‘Identifying paint defects. Do you have… THE eye?’

blog_may6A discerning eye, when it comes to paint defects, doesn’t simply belong to paint and body guys or just detailers. I actually know some car guys who have ‘THE eye’ when it comes to identifying paint problems. But the overwhelming majority of car guys whom I keep company with don’t have ‘THE eye’ and when I finally arrived at this inflection point, I knew something had to be done for mankind. I mean, think about it- hot rod guys still neck deep in the 1950’s car culture were failing to identify run-of- the-mill paint defects. Who knew?

Drilling down on the matter, I put pen to paper or fingers to plastic buttons labeled with letters in an attempt to educate you on just what the heck that thing is in the reflection of your car’s paint. But let’s talk more about this “eye” thing.

From my perspective, NOT having ‘THE eye’ can potentially be a GOOD thing if your livelihood depends on some a means other than perfecting paint. A word of caution though: before you commence reading the entirety of the post… once you have ‘THE eye’… there is no going back! I am speaking truth here… ask any legitimate professional detailer or high quality paint and body guy how much they enjoy a car show. You will find out real quick the realities of ‘THE eye.’ The bottom line is no longer will you be using pleasant adjectives so frequently to describe the paint of a vehicle be it on a dealer’s lot, at the Safeway parking lot, or a local car show.

This post is not going to cover every possible paint defect as that would take some grand technical whitepaper (which probably exists) and when it was finished no one would agree anyhow. After all, you want to know what you are looking at with reasonable certainty and could care less about me blabbing on about orange peel, or texture, or dye back, or shrinkage, or blah, blah, blah. What you came here for was the very basics of obtaining ‘THE eye’ which is what the above graphic alludes to and what I will discuss in progressing order of damage, concern, and typical cost to repair. (And to be certain, I didn’t create the graphic above and I don’t know who did originally, so if that is you, please let me know I will properly attribute it.)

#1 – Swirl Marks

Devilish things they are and the main reason why I educate all my clients on how to wash their autos properly. Swirl Marks are the most commonly observed type of defect and the most easily removed as they are typically shallow in depth descending into the very top portions of the clear coat. They are more common and frequent because they are usually induced by washing or touching paint. These defects can sometimes be removed with a machine polisher and fine abrasive polish; however, some paint systems require two polishing steps, namely solid black and red base colors because they are a bit fussy to work with. So, when you look at your car’s paint in the sun and see a circular discharge of light reflecting back to your retina… those are- swirls, swirl marks, swirling, spider webs. (You didn’t know ‘THE eye’ came with certain slang did you? Welcome to the club!) Potential cost to remove: $$$

#2- Buffer Marks/ Halogramming

A bad buff job can come from any place. Professional detailers, fly-by- night detailers, body shops, car dealers; hell, you could even do it to your own car! Even though the graphic above represents these specific defects as #5 on their list from left to right, it is misleading as to the order of severity of the paint defects represented and was just a test to see if you were really paying attention anyway! Buffer trails are the WORST looking and appearing paint defects on earth, especially on black base colors. If you don’t want someone commenting, ‘…Uh, you just got a $200 detail, didn’t you?’ By all means, pony up more resources and find a reputable professional detailer locally to polish your paint right the first time. I ranked these specific paint problems as harder to remove than swirl marks because many customers come to me after a repaint from an accident and want the body shop’s holograms removed.

In my experience, they (body shops) must share the same old dirty wool pad between shops because their buffer trails almost always requires a two-step polishing process to remove! Potential Cost to remove: $$$- $$$$

#3- Random Deep Marring

Random Deep Marring is more severe than swirl marks but on the positive side, they are also less frequent. I would refer to these, in my own professional detailer vocabulary, as- Heavy Swirling. Most likely, a two step polishing process is absolutely mandatory and a third step would not be out of the question on some base colors. These defects can appear as circles, half circles, straight lines, pentagons, or any shape and size. The only compliment I can pay them is they reach no further into the paint system than the clear coat which is clearly demonstrated in the graphic above. Again, touching the paint without regard is the primary cause of this type of defect. Use two buckets and two mitts next time you wash! Grit guards aren’t a bad idea either! (Although a non caring person leaning on your car could cause these too.)  Potential Cost to remove: $$$- $$$$

#4-Deep Scratching

Scratches are never fun. They can be induced by criminal intentions as well as complete accidents.  (Don’t ask how I know about the ‘criminal intentions part’… or do! Just a hint- I was on the receiving end.) These defects usually require a number of wet sanding and polishing step to remedy and there are simply too many variables to solidify even a generic list of absolute remedies. With deep scratches, we arrive at a real question of remedy; can it be removed or not? Deep scratches can extend into the base color and even the primer coat. Both will appear different than the previously discussed random deep marring with a dull look in the middle of the gouge and that dull color will be either base or primer. A good rule of thumb is- if your finger nail catches it… the defect is usually not worth a try at removing. Potential cost to remove: $$$- $$$$

#5- Water, Acid Etching

Holy Lord, these things are straight from Lucifer himself! From total dissolved solids in city treated water to sprinkler systems that turn on in the dark hours of the morning without you knowing, water quality is very important and, to a degree, a very controllable/ preventable problem when it comes to your paint. (And by the way, the wild deer who devour my ornamental plants know what a water spot is. So, if you can recognize these but none of the other defects listed above… you don’t have ‘THE eye,’ just yet. Last parenthetical note- the graphic above represents “fresh” water spots… older spots that, over time, have continued to react with minerals, chemicals, environmental pollution and even acid rain would look much more disheartening!) At the end of the day, know your water quality, especially if you are on well water. There are too many variables to even begin diagnosing a path forward to remove these dastardly sights. An acid bath and neutralization are typically involved in the first steps of remediation, from there; the different combinations that can be employed are almost limitless. Some words of wisdom: have your water source tested for TDS, wash in early mornings or late in the evenings out of the sun, dry immediately after washing. Potential Cost to remove: $$$- $$$$

That is it for today! By now, you should be well on your way to developing ‘THE eye.’ If you feel this has yet to transpire, fear not! ‘THE eye’ will begin to jade your vision as soon as you arrive at the next car show on a bright, sunny day! In all seriousness, please let me know if you have any questions about the content listed above and am also available if you would simply like to talk about life before you contracted ‘THE eye’. I would be happy to commiserate and certainly miss those days too (to a degree.) Ignorance was bliss!

Best regards,


Check out my exterior and coatings pages to help solve some of the issues above.