Nothing can bum you out about your ride quite like scuffed and dull paint. Over time, every paint job gets scratches, scuffs and the harsh rays of the sun compound the matter by dulling the sheen of the clear coat. Waxing can only go so far, deep scratches and sun damage can’t be removed with just a basic wax job. These situations require more drastic measures, more specifically, buffing and polishing. A buff job like this is typically left to the pros, but fear not, 3M has come the rescue of the DIY’er with their Paint Restoration System.
Unlike buffing with wax, this process cuts through the clear much deeper, removing scratches and light oxidation. This is typically the last step for a custom paint job, but the same efforts can be applied to any painted surface. There are several steps to the process, each with a dedicated liquid and buffing pad. The pads apply the creams, which contain micro abrasives and polishes. You do need an orbital sander for this process. We used an Ingersol Rand dual-action (DA) sander with a 6-inch 3M Hook-It (their version of Velcro) back up pad. Ours is air powered, but you can get these in electric form as well.
If your paint has deep scratches, the initial step is wet sanding with the supplied 3000-grit sanding pad. 3M calls it a “scratch eraser”. Use this only on heavy scratches, and keep the surface wet, moving the pad in a small circular motion. Most jobs can skip this step.
The first part of the three-step process is the Scratch Remover Plus. To make it fool-proof, each pad is color coded to the writing on the bottle; Yellow with Scratch Remover Plus, Blue with Shine Restorer, etc. With the yellow pad in the sander, a few drops of cream get applied to the foam pad and then spread around the area to be buffed on the car. Work a single panel at a time, just like waxing.
Each foam pad is different. The pads actually cut into the clear; they are not just colored sponges. The yellow is more aggressive than the others, so it is important to follow the steps. Add cream as you move along the panel until the paint has a uniform haze. This stage removes light scratches and oxidation.
After stage one, the panel gets wiped off with a microfiber towel (you must supply the towel) to remove any remaining cream. Then you can move on to the next step- Shine Restorer. This step removes the haze imparted by the previous step, bringing the shine back to your paint. The application process is the same as before. Once the surface of the paint is nice and shiny, you can wipe it clean with the microfiber towel.
The last step is Synthetic Wax Protection. The ultrafine white foam pad and synthetic wax polish brings a brilliant luster to the paint. This is a wax application, which fills in minor imperfections in the paint, providing the smooth as glass finish. Applied in the exact same manner as the previous steps, stage three will make your paint look like new.
We went through the process on a 2004 Ford Mustang that had some oxidation on the plastic hood scoop and rear spoiler. The great thing about the 3M Paint Restoration System is that it works on any painted surface and can be done at home without any major tool investment. Unlike high-speed buffers, it is fairly difficult to damage your paint with this system. Dual-action sanders don’t spin fast enough to burn through the paint with these pads. A large high-speed buffer like the pros use can burn through paint in just a second or two in the wrong hands. Here are a few tech tips to making the job of restoring your paint easy and fast.
Keep moving. Don’t work over a small area for too long. Keep the pad spinning and the tool moving over a large area of the panel.
Work in straight lines. Keep your movements in a straight line, overlapping about 50% of with each pass. Once the panel is covered, work over the panel the other direction (side to side and then top to bottom).
Follow the steps. Don’t jump back and forth between the stages. If your panel still shows scratches and haze, start over from the beginning. Some paint jobs will require 2-3 applications.
Avoid the sun. Don’t do this procedure in direct sunlight. The sun can prematurely dry the cream and it makes the paint hot, which is not a good thing.
Patience. Take your time and be patient, rushing this type of job will show up in the final result.
Following these steps will help you bring the shine back to your ride. Not only will your car look better, but its value will increase as well.
Check out all the chemical products
A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.