Surface Imperfections

 

Detailing enthusiasts and professional detailers spend the majority of their time correcting paint surface imperfections caused by a number of different factors. Here is a short list of the most common imperfections so that you are able to identify what has occurred and the easiest way to fix the imperfection.

Checking, Crazing, Spitting, Alligatoring, Crows Feet

 This class of paint surface imperfection is evident by the appearance of very small cracks or lines that have various lengths, widths, and directions in the clear coat. For this reason, this type of imperfection is often called Crows Feet. This type of imperfection can be confined to one small area of a car or can be spread, for example, over the whole hood surface. Some cars are notorious for Crows Feet with appearance occurring in as little as a year. There can be a number of reasons why these paint defects appear in the clear coat but the most  common are:

  • Improper painting of the car where: the underlying layer (color coat) is too thick and/or the clear coat is too thick; the car has been re-painted and the prior paint had cracks in it; the underlying color coat was not allowed to dry appropriately; the paint was mixed improperly.
  • The paint has been subjected to excessive exposure to rain, sunlight (primarily UV radiation), extreme temperature environments, industrial fallout, etc.

To repair this type of paint defect you will most likely need to have the car re-painted. You certainly polish the car, use a glaze (filler), and a sealant (as opposed to a wax) to produce a very reflective surface and you will be able to hide most of these imperfections. In addition, you can slow the progression of these imperfections with a good sealant – if not protected, the clear coat will simply fail. However, to get rid of them completely is out of the realm of the detailer’s capabilities.

Water Spots

 Water spots are caused by the etching of minerals into the clear coat…this occurs when water is left to dry on the paint surface. Sometimes water spots appear as white spots with a grainy texture and other times they appear as small etched circles in the clear coat.

Etching of the clear coat due to a water spot.

Removing water spots can by tricky. Some times they will simply wash off with a high-quality car wash soap. Other times you will have to use a mild polish. A number of detailers have had great success with vinegar – just be careful not to get it all over the paint surface. Once the water spot is removed, however, you will undoubtedly be left with some level of paint etching (see picture above). Depending on the depth of the etch, it may come out when you polish the paint. In some cases the etch will be too deep and there will be no fix readily available. Compounding and/or wet sanding are possibilities but keep in mind that you don’t want to remove too much of the clear coat otherwise you will sacrifice it.

Prevention of water spots is readily achieved by drying the surface of the car each and every time it gets wet. Some times, especially after a rain fall, this is not possible…however, it is crucial that the surface is washed shortly after a rain fall in order to remove minerals from the paint surface. In addition, make sure that you don’t wash the car in direct sunlight on a hot day…this will cause the water to evaporate too quickly thereby leaving spots. If you live in an area where your water supply contains a lot of minerals then you may want to invest in a water filter.

Bird Droppings

 Bird droppings on a paint surface can and will cause a lot of damage if not removed from the surface quickly – they are just plain nasty. I don’t believe that there is a product on the market that can protect your finish from bird droppings for more than a few minutes – they are simply just too acidic. Bird drop etching can range from the mild (A-B below) to the severe (C-D below).

Bird droppings will etch the clear coat on a car due to their highly acidic nature. A-B show mild etching than can be removed with a polish such as Scratch-X where as C-D are beyond help.

The easiest way to remove bird droppings is with a microfiber towel and a quick detailer spray…it may be a good idea to carry these in your car so they are quickly accessible. If the bird dropping has been allowed to dry on the surface, you may have to use a microfiber towel soaked in a 50/50 mixture of water and isopropyl alcohol. Simply place the soaked towel over the spot you want to remove and let it sit for a few minutes…try not to ‘wipe’ away the spot as you will cause surface marring…try to ‘blot’ the surface to remove the spot. Bird droppings will etch your paint and cause cracking of the clear coat over time as the photos (C-D) show. In some cases, as the first few photos show, the etching will be minor and will come out with a mild polish such as Scratch-X (be careful with Scratch-X…it has abrasives in it). If left over a long period of time, however, the clear coat will start to crack and there is no easy fix – the car will have to be re-painting.

Random Isolated Deep Scratches (RIDS)

Random scratches on a car’s paint surface are very common. Depending on the depth of the scratch, it may come out through polishing of the surface. If too deep, there is nothing you can really do aside from protect it with a good wax or sealant to protect from further damage. In the photos below, the scratches are simply too deep to be repaired.

Random Isolated Deep Scrathes (RIDS) can often be repaired through proper polishing.

Egg Damage

If you car has ever been ‘egged’ then you will most likely have damage as shown in the below picture. Tight concentric circles are always indicative of egg damage. Note that this is very different from swirling (usually caused by improper washing)…egg damage actually causes pitting (etching) of the clear coat and generally can not be repaired. You can certainly minimize the appearance of the damage with the use of a glaze and wax/sealant but you can’t get rid of it. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may want to try and repair it with a product such as ‘Dr. ColorChip’.

Egg damage yields a very unique design...concentric circles of etched paint.

Swirling/Cob Webbing

This type of paint surface imperfection is caused by improper washing techniques (see ‘two-bucket wash method’) and will easily come out through proper polishing of the paint surface. This is one of the most common paint surface imperfections.

Mild swirls caused by improper washing techniques.

Marring

Marring and swirling are two different things from an ‘appearance’ point of view. Marring normally consists of straight line scratches in the paint surface that are very close together and shallow. Marring can be removed through proper polishing of the paint surface.

Buffer Trails or Holograms

Buffer trails are caused by improper use of a rotary polisher and often have a ‘hologramming’ effect to paint. Buffer trails are often seen on dark-colored cars. This type of surface defect can be removed through proper polishing of the paint surface.

Clearcoat Failure

Clearcoat failure can be due to a number of reasons and is not repairable using detailing techniques. Clearcoat failure arises primarily from:

  • Improper painting of the car where: the underlying layer (color coat) is too thick and/or the clear coat is too thick; the car has been re-painted and the prior paint had cracks in it; the underlying color coat was not allowed to dry appropriately; the paint was mixed improperly.
  • The paint has been subjected to excessive exposure to rain, sunlight (primarily UV radiation), extreme temperature environments, industrial fallout, etc.
  • clearcoat failure

    Example of a car with severe clearcoat failure.