How To Recover That Showroom Shine Before a Trade-In

You have been driving your car for a few years, and it is getting time to trade it in before the mechanical issues start. We have all been there. You do a once over on your old ride and you know you are not going to get anything near what you want because it looks like it has been through a few wars. You know you should have taken it in for regular washings, but it is a little too late for that. Your mind wanders off to those old commercials with the old guy screaming about how he will paint any car for a hundred bucks, but these days that service costs a bit more and it is out of your budget for a car that you are trading in. You could take your trade-in vehicle to a professional car paint restoration company, but that service is also cost-prohibitive. So, what do you do? You can easily restore the finish on your car or truck if you are willing to give up a few hours to give your car a new looking finish, increasing your trade value by hundreds of dollars. You can restore car paint to a showroom shine in just a few hours of your weekend.

The DIY Car Finish Restoration Process

Your car’s finish may be just mildly faded, or it may contain scratches in the actual clearcoat. Look at your car and determine how badly damaged your finish is. Newer cars with less UV damage and fewer scratches may only need the application of a good carnauba or synthetic wax. Many waxes even have color restoration pigments added to help your car shine. If your finish has seen many years of wear and UV damage, has been left out of the garage for most of its life, and has started to show a yellowish haze, then polish is for you. Car polishes can remove minor scratches and fading, and are generally a longer lasting solution, but are more labor intensive because you are going to have to wax the car after polishing.

Car Polish

Car polish contains abrasive materials that buff away minor scratches. These polishes come in varying degrees of abrasivness; heavy cut, medium cut, and light cut. Be sure to choose the level that best suits your car’s need. Using too strong an abrasive can cause more damage to your finish than needed, and will take longer to create the new finish look.  Unlike wax, polish must be worked into the finish and the abrasives broken down to avoid swirling and hazing.

Step 1: Gathering the Materials

  • Orbital buffer
  • Polishing pad
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Tape
  • Car polish
    • Medium cut
    • Finishing polish
  • Car wax

Step 2: Prep work

As the old saying goes, “Lazy Johnny works twice as hard.” Good prep work will eliminate a lot of after work. Start by giving your car a good wash. Running your car through the gas station car wash might be ok for knocking off the heavy dust, but for this application, you need to get in there with a mitt and scrub off all the dirt. Anything left on your finish after the washing can and will increase your work by causing deeper scratches and grooves as you work the polish into the finish. Washing should be completed immediately before the polish process.

Next, tape off anything that isn’t your car’s finish; this includes chrome, plastic that looks like chrome, lights, windows, detailing strips, rubber gaskets, emblems, and anything that absolutely isn’t painted your car’s main color. Polishing compound is incredibly difficult to remove from these surfaces and will not benefit the look of your car.

Step 3: Polishing

It is finally time to break out that orbital. For those who have been dying to use the machine, now is your time! Attach the polishing pad to the orbital. Choose a light cutting orbital pad for this first application. If this is your first time using a buffer, start in a location that isn’t the first people look, such as the lower rear quarter panel, or if your vehicle is taller than most people, start with the roof. This will give you a chance to feel what you are doing before you get to the more obvious places on your car such as the hood or rear panel. Apply a few drops of medium cut polishing compound to the outer edge of the pad. Then turn the buffer on (lowest speed if your buffer has variable speed settings) and spread the polish across about one square foot, using very little pressure horizontally across the surface. You are just applying the polish, not polishing yet. Once you have spread the polish across the surface of that area, pick a starting spot and begin using light pressure and begin moving across the surface at a rate of about an inch per second, keeping the horizontal pattern.

Once you have polished the entire square, begin to work the finish in a vertical direction. Remember that polish must be worked into the finish with the abrasives breaking down, not just set on top of the paint. The polish will appear wet at first, then hazy, and as you continue to polish it will become translucent, then finally become a dry and clear surface. Now that you have gone across your area, shut the buffer off and wipe the area down with a clean microfiber cloth. If you have achieved a high sheen and have buffed out any scratches in the finish, it is time to move to the next area. Continue this medium cut polish across the entire finish of your car, slightly overlapping to create an even effect.

Next, comes the finishing polish. Change your application pad to a new finishing pad and apply finishing polish to the outer edges of the new pad. Work in the same way that you used the medium cut compound, using small square foot areas, overlapping between sections. The car finish should now be clear and shiny. Remove the tape; you can now move on to waxing.

Car Wax

Car wax differs from polish as it is designed to sit on top of the finish as a protective coating, rather than removing scratches. There are waxes that include paint formulas that will fill minor scratches, but these will not be effective for a car whose paint has faded beyond the factory color. You will want to wax your car in the shade, preferably in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 1: Gathering the Materials

  • Paste car wax
  • Application pad
  • Microfiber cloth

Step 2: Prep Work

The prep work for waxing is much the same as for polishing. If you are moving to this step from polishing, your car is already washed, but if this is your step 1, then give your car a thorough wash. Any particles that remain such as road grime or pollen would be worked into the waxing process, scratching your finish. Use a car wash product that is designed to remove wax build up. Leaving old wax on your car will not help, as the buildup will appear yellowed and cloudy.

Step 3: Waxing

Apply a small amount paste wax to a foam type wax applicator pad, then begin applying the wax to your finish using light, even stroke, using minimal pressure. Do not glob the wax on; you are applying a thin coat. Several thin coats will create the deep shine and finish you are looking for. You are not working the wax into the finish; you are floating it on top of the paint. Much like polishing, work in small sections. A two foot by two-foot area is a good estimation for most of the body of your car. Allow the wax to dry to a dull haze for 3-5 minutes. Fold your microfiber cloth in half. Use just one side of your cloth to buff off the excess wax, leaving just the thin coat of wax on your surface. Then flip the cloth over to a fresh side and once again using light pressure, buff the wax into a deep sheen. Continue this process across the full surface of your vehicle.

Once you have completed a full round of wax, step back from your car. Has it gained the shine you are looking for? If this was your first round, then it will likely need a second round. Repeat your waxing process as many times as needed to create the showroom floor look that will help you trade your car in for the best value.

Wrap up

Returning your car’s showroom finish, or a reasonable facsimile of it is a laborious process, but well worth the time invested. First impressions go a long way to trading or selling your car. A dingy, scratched, and dull car just doesn’t look appealing. You will fetch a far greater trade-in value by having a car that looks the part, even if it is not mechanically perfect. The cost of the best car paint restoration products is low, especially when compared to the cost of a professional company. Before you swing by the dealership, clear your schedule for this Saturday and spend a little time with your car’s finish. Your wallet will thank you!