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Types of Defect in Your Car’s Paintwork – And What to Do About Them

Nothing troubles the conscientious car owner like damage to their car’s paintwork. Mud and dirt, well that just washes off. But when marks start to appear in the substance of the car’s surface itself, that’s when it’s time to get serious. It’s time to get your vehicle detailed.


If you’re also the type of car owner who likes to take care of their pride and joy themselves, then the first step is to identify the nature of the damage. Not all car’s paintwork defects appear equal. Some, with a little patience and practice, you can confidently put right yourself at home. Others are more tricky, and you would be advised to at least take professional advice before trying a repair directly.


Here are six common types of a car’s paintwork damage and the best way to go about correcting them.

Holograms in your Car’s Paintwork

Holograms are the very lightest category of physical marks or scratches that occur in car paintwork. They get their name from the fact that, rather than looking like the lines or gouges you normally associate with scratches, they appear instead as areas of blurring or blotchy discolouration.


Holograms are commonly caused by the brushes in auto car washes. They are relatively easy to put right yourself. As the tiny micro scratches that cause holograms only cut a tiny way into the topmost clear protective layer of paint, they can be buffed out using very fine cut car polishing products. All-in-one or even finishing polishes will do the job.

Swirl marks and light marring

Swirl marks are a step up from holograms, cutting deep enough into the clear layer of the paintwork to make individual lines distinguishable. ‘Swirling’ refers to the fact that this type of damage is often caused by poor hand washing technique using a cloth or sponge that is coarse enough to damage the paintwork. It’s the characteristic circular motion you use when you wash a car that causes the ‘swirling’.


While not being too difficult to repair, this kind of light marring will usually need to be polished out using a polishing machine and light cutting compound. It is a process that can be done at home, but take extra care if you are inexperienced. Apply too much pressure or use too coarse a polish and you can easily end up marking your car’s paintwork even worse.

Etching in your Car’s Paintwork

Etching describes defects caused by chemicals coming into contact with the protective clear coat of the paintwork. The most common examples are the marks caused by acidic bird droppings, as well as acids and alkalis found in rainwater. As well as chemical reactions eating into the clear coat, marks can be formed around droppings and the dusty deposits left behind when water evaporates by the paint expanding and contracting around them as it heats up and cools down.


Etching appears as a series of irregularly shaped depressions in the clear coat. They will only be very shallow, so are only properly visible when sunlight reflects off them. As with light marring, they can be polished out at home using a machine if you are confident you know what you are doing.

Deep marring

Deep marring refers to any more visible lines or light scratches that appear in the clear upper coat. These are the kind of marks that jump out at you when the sunlight catches them just right. They can have all sorts of causes, from brushing up against hedgerows to debris and dust colliding with the car as you drive.


It’s hard to know how ‘light’ or ‘deep’ a mark in the clear layer of paintwork is just by looking at it. Often you will only realise it’s a more stubborn defect once you start polishing and it doesn’t smooth over so easily. This is where you need to start moving onto coarser cutting compounds, to cut deeper into the paint layer to smooth the marks over.


But this is also where you need to proceed with caution. The coarser the compound, the greater the risk of doing more damage. If it’s your first time polishing with a machine and marks don’t disappear with fine polish, you’d be advised to go to a professional. Master the process with fine compounds before trying to tackle deeper, more stubborn marks.

Deep scratching

In the context of paintwork defects, a true scratch is one that is painfully obvious in all lights. This means it has cut through the clear protective layer and into the base paint itself. Perhaps as deep as the primer and metal.


Deep scratches of this kind, as well as chips in the car’s paintwork caused by stones and gravel as you drive, are beyond the scope of polishing alone. They require the paint itself to be touched in before the surface can be polished smooth. This is a skilled job best left to a professional.


Finally, as well as being scratched or etched, the clear protective layer that sits on top of the the coloured paint on your car over time thins out – not least as a result of polishing. If it wears too thin, the pigments in the paint underneath start to become more vulnerable to the effects of UV rays from the sun, which will cause the colour to fade. Putting this right requires a respray and reapplying the protective layer.


Slightly less problematic is the effects of oxidisation of the clear coat, which gradually makes it look cloudy over time. This can also dull the appearance of the coloured paint underneath. While you don’t need to respray the colour to fix this, a repair still involves polishing off the old, oxidised clear layer and reapplying.

Check out Top Tips To Help You Preserve the Value of Your Luxury Car

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