On one hand, there are bird droppings. These contain uric acid, which will definitely corrode your car’s paint. 

Then there are rock chips that will sometimes occur while driving, leaving small yet perceptible marks. 

Compound residue from several car care products can stay on your car if not washed and cleaned properly. 

Swirl marks are also a reason why car paint sometimes ages so poorly over time. They are usually an effect of improper washing and drying techniques, and they appear like a bouquet of many micro-scratches. 

Lastly, let’s not forget about road grime and dirt. If you don’t frequently wash these off, followed by a regular polishing and waxing process – or perhaps even applying a  ceramic coating to protect the paint coat – they’ll negatively affect the integrity of your paint.

As you can see, many issues can lead to a car’s paint fading process. Sure, you may be very diligent regarding car care, and engage regularly in washing, polishing, detailing, and waxing your car. But even so, your car paint will lose its spark and beauty over time. This is where car paint restoration comes in and can undo a lot of the harm caused over the years. 

Are you willing to give your car this chance?

white pick up car exposed to uv rays

How Do You Rejuvenate Car Paint?

Understanding the factors affecting the integrity of your car paint, you’ll naturally start looking for the best solutions.

Before we go deeper into this, let’s take a look at the steps required to apply automotive paint. When the car manufacturer applies that beautiful and brilliant car paint, they do so by following these four steps:

1. Sanding The Bare Surface

The surface, which is initially completely bare, will be lightly sanded to remove contaminants. This also creates a microscopic cross pattern that, later on, enables the paint to adhere better. 

2. Applying The Primer

A crucial step! The primer will be the base coat on which the paint will sit.

3. Applying The Paint

This third step involves actually applying the paint. This is the layer car paint restoration starts dealing with.

 4. Applying The Clear Coat

This fourth and final step basically seals the deal. This is because, without the protective clear coat, applied at the end of the process, the factory paint wouldn’t last long, being vulnerable to marks, water spots, and scratches caused by all sorts of contaminants. 

You may wonder how paint can fade so badly, considering how many steps were involved in applying it in the first place; but trust us, it can! And, once the oxidation process begins, it will accelerate in a snap. If you don’t stop it in time, not even the best car paint restoration job will fix it. 

If left to the elements without being covered or parked in a garage, a typical car will get dull and get rough paint in about two years. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that oxidation spells absolute death for your car. It all depends on its level of oxidation and color. In most cases, a good paint restoration session can revive your vehicle from pretty unpleasant oxidation scenarios.

However, before a car’s paint gets really bad, you can follow some procedures to rejuvenate its paint. If the paint isn’t too damaged, and the clear coat isn’t affected in any way, you can do the following in order to avoid car paint restoration:

Wash Your Car 

Regularly and thoroughly wash your car using professional-grade detailing soap. You can either go to a specialized car wash or you can do it by yourself at home.

Polish Your Car 

You can do this by either using your hands and a hand applicator or by using a dual-action polisher. 

This will help eliminate scratches, dirt, swirls, and even the first imperceptible signs of oxidation. Car enthusiasts, rejoice! If you do this regularly by using any type of car polishers, you can even prevent oxidation from ever seriously setting in. Plus, you’ll be able to hinder this otherwise common process by years. You may not even need car paint restoration at all if you follow these preventive steps consistently.

Wax Your Car

Waxing comes after polishing. After you’ve removed all minor imperfections, you may want to make the surface shine bright to reflect all your hard work. 

Waxing your car does just this. It will help you get that showroom shine, while also offering a layer of protection that will prevent contaminants from damaging your clear coat and paint. 

You can just as well leave this job in the hands of professional detailers. Or, if you want to engage in some fun, you can wax your car by yourself. If you have a black car, you can check out some of the products I like by reading one of my reviews on the best wax products for black cars.

Ceramic Coat Your Car 

Want to go the extra mile? Then do this. Ceramic coating is absolutely worth it if you want to look after your car the right way, in the long run.

It is also the best-kept secret behind that glossy magazine shine that turns so many heads on the street. What’s more, using a high-quality product like Nexgen Ceramic Spray may keep the need for car paint restoration in the distant future.

Ceramic coating offers your car an extra layer of protection that’s bound to last at least a couple of months. If you’re curious about DIY ceramic coating, read all about it on our blog.

Lastly, of course, if your paint has undergone noticeable oxidation, then you know what’s next if you want to rejuvenate your car’s paint. It may be the absolute last resort, but car paint restoration will work wonders.

Don’t fret though, although it may sound intimidating, this process is everything you need to turn things around!

Can Faded Car Paint Be Restored?

In short? Yes, it can, and it’s glorious. Data shows that if your clear coat is fine, then there’s still hope to restore the beauty of your car paint through a nice and efficient car paint restoration session. 

Let’s pull back the curtains and watch what’s behind this process. You’ll see it’s quite straightforward, and the science behind it is pretty accessible for anyone to comprehend.

1. Washing

First of all, you’ll need to clean the car thoroughly by giving it a serious wash. This will remove any dead paint and other contaminants sticking to its surface, such as dirt and grime. 

2. Using a Clay Bar

For optimum results, use a high-quality clay bar to remove bonded contamination. A clay lubricant will also serve you well at this stage of the process.

3. Polishing 

What follows next is the polishing process which should be done in two different tiers. One is by using a cutting polish – otherwise known as compound polish. The other is by using a finishing polish. 

They’re both very important for their own specific reasons during this step of the car paint restoration process. The compound polish uses a micro-abrasive technology that removes the top layer of the paint without damaging the finish. 

