Paint correction is a topic that’s being talked about more now than ever before. The popularity of social media and Youtube videos in recent years has really helped professional detailers spread the word about their services. Is paint correction worth it for you though?
If you care about the appearance and longevity of your vehicle, having a paint correction done is absolutely worth it. There is no better way to make your car stand out from the crowd and get some serious attention – even from people with zero knowledge of cars.
There are two important things you need to consider though. Are you willing to put the effort into maintaining the end results? Having a great looking car is not a one time event – it’s a lifestyle. Whether you love to give your car a good detail on a Saturday morning or you take it to a pro, there’s no denying that maintaining a perfect finish requires upkeep.
Cost is another big thing to consider. Simply put, a proper paint correction is expensive. Sure, you might find someone willing to give you a multi step correction for $200 but I can assure you that you don’t want that person within 10 feet of your car.
Paint correction takes time. And for someone to charge peanuts for the job they have to either be:
a) so inexperienced that they’re willing to work practically for free, or
b) they’re saving time by cutting corners and abusing your paint job.
I can’t stress this enough: a cheap paint correction will cost you WAY more than a good one in the end. This is not a skill set that’s learned overnight. The end result will look much better and last much longer if you spend the money to do it right the first time. For more on that, make sure to check out this post on finding the right detailer.
What makes paint correction so expensive?
You may have been shocked the first time you saw a quote for what it would cost to have a paint correction done on your car. It’s expensive! Does that mean that a detailer has to spend a ton of money on products to get the job done?
Actually, no. Some of the pros might have a problem with me sharing this, but a paint correction really doesn’t cost them much per car.
Sure, if they have a shop, their overhead will be much higher. A lease, utilities, insurance, advertising, etc. There’s also the cost of tools and equipment.
They’ll have at least a handful of specialized polishers that are each designed to reach different areas of your car along with a collection of polishing pads in each size. Some detailers have a hoist that they use to lift your car up in order to polish the lower sections of your car. Those cost a few thousand dollars.
But once those expenses have been paid for, they have to spend very little on the actual products to work on your car. So why do they charge so much?
To give you an idea, a typical bottle of polishing compound costs less than $40 and is enough to do many cars. Polishing pads and microfiber towels can be washed and reused. It isn’t the products themselves that warrant the price.
It’s all about the time it takes. Paint correction is a long process. Your vehicle needs to undergo many cleaning and decontamination steps before the polishing process even begins. Iron/fallout, brake dust, tree sap, tar, and any remaining waxes or sealants need to be removed before any correction can be done. For heavily neglected cars, this can take an entire day all by itself!
Once the car is perfectly clean, it needs to be inspected with proper lighting to see what kind of damage needs to be fixed. This means literally examining every inch of the paint. In some cases, paint depth measurements will be taken with a gauge to determine the history of the paint job and decide on a game plan.
Once the polishing begins, the detailer will need to continue to go back and check their work to see how the paint is responding and make judgment calls on how far to chase specific scratches. All of this adds up to a ton of time being spent on your car. Both mentally and physically.
I mentioned earlier that experience plays a big role in this type of work. Now obviously, polishing cars doesn’t exactly require a PhD. But being able to produce great results safely in a reasonable amount of time takes a lot of experience. Some detailers will even enroll in training courses (which can easily cost upwards of $1,000 each).
All of these things go into the price of your paint correction. It’s not unheard of for one of these jobs to take a full week to finish. Compare the price of a paint correction with your weekly paycheck – it should make a bit more sense now.
Check out the video below for an idea of what goes into a complete paint correction:
How long does a paint correction last?
Hopefully, you understand why paint correction costs what it does but you still need to decide whether it’s worth it for you or not. One of the biggest concerns people have is how long the results will last.
Unlike using a glaze or wax to temporarily cover up scratches, a paint correction will physically remove them. After the job is done, they aren’t hiding or covered up – they’re gone. So the real question is how long it will take for you to re-scratch your car. There are 3 factors that will decide how long the results from your paint correction will last:
1. What your opinion of it “lasting” is
I’ve found that a paint job’s condition is widely subjective for the majority of people. Some might think that anything remotely clean and glossy is perfect. Others have much higher attention to detail and will scrutinize every single scratch and scuff.
Whether your paint correction will last really depends on which one of these two people you are. If you expect your paint to look exactly the way it did when it was first finished 5 years ago, you might be let down.
The world can be tough on vehicles and we can’t always control the conditions they’re in. People will rub up against it when they walk past. Your friend might lean on your bumper before you have the chance to scold them. There might be a bird bomb hidden on the passenger side of the car that you don’t see for a few days.
Heck, even if we could control everything that happens to our cars, simply washing them (even with the safest technique) can eventually dull the finish.
Unless you have a garage kept show car, it’s important to manage your expectations.
2. How it’s treated
If you’re the type of person that sees their car as nothing more than a functional machine, the results might not last very long. I would actually recommend skipping a paint correction entirely. If scratching your vehicle doesn’t bother you, there’s no point in removing them. There’s just going to be a fresh batch of them around the corner.
If you care for your car properly, a paint correction can last a very, very long time. Using safe wash methods and avoiding all the weird ways you can potentially scratch your paint will go a long way.
Your detailer should be able to give you a bunch of recommendations on how to keep your car looking great for as long as possible. One of those might be to bring it back for a maintenance wash every once in a while, which I would highly recommend.
When treated properly, the results of a paint correction can easily last upwards of 5 years. And as long as you don’t wait too long to give it a touch-up, chances are you’ll be able to skip having to do a heavy correction ever again.
Once it’s corrected the first time, you can stay on top of it by having a light polish done every couple of years before it ever has a chance to get bad again. This not only keeps your car looking great but helps to retain as much clearcoat as possible by avoiding any heavy cutting or compounding.
