I’m embarking on a new hobby / quasi-career in auto finish restoration.
This is coming about due to my managing to accumulate a fleet of several old cars, the newest a 2001, all with various degrees of “paint and finish” problems. And wanting to take some of them to Florida.
Here in California, you can ignore a small rock ding, a scratch, some marginal clear coat. Nothing much happens for a couple of decades. In Florida, between the heat and humidity, and the ocean spray being about 50 miles away wherever you are, trivial penetrations of the paint become rust spots and skin cancer way too fast. So I need to have these “sealed up” before we “go there”. (Part of the demise of the Banana Boat was spending about 6 years in Florida (on and off) and then 2 winters in Chicago… with dinged paint.)
So I’ve been watching a LOT of YouTube videos on painting cars, recovering clear coat, etc. etc. Just a couple of days ago I took my first step and the rusty windshield wiper arms on the Subaru are now pristine flat black.
But sanding an entire car, or even just a hood, with hand held sandpaper isn’t going to happen (even if it did work well on the wipers).
It looks like, for minor defects, you polish them out. A “Buffer / Polisher” and polish on a wool pad or foam pad. If a bit worse, you move up to “compound” and a similar polisher machine (looks a lot like an angle grinder with a plastic / rubber pad to me).
Then, if you are doing painting, you need a sander. Some videos use a palm sander “DA” Double Action. Others use an angle sander that looks a lot like that polisher… I get all the stuff about choosing grit sizes and working up to very fine 2000 grit and all. Even using the long bar sander in an X pattern once the power work is done.
What isn’t clear to me is do I really need 3 or 4 devices, or will one “polisher / sander” do it? And is “Double Action” the same as what we used to call “random” or “orbital sander”?
Then there’s that whole thing of “stick on sandpaper disks” or “hook and loop”? 4 inch, 5 inch, 6 inch, 6.5 inch, 7 inch, etc. etc. That, and particular brands.
I do not need any warnings or cautions about sanding clear coat and reaching metal. I understand the power of power sanders. Just the last time I dealt with one it was about 1960, there was one size in the shop, and one kind of paper. The present zoo of choices will take longer to sort out than it will take to use the tool…
So I’m hoping someone out there has some auto body and paint experience and can cut down the search area by way of a few signposts. Things like “Start with a 6 inch” or “Avoid Black & Decker” or “Buy Black & Decker” or “Nobody buys new stick on, they all buy hook and loop for the new stuff”, or “Never buy one of the ‘does it all’ combo sander / polisher / buffers. The don’t do any job well”. Or “DO buy it, this brand is great!”.
What is my use case?
1) Early ’90s 190 E Mercedes, black, that cost me $400. Paint has a lot of scratches and a couple of places the clear coat is just getting a bit milky looking. I want to clean it, then try polish, then “compound”. IF needed, I’ll sand down the clear coat spots and do a feather into the rest and shoot a bit of clear coat on that area. Then polish…
2) A 1989 Mercedes wagon with horrible clear coat. Pealed off of a lot of areas of the hood, a bit of the roof / fender tops. Paint a little oxidized in places. This car is the “2nd car on the way out” replaced by the newest one. I just want to recover some degree of clear coat. So some sanding, feathering, hopefully not cutting the color coat, and then shoot some clear on it. Doesn’t need to be perfect as it is mostly now used for grocery runs, hardware store stuff, and for when the other wagon is in the shop. (I.e. less than perfect clear coat smoothness and finish doesn’t matter and color doesn’t need a perfect match).
3) My Subaru. Has some minor clear coat starting to fail spots and a line of rust just above the windshield. This will take sanding, priming, color coats, clear coats. Etc. Also I’ll get to learn about using Urethane glue to put the windshield top gasket back in. Inspection shows the rust stops where the rubber starts and is just breaking through the paint.
4) The Diesel. Left parked for decades under a tree dropping acid leaves on it that leached and damaged the paint. Then I bought it as a daily driver. That defective paint has now got some rusty looking stuff showing on the hood and a 1 foot patch on the rear trunk. No clear coat for this car, all oxidized paint or worse. I’m thinking MEK on the hood, sand a lot on the trunk, compound / 400 grit scuff the rest, and shoot primer, base / color, and clear coat over the whole thing. I’ll likely do “just the hood” first to get a feel for it all, then treat that finish as a really good base coat when the whole car gets painted in a rental paint booth somewhere…
5) The newest nicest car gets some rock chips touched up, and a nice round of polishing…
I’ve painted a couple of houses (one roller / brush, a couple spray) inside and out. I’ve painted models and various toys, including metal ones. I’ve also done a few fences and touched up some crap spots on a car or two using “rattle cans”.
For a while I had a whole box of “rattle cans” in the trunk and when I saw some graffiti in the neighborhood, I’d jump out and cover it with the nearest color I had (or go buy one). So got some fair experience with cinder block, metal poles, metal boxes, etc.
I’e also done a variety of wood finishes including stains, varnishes, urethane, and water proof paint.
The point being I’ve done wood sanding, masking, cleaning, paint mixing, shooting it, clean up, etc. etc.
The only thing really new here is “automotive finish work”.
Any Suggestions On Tools, Materials, and Such?
So I’ve seen videos with everything from not sanding at all and shooting Rustoleum Primer and Enamel from rattle cans, to hand scuffing with Scotchbright Pads and spraying Rustoleum Primer & Color Coat from a compressor driven gun, all the way up to doing 14 coats of special custom Urethane paint with separate layers of metal flake, candy coat cherry, black detail with platinum flake over, and several top costs of clear all with a prep surface of 2 kinds of bondo / skim coat and a couple of primer and guide coats.. With most of the layers sanded and the final clear coat compounded and polished and rubbed out…
I’m going for somewhere in the middle ;-) I’ve already found out where I can get proper Mercedes color match paints. Though just because it will be a learning work piece, I’m tempted to shoot a coat of Rustoleum on the hood that’s all toast as it can’t make it any worse… Make my mistakes on that, learn what needs learning, then do the other touch up jobs and return to the horrible whole car job again at the end…
So, with that, anyone with history, experience, preferences, war stories, or just sage advice, pontificate away. (Just don’t try to talk me out of it. I toted it all up at about $5000 and it is either I do it or some cars get destroyed… so the downside risk is nil.)