After all, oxidation has already wreaked havoc on your car, so it’s important to try and not remove paint from it unnecessarily. The finishing polish uses efficient chemical cleaners that get into the pores of the paint to give it a deep shine. Don’t use this type of polish for the plastic areas of your car though!

For jobs like this, avoid going at it manually. It’s recommended that you use a dual action polisher instead.

4. Seal the Paint 

The final step is to seal the paint by using a premium paint sealant. If you apply two or three coats, the shine will become deeper. Just make sure you leave enough curing time before each coat.

These are the steps that even professional car detailers follow and that you should follow as well if you want to revive your car’s paint by yourself.

How Much Does It Cost To Restore Car Paint?

If you go online and search for an estimate on how much car paint restoration costs, you’ll find a wide variety of price offers, which may feel confusing. If you’re on a tight budget and your car really needs a fresh new look, the most affordable services may be an option. 

But keep in mind that low cost sometimes equals low quality. 

At just a couple hundred dollars, you most likely won’t get a high level of attention to details, and the end result will simply not compare. 

However, if you want long-lasting, high-quality results for your car paint restoration project, expect to pay anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 on average. Bear in mind the cost can be higher depending on the severity of the oxidation and the color of the paint. 

My recommendation is to look for car detailers in your area, visit their website, and email them for a price quote if you find their business services appealing.

Another option is to lower your costs significantly by doing the job yourself. You can purchase the entire kit of necessary materials and get it done for less than $1,000. 

Still, remember that, in return, you’ll have to deal with the challenges of giving your car a new look all by yourself. 

A DIY car paint restoration process will require you to be dedicated, thorough, and committed to getting the absolute best possible results for your car.

What Is the Best Product To Restore Car Paint?

If you want to save considerable money and are adventurous enough to engage in restoring the paint of your car by yourself, you’ll probably want to know which is the best product on the market.

As you might have seen before, opinions are pretty relative when it comes to reviewing a product. Even though most will agree on the high quality of an item, there will always be others for whom that very product will be a complete waste of money.

carfidant scratch and swirl remover for car paint restoration

After carefully researching the market of car paint restoration kits and products, I can safely recommend the Carfidant Scratch and Swirl Remover, which is also Amazon’s top pick.

This product is great if you’re looking to remove light marks, scratches, and swirls from the surface of your car. This is, in fact, a paint restoration kit, since it also comes with a buffer pad you can use to apply the solution with to undo years of damage.

It’s specially formulated composition contains no unnecessary scents or dyes. You can rest assured your car’s surface won’t be overloaded with extra compounds it doesn’t need.

In fact, you can use this Carfidant product regardless of the color of your car, which definitely eases the car paint restoration process. It’s also safe to use on any clear coat, single-stage, or multi-stage paint.

I tried this product with some skepticism towards a deep scratch on the right front door of my car from a branch I hit on a cross-country trip.

True to my expectations, the Carfidant Scratch and Swirl Remover didn’t fix it – it’s somewhat less visible, but still there. On all other minor scratches and swirls, it worked wonders and, in some cases, even beyond my expectations!

So, I do recommend that you stay realistic about this product and don’t expect life-altering miracles. But, do try it on all the minor imperfections your car has gathered over the years. 

After all, this is a car paint restoration product. It will truly make your car look better than it has in years, and I personally vouch for this. 

This product is created specifically for the paintwork of your vehicle. If you want to restore the finish on other parts of your car, go ahead and purchase another specially designed product.

car guys for plastic restoration

The Car Guys Plastic Restorer is meant to bring plastic, vinyl, and rubber back to life. By using this car care product, you can restore all the other parts of the car that need some TLC and bring them back to their healthier, shinier version.

The Takeaway

I hope this article has been helpful and that you are now confident about fixing your car’s damaged coat.

In conclusion, car paint restoration is an absolutely necessary procedure to fix damaged paintwork. It’s not a luxury. There are paint jobs, and there are PAINT JOBS. But what you need to remember is that no matter how well they are done, or how expensive a car is, all vehicles will lose their shine and paint quality over the years. Sadly, this is quite unavoidable. 

All you can do is slow this process down considerably by engaging in all necessary car care procedures such as frequent washing, polishing, waxing. Add to this regular ceramic coating sessions and you’ll likely preserve your car’s paint for the long run. 

However, if you don’t invest a sufficient amount of time in car care and detailing, you are most likely to encounter the pesky issue of oxidation.

Oxidation will eat away at the clear coat that’s meant to protect your car’s paint and will go all the way into the factory paint coat. When this happens, there’s nothing stopping it from wreaking havoc on your car.  

This is when most car owners start considering car paint restoration as their go-to solution as it can truly help turn things around for an oxidized car. 

Even then, the restoration success rate depends on the vehicle’s paint color, and how severely oxidized it is. Solid colors will often be easier to restore as many car detailers will tell you.

Restoring your car’s paint shouldn’t be done only for aesthetic reasons. While these aspects certainly have their benefits, you must remember that a proper car paint restoration process will raise your car’s selling value.

When going forward with this process, remember that you can either pay on average somewhere between $1,000 – $3,000 if you take your car to professional car detailers. Alternatively, you can do this job yourself. 

If you decide to do it by yourself, it will be much cheaper, but you’ll need to invest effort and time if you want top-class results.

If you have any questions about the car paint restoration process or are looking to find out more about the ins and outs of ceramic coatings and related topics, we’ll gladly offer our support and know-how. So don’t hesitate to contact us!

In the meantime, you might also enjoy: 

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