How to Restore Faded Car Paint (The Only Guide You Need)

Does the paint on your car or truck look dull, faded, and has no shine to it? At first glance, it may seem beyond repair, with a professional respray being the only option. However, you can still restore most car paints that are in a condition like that and give them a fresh look. All you need are some specialized products, a polishing machine, and some effort.

The car-care market offers a wide range of paint detailing treatments. Many of these aim at giving faded cars a fresh appearance. However, because there are many products available, choosing the one that best suits your needs can be difficult. This article will help understand why car paints fade and what can you do to bring back the old shine.

How to restore faded or oxidized car paint.

Why Do Car Paints Fade?

When exposed to direct sunlight and harsh elements, paint on your car fades with time. This gradual and very slow process happens because of oxidation, a chemical process that most people might associate with rust. However, before chewing through your fenders, oxygen molecules have to their chemistry on the paint itself.

The science behind this process is uncomplicated. Although an essential component of the air we all breath, oxygen has a nasty habit of decaying many materials it comes across, with paint on your car being one of them.

With this in mind, we should know that oxidation and resulting paint deterioration are unavoidable. Because it happens at a slow rate, it is easy not to notice it until too late.

At first, the effect of oxidation is somewhat duller paint. With time, the paint surface will start fading, and the color will lack the depth and shine it had when it was new. If not treated, it will chew deep into the paint, creating a chalky looking rough surface.

Why Do Some Cars Fade Faster Than Others?

If having owned different cars over the years, you may have noticed that some of them faded and became less shiny in a shorter time. It is because not all car paints are the same.

Many older cars and most commercial vehicles today have a single stage paint job, meaning they have only one coat of paint. Manufacturers use this because it is cheaper and easier to apply. However, cars with paint like this need regular care and waxing to prevent oxidation.

As opposed to these dated paint applications, most cars today use paints that have several layers. They start with a primer as a bottom layer, continue with several coats of paint, and end with a layer of clear-coat. This finishing layer sits on top of the paint and protects it from harmful sun rays and harsh weather. Although far more durable, even these advanced car paints will fade if neglected for a long time.

How to Fix Faded Paint Without a Respray

Although faded paint may look terrible and irreparable at first glance, it is easier to deal with that scratches or stone chips. This is because the oxidation process only affects the upper layers of paint. By removing these deteriorated layers and revealing fresh ones beneath it, you will make the paint look new and shiny once again.

The only safe way for removing faded paint is by using polishes and compounds. These purpose-designed emulsions contain abrasive particles that act like a liquid sandpaper. With them, you can remove thin layers of paint in a controlled manner to achieve desired results. In the following part of this article, we will go through the process of removing that nasty looking, faded paint in a detailed step-by-step instructions. 


Start by washing the whole car in detail, using a strong car shampoo with de-greasing properties. If your car is very dirty and neglected, you may need to wash it one more time. After it dries, check traces of tar, resin or other contaminants and remove them using specialized products.

The next step is claying, which removes embedded contamination off the paint surface. No matter how good you wash and clean your car, there will still be many small dirt particles sticking to the paint. Using clay, which is a fiber material designed for this special application, removes these particles. This prevents further paint damage during the next step.

Removing the Oxidized Layer

With the car cleaned, it is time to check out the paint and assess how bad the oxidation is. This will help you decide on what kind of product to use.

If your car looks dull, but still has some shine left, then you have a paint that suffers from a light or moderate oxidation. In that case, good polishing might be enough. Although you can polish the car by hand, we would recommend getting a dual-action polisher. They are not expensive and will save you a lot of time and effort. Before you start working with a polishing machine, protect all plastic parts with masking tape.

Car paint that shows signs of severe oxidation is a different story. It looks very dull, almost as a chalk and it feels rough. When you go over it with your hand, there will be a lot of drag. This is because the oxidized layer is thick and very rough. Removing a layer so thick with a polish would require many passes, making it time consuming.

To avoid this and speed up the process, use a compound. It works on the same principle as the polish, only far more abrasive. Be very careful when using it on your car, as it takes away the layers of paint more quickly than a polish would. If aiming at achieving the highest gloss, you can polish the car after finishing with compound.

Using the Polishing Machine

There are several things to keep in mind while using a dual action polisher. First, hold the pad and machine body parallel with the car surface and keep it moving around at all times.

Never hold the polisher tilted or at an angle against the body panel or stay at one place. Also, although you need to push the machine against the surface, apply only light to moderate pressure. In the end, work only on flat surfaces, avoiding panel edges and sharp body lines. All this helps prevent hot spots, which can damage the paint.

Divide large surfaces, such as an engine hood or roof, into several sections, and work on them one at a time. Always work in a crosshatch pattern, performing passes up and down and then left and right. This ensures proper coverage and eliminates swirl marks, which are noticeable on black and dark painted cars.

See also: Can You Use a Random Sander for Car Polishing?

How to fix faded car paint.

Fixing a Damaged Clear Coat

As we already said, multi-layer car paints offer the most durable protection against oxidation. In most cases, cars with such paint stay shiny for years, even with no special care. This is because the clear coat remains bright even as it oxidizes.

Still, this doesn’t mean that multi-layer paints are fully resistant to elements. Combined with a strong sun, oxidation can destroy even the thought clear coat with time. The result is a nasty patch of dull paint surrounded by whitish spots. Car paint experts refer to this as clear coat failure. 

If that happens, a professional respray and corresponding hefty repair bill is the only way to restore the paint to an original state. Luckily for car owners, there is a cheaper option in the form of various oxide removal emulsions. Although it will not make the paint look as it was new, these specialized products will mask up and hide patches of failed clear coat at a fraction of the cost.

The procedure is simple and requires less skill and effort than polishing. Again, start by washing and removing all the contaminants. Using a 1000 grit wet sandpaper, remove any clear coat ridges and bubbles. While doing this, use plenty of water, steady pressure, and take care not to go through to the metal. Rinse off the surfaces and let them dry before applying the first coat. Using a soft cotton cloth, wipe a thin layer of emulsion on damaged areas and let it dry for several hours. For even better results, you can add a second layer after several days.


Having removed all the oxidized paint with success, it may seem like a perfect time to open the beer and tap yourself on the back. After all, the car paint is shiny and looks rejuvenated. However, there is one more step to do if you want it to stay that way.

By removing old, faded paint, you have exposed layers beneath it to surrounding air and restarted the oxidation process. This is something like an open buffet for those oxygen molecules that we mentioned at the start of this article. There is no doubt you want to stop them from undoing all your good work. 

Paint sealant is something that will not only give your car a long-term protection against sun rays and oxidation, but it also helps keep water spots and other contaminants. This special product uses combine various synthetic polymers to give your car a durable protection that can last up to a year. In addition, sealants fill in all paint scratches and cracks to prevent further damage.  

As a finishing touch, you can add a layer of wax over the sealant that will take newly discovered glaze to the highest level. Being available in two forms, liquid and paste, they will give your car an extra color depth that will last long. Although both are made from carnauba, a natural extract of a Brazilian plant, the liquid wax is easier to apply while the paste is the best for enhancing the shine.

Day-To-Day Care

Having spent a considerable amount of time and effort on improving the way your car looks, you will probably want to keep it that way as long as possible. This is where regular car care comes into play.

While sealants and waxes will protect the polished paint beneath, giving it an extra hand is always a good idea. To do so, wash your car once a week with a mild shampoo and treat it with spray-on wax afterwards. This is a quick and easy way to give your car an additional layer of protection, making it nice and shiny for a longer time. 


As you have seen in this article, restoring faded car paint is easier than you may think.

After you have washed and prepared the car, grab a dual action polishing machine and remove that nasty oxidized layer of paint. When satisfied with how your car looks, apply a coat of sealant to keep it that way.

And if you are looking for an extra shine, top it with a layer of wax. Even with patches of destroyed clear coat, you can use various specialized emulsions that can help. Although not restoring the paint to showroom condition, they will make those patches look less noticeable.




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