3. How it’s protected
Your detailer will give you a few options for protection once the paint is corrected. The idea is to lock in those results for as long as possible, within your budget.
The absolute best protection you can get in terms of scratch resistance is paint protection film. In most cases, this is used on the front of the vehicle to protect against stone chips but some people choose to wrap their entire car.
The downsides to paint protection film are the high price and its appearance. You might notice a different texture compared to the bare paint and sometimes the edges of the film are visible (especially if they get dirty).
A ceramic coating is the next best option for protecting your freshly corrected paint. There are plenty of different ones on the market to choose from but your detailer more than likely has at least 1 brand that they know well and prefer to work with.
A coating won’t protect against scratches as much as paint protection film but it will guard your car against UV rays, chemicals, and other contamination while making it much easier to clean.
Waxes and polymer sealants offer the least protection out of these 3 options but they’re still better than nothing. These won’t last anywhere near as long as a ceramic coating but they’re much more cost-effective and easier to work with. You’ll need to reapply them every few months depending on where you live, where you park, and how you wash your car. These don’t offer any scratch resistance but they will make the surface slick.
Paint correction vs repaint – the pros and cons
There are some instances where a paint correction and a whole new paint job overlap in terms of pricing. The easy choice would be to go with the new paint job, right? After all, you’re adding paint to the car rather than removing it with a correction.
A fresh paint job isn’t always the best choice though. First of all, you have to consider what kind of work you’ll be receiving from both at the same price point. This will likely be at the high end mark for a paint correction, meaning you’ll be getting near-concourse quality results by an experienced professional. In contrast, the cheap paint job will be rushed – and it’ll look like it.
A lot of work needs to be done in order to paint a car properly. Things like trim, window glass, and even entire panels may need to be removed. Then there are hours upon hours of prep work and sanding that will directly reflect what the end result looks like. If you aren’t paying to have all this work done, your paint job will not look as good as the one your car left the factory with.
For collector cars, keeping the original paint job is a big deal. It can greatly affect the car’s value in the future. Improving the original paint as much as possible will keep the value the same and possibly even increase it.
As soon as you go down the road of a respray, the value can drop. Many collectors will consider a car with paintwork as an asterisk beside it. It’s certainly something to keep in mind if you think your car might be worth something in the future.
One more thing worth noting is that the majority of fresh paint jobs need a proper paint correction after they leave the body shop. Sometimes it’s due to lazy work and failure to remove sanding marks or overspray. Other times, it just needs to have the last bit of gloss revealed. I’m not bad mouthing the body shop guys – sometimes there just isn’t enough time or budget to get a paint job perfect.
I can tell you this: I have personally spent 2 days polishing a car after receiving a $10,000 paint job.
Risk Vs. Reward
There are times when a new paint job is the only answer. Not everything can be fixed with sanding and polishing. Sometimes the scratch is too deep or the paint is too thin. At that point, a fresh paint job is the only way to go.
If your vehicle has been corrected many times (or too aggressively) to the point of having thin paint, a correction is not worth the risk. The likelihood of blowing through the clear coat is much higher and you’re really betting against the house.
Do all vehicles need paint correction?
The truth is, not all vehicles need to have a paint correction done – but not for the reason you might think. Most people believe that a brand new car won’t need to have any polishing done because, well, it’s brand new. Duh! That’s not always the case though.
If a new car has sat on a lot or in a showroom for any period of time, chances are, it’s already riddled with swirl marks. Dealer employees are constantly wiping down cars and washing them improperly. They think no one will want to buy a dusty car – so they scratch them instead. Sheesh.
Another case where a brand new car will need a paint correction is with higher end, hand built cars. You’d think buying a car that costs as much as some houses would mean the paint is flawless, right?
Not usually. Being hand painted opens up the potential for human error. Just like with body shops, sometimes there just isn’t enough time to get it perfect. Many of them leave the factory with paint defects. This is often the case with Aston Martins, Ferraris, and even Teslas.
When doesn’t a car need a paint correction? When it’s not possible to fix as I mentioned above or quite frankly, if you aren’t going to look after it. Correcting the paint on a car that’s only going to be neglected, left dirty, and re-scratched in the future is a waste of time and money.
If you aren’t willing to put the effort into caring for your car (at a near-fanatical level), don’t bother! This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even the most expensive paint correction can be trashed by a handful of improper washes. So make sure you’re honest with yourself about whether you’re willing to maintain your car’s finish before you pull the trigger.
Paint correction alternatives
After reading this (or finding out how much your local detailer will charge you), you might have decided that a paint correction isn’t for you. That’s okay and it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with your car looking the way it does.
Most detailers that offer paint correction services will also offer what many refer to as a “paint enhancement”. This is a great way to dip your toes into the paint correction world if you aren’t sure you’re ready for the real deal.
Think of a paint enhancement as a very mild version of a correction. They’ll still use a polisher on your car, but with an all-in-one product that polishes and protects in one quick step. This won’t remove the deeper scratches, although it might fill them in temporarily. In many cases, it’ll remove a lot of swirl marks. The biggest thing it does is make your paint deep and glossy again.
Since the detailer doesn’t need to examine every inch of your paint and remove every scratch, an enhancement can be done in a fraction of the time. Remember, a large part of the price of a correction is in the labor.
Time is money here. By choosing an option that requires much less time, you’ll save a lot of money. You can always pony up for a full correction in the future if you want to take it to the next level.
Hopefully, this has helped you to decide whether a paint correction is worth it for you. Most cars can benefit from it but you need to be honest with yourself about your budget and how much effort you’re willing to put into maintaining it.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: