Paint Care- Keeping it looking Good

As you may know, I drive a black Jeep. And while I love the way it looks, it is probably the worst color to take into an environment that is truly not paint friendly…off roading. Come to think of it, if I had to guess at what might be the most off road friendly paint, I’d guess something like a matte desert sand color. Definitely not a color that is shiny and mirrorlike, that easily reveals every imperfection.

This is the fourth black vehicle I have owned. If you’ve ever owned a black vehicle, then you know how tough it is to keep the black paint looking good. Given that our Jeeps actually leave the pavement from time to time, giving us the opportunity to subject the paint to things like tree branches, shrubs, mud/dirt, etc..

Over the years, this has led me to spend some time learning how to properly care for the paint on my expensive automobiles. If you delve into this sort of thing, you soon realize that you are most likely doing it wrong.

To illustrate this point, I will use a 1999 Jeep XJ I bought used from a neighbor of mine. This was my first Jeep, and my first experience with really abused black paint. All paint is easy to scratch, but black shows imperfections more readily than any other color. Wash it incorrectly, and you are adding swirl marks and small scratches…yikes!

To give you an idea of the state of the finish on this old Jeep, my neighbor used to “wash” it with an old towel that he kept hanging in his garage and the garden hose. No soap, just grab that dirt that was on the surface and use it as sand paper on the finish. He told me when he sold it to me that “the paint use to be a lot more shiny”.

This led me to do some research on paint restoration, as well as paint care in general. Things like how to properly wash your vehicle, how do I keep the paint looking good after paint a restoration, etc.

Before we delve further, take a look at this paint care flow chart below. I downloaded this from chemicalguys.com. They are a great resource for how to’s, product reviews, as well as a one stop shopping experience. This is where the pros go. As you can see, we will start with the wash.

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wash

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So, let’s start with the first step first, washing your Jeep. Rule #1 here is that you don’t end up adding to the scratches and swirl marks that so easily make their way into/onto our expensive paint. I have been using a wash additive/soap for several years now that I really like, Gloss Workz Auto Wash. So what’s the benefit. Not only is Gloss Workz an effective soap, it contains lubricating agents to help safely lift dirt away and also contains gloss agents to boost shine.

  • pH-Balanced

  • Super Slick formula to prevent scratches/swirl marks

  • Lubricating Agents

  • Gloss Agents

  • Refined Hyper Surfactants

The idea here is to use a wash that helps protect and not remove the sealants, waxes that we finish with when the paint is restored. It may seem like an expensive purchase, but it only takes a little squirt of this in your wash bucket. You also love how rich it makes the plastic and ABS pieces look.

The Pros will also recommend using a dirt trap in the bottom of you wash bucket. I don’t use one, but I don’t let my wash mitt sit down in the bottom of the bucket where the dirt particles collect. Remember, if you get dirt on your wash mitt, sponge or rag, you’re scratching the paint. Keep the wash mitt clean!


clay bar

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The next step in the restoration process is a clay bar treatment. I can tell you the first time I clayed paint I was shocked! I had just given the paint a thorough washing, so I knew it was clean. However, the clay was telling me otherwise. As I moved the clay across the surface, it was turning brown, showing me the dirt and contaminants that were in the paint. You see, paint is like our own skin…it’s actually porous. We don’t think of it that way, mainly because it’s a static, hard surface. As such, if we leave it exposed to the elements, it will collect dirt and contaminants. The result is decreased shine and depth.

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If your paint is anything but factory fresh, a clay bar treatment is the first step, allowing you to deep clean the paint. Claying is done with a lubricant to help the clay glide across the surface. One interesting note here, after you clay a section of paint, softly move your fingers across the surface. You’ll be surprised how much smoother it is than the just washed, un-clayed paint. You will also begin noticing a greater depth to the paint. Depending on where/whom you purchase your clay from, the clay may come in a kit with the lubricant. I’ve used both Maguiar’s, and Chemical Guys. They both work great. These can also be purchased separately. Chemical Guys Quick Detailer also makes a great clay lubricant, allowing you to have just one product in your arsenal to cover both clay treatment and quick detailer.

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I’m going to mention this here, do yourself a favor and buy some good quality micro fiber towels. You will need these for wiping down and final polishing of completed areas. I say good quality, because we don’t want to be adding to the scratches. A good quality towel will make paint upkeep a breeze.


polisher

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Now that we have the paint really clean, let’s refer to the flow chart again. We have three choices for paint condition that will dictate our next steps. Those are Good, Moderate, and Bad paint. I would consider any paint that is not brand new as Moderate. If you wheel your Jeep like I do, live in the Midwest or South, then you most likely have a fair amount of light scratches in the paint.

I’m going to focus now on a Moderate condition paint, as this will most likely cover most of us. Our first step is to remove the light scratches and swirl marks in the paint. To do this we need a good polish, and preferably a polisher. You could do this by hand, but a polisher makes life a lot easier and the results more predictable.

I use a Porter Cable 7424XP polisher. It’s on the smaller side, making it easy to handle, and is variable speed and features the 5” hook and loop backing plate, making changing pads a breeze. Let’s talk about pad selection for a moment. To help us understand this better, I’ll post the chart I pulled down from Chemical Guys.

* If you don’t own a professional polisher, no worries. I used a relatively inexpensive orbital I picked up at Pep Boys for years. You can use the foam and terry cloth pads just as effectively for applying product. *

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cutting & polishing compounds

You see, we have a tool for every job. You match the pad to the product you are using for whatever treatment you are doing for your paint. If you’ve got a pretty good scratch from the Tamarisk you were fighting on the trail, grab an orange pad and cutting compound. Remember to go easy with the pressure when using the cutting compounds, that paint is only a few microns thick. Cut enough just to remove the scratch.

For polishes, we have a lot of choices. Chemical Guys offers several, the VS line features various cutting/polishing compounds. Say for example, if you were going after scratches, heavy swirls and oxidation, V32 would be where we would start. The idea here is that we have to choose a polish that will remove the imperfection, and then we progressively polish and refine the finish.

The V line looks like this:

  • V32 Optical Grade Extreme Compound - Heavy swirls/scratches/oxidation

  • V34 Optical Grade Hybrid Compound - Moderate swirls/scratches/oxidation

  • V36 Optical Grade Cutting Polish- Light to Moderate swirls/scratches/oxidation

  • V38 Optical Grade Finish Polish - Ultra Fine Polish


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Here’s another product that I find myself reaching for all the time. Meguiar’s 85 Diamond Cut Compound and 105 Ultra Cut compounds. I was introduced to these products by a friend who owns a high end body shop. This is all they use!

I use the 105 for medium to light scratches, which I usually get from running trails that have a lot of overgrown branches. The 105 is very easy to work with, and easy to remove. Once the product goes clear on the finish, you know you’e not cutting/polishing anymore. Check your results and apply more, continue to cut/polish if the scratch isn’t removed.

After the using the 105 and I have the scratches removed, time to begin refining the finish further. I typically will use the 85 as my final swirl remover. If I want to go all out, some V38 will bring it to a mirror like reflection and your now looking at paint that has real depth to it. This is next level stuff. You decide how far you want to take it. You may say “hey, it’s a Jeep”…cool, I get it!


glazes & sealants

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Ok, now we’re onto the next step, and getting close to finishing up. We have the paint refinished and looking amazing. In fact you standing back telling yourself, damn, my Jeep never looked this good! Now we need to protect all that hard work and perfect paint finish.

Again, here you have a few options. You could use a glaze, which is a form of polish and often have fillers to help you hide minor imperfections. I’ve used several glazes with great results. Products like Black Light and Wet Mirror Finish will leave a beautiful show car luster. However, for my dime, they just don’t last that long. My Jeep is black and it gets washed a lot. I find that if I’ve put in the time to do the paint correction correctly, I can pass on the glaze and go right to a good sealant.

I use Jet Seal 109 as my final sealant. Jet Seal was developed for the aerospace industry to stand up to the rigors of extreme hot and cold environments. It provides a very durable layer to protect for the paint. You will find that dirt doesn’t stick too hard to it, and it will stand up to regular washes, something a wax cannot do. Here are some key features of 109…

  • Durable protection against the harshest envirinments

  • Synthetic wax formula lasts longer for better protection and shine

  • Helps repel harsh UV solar rays, pollution, water spots, and road grime

  • Enhances high gloss shine on all paint colors

  • Protects and enhances glossy paint finishes, glass, clear optical plastics, polished metals and carbon fiber

  • Lasts up to 12 months

Jet Seal is supper easy to apply and remove. If desired, you can apply two coats to enhance protection. Ok, that’s how I handle the paint on all my vehicles. What I’ve shared here will allow you to bring back and maintain the paint on your Jeep and any vehicle for that matter and have it looking better than when it left the showroom.


quick detailer

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As outlined in the Detailing Flowchart, you can apply a coat of wax on top of the sealant. I’ve never felt that was necessary, maybe if this were a show car.

You can carry a quick detailer with you for a quick touch-up after washes, or between washes. I will sometimes do that to remove a water spot after washing. My Jeep has so many water drain areas, that it seems inevitable that I’ll have a drip line dry on the newly washed paint. For these touch ups, I use Chemical Guys Synthetic Quick Detailer. If you use this properly, you can even clean your Jeep if it’s covered in dust. The secret here is to move your micro fiber towel in straight lines, so as not to create new swirl marks. Not only does it provide an excellent shine, but it will greatly reduce surface static, which helps keeps dirt, dust from sticking. This is also excellent when you need to remove bird droppings. The spray will encapsulate the dirt, helping you remove it from your paint. Here’s some features of the Quick Detailer Spray:

  • Super Shine Quick Detailer and Clay Lube

  • Streak-Free in sun, shade, humidity

  • 100% synthetic formula

  • Enhanced shine, protection, and versatility

  • Reduces surface friction and static by up to 75%

  • Works great on any color paint

  • Gentle formula won’t strip wax, sealant, or vehicle coatings


Here’s an example of these products and this process in action on the trail. In the pic below, my Jeep is about a third of the way through Steel Bender trail, so it’s not clean by any means. However, look how reflective and deep the paint looks…even dirty, covered in dust!

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Ok, so there’s the drill. Some will look at this and say no damn way I’m doing all that. In reality, it’s not hard with the right tools and products. And, once you’ve restored the paint, keeping it nice is not that much work. I’d ask this, how much do you have invested in your Jeep? Why not properly care for the paint, which only enhances its value?

People will ask me how I keep my Jeep looking the way it does, that’s how. They will tell me I must never wheel it, it looks too nice. I tell them to crawl under it and look at the skids! It gets wheeled all right!

It’s nice to know you can use it hard on the trail, and bring it back and get it looking ready for a car show. I hope this has been informative. Leave me your thoughts, questions, whatever in the ‘Comment’ section below. I’d love to hear from you!

-Steven


chassis


Here’s a question I get from time to time. How do you keep the underside of you Jeep looking so good? Let me answer this question by first making this comment. I hate whatever Jeep is using for paint on the chassis pieces. It’s flat, open and doesn’t stand up very well. Within the first year, you’ll start to notice it getting rusty in certain areas on the frame rails, skid plates, especially the gas tank, and on the axles. I really don’t understand why they can’t use a better finish! Ok, enough ranting.

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My Jeep gets subjected to salt baths every winter here in Chicagoland, as this is my daily driver. I knew it wouldn't be long before the weak OEM chassis paint gave way to corrosion. So here’s what I did. I crawled under Rubi, cleaned the axles, frame rails, spring perches etc, as best I could, wiped it down with lacquer thinner and gave it all a couple of coats of Rustoleum Semi-Gloss black. I simply masked off areas where I didn’t want the black to hit. If you take your time, you can be pretty thorough with the paint application. This is a very easy to use spray paint, it dries quickly, and has held up very well. I usually will do this type of upkeep on a Saturday during the warm months. I know, this is a very low tech answer to having the chassis looking good. If I had my way, I’d love to lift the body off the frame and go to town with a great paint job. Sadly that’s not going to happen, so this is my fix. The paint is relatively cheap and the real investment being your time.

Below are a few pics in a slide show of the Rust-Oleum goodness on the frame rails, axles, spring perches.

When we lift our Jeeps, all the chassis is on display. This makes it so much easier on the eye, and it’s nice knowing it not rusting.

Lastly, for those hard to reach areas, that really can’t be seen. I use Fluid Film in the spray can. This allows me to get in those tight areas. I do this just for peace of mind. The aerosol spray can variety can be removed with a power washer, so keep that in mind. For anti rust protection, you can’t beat Fluid Film.

-Steven