How to take care of your paint job? 5 tips for classic car detailing

A classic car is usually a sight to behold. An art object some would say. And for collectors to keep their oldtimer as beautiful as possible is not trivial. It is thus tempting to treat classic car’s paint with detailing products. The number of products intended to polish, wax, protect or even “restore” vehicle paint is countless. It becomes hence difficult to choose. Above all, it is not easy to distinguish the useful from the superfluous, and even from the dangerous. Here is a (critical) review of detailing products for classic cars’ paint jobs.

Polishing, waxing, buffing: what are the differences?

Thorough cleaning of cars (« detailing » in the United States) is gradually establishing itself as a profession in its own right. This activity has its own jargon, its stars on youtube and its very specific techniques. It allows collectors to have a wider range of products to clean their vintage car.

The goal is always the same, to eliminate the deposits that have formed on the body. After a classic cleaning (water plus suitable detergent), it is possible to “polish” your classic car, that is to say to apply a more or less abrasive product to make the paint smoother and brighter. A distinction is made by classic car detailers between simple, low-abrasive “polish”, and “compound” polish, which removes a more substantial layer of paint and should only be used occasionally. These detailing products can be applied by hand but the use of a polisher (ideally rotary) is recommended to avoid irregular marks. It is essential to use a detailing kit adapted to each type of product according to their hardness.

Note here that in the context of a light restoration, paint water sanding can be done before polishing. The polisher can be used and the finest sandpaper is a must. Be careful, however, this type of exercise requires real know-how and can damage the paintwork if it is not done properly (see part 3. automotive painters).

Then comes the finishing work. Lustring and waxing products are generally applied which do not present any major difficulty. Lustring products are mainly intended to make shine while the wax is supposed to protect the paint for a longer period of time. Detailers generally apply one then the other for optimal rendering.

To be considered with caution, long-term treatments (ceramic, clear-coating, protective film)

The world of detailing brings its share of innovations, potentially useful to collectors of vintage cars. These detailing innovations should be considered with caution, as vintage cars are different from ordinary used cars. They are indeed intended to be kept in its original condition. However, there are three interesting long-lasting treatment techniques for classic cars:

  • Re-varnishing the paint (clear coating). The advantage is to keep the original paint by renewing only the surface part. This technique requires sanding the original varnish, which can be tricky. Note that varnish spray cans are on sale, without however equaling the quality of a varnishing at a professional automotive painter.

  • Ceramic treatment. This is probably one of the most interesting options for sustaining the effects of a thorough cleaning of a car. The ceramic protection is fixed to the original varnish and constitutes a second layer, smooth, resistant and durable. This protective treatment is difficult to alter and lasts for several years. Based on nanotechnologies, the ceramic treatment forms a second layer on the varnish, preserving the car from oxidation, acids and UV rays. However, it is much more expensive than a simple waxing.

  • Applying a plastic film to the body. A particularly innovative technique, the installation of a light plastic film on the bodywork is a promising avenue for the future. Relatively confidential outside the United States, this technique offers the advantage of durably protecting the car from gravel, abrasion and ultraviolet rays, without modifying the original paint. It imperatively requires the intervention of a specialized service provider.

Trust the automotive painters (even if it is not always easy)

The proliferation of innovations in classic car detailing and restoration offers many interesting options for collectors.

However, in many cases it is advisable to trust professional automotive painters. First, because old paints are fragile and can react badly under the effect of certain products. Then because the restoration of a painting, even a light one, can bring to light imperfections that the novice does not suspect. Paint and bodywork go hand in hand, so a professional eye is often needed to make the right choices.


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