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Old 09-21-2009, 11:21 PM   #1
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How do you know how hard/soft your paint/clear coat is?

I keep reading how some polishes are designed for harder, ceramic clear coats while others are more suited to older, softer coats. Is it true that older cars have softer clear coats and newer cars harder ones as a rule? How do you know what type of clear coat your car has? Can I safely assume my 1990 BMW has a soft paint surface?
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Old 09-22-2009, 07:26 AM   #2
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Re: How do you know how hard/soft your paint/clear coat is?

The only honest answer I share with people on this subject is experience.

Too many people on forums painting with a broad brush, by this I mean I see people posting things like,

Honda's have soft paint

Kind of broad and generalized statement don't you think?


The truth is, you don't know if the paint on your car, or a customer's car is hard or soft until you go out into the garage and work on it, that's when the rubber meets the road.

But... you need experience working on lots of different paints in order to make a comparison, that's where most enthusiast are lacking, it's not there fault it's just because as a profession, most people don't detail lots of cars.

I taught most all of the Saturday classes at Meguiar's since bringing up their Saturday classes in August of 2004. Each Saturday class I look for the worst looking, most swirled out black car to be found for the demo car. Now here's the question?

Have I ever worked on this car before?

The answer is "No". These are all new people to me and so are their cars. So... do I know if the car I choose to demo on has hard paint or soft paint?

Again, the answer is "No".

I don't know, and I won't know until I bring my hand down onto the paint and start rubbing a paint cleaner or a cleaner polish and then after applying one time, wipe off the residue and inspect the results of the section I worked as compared to the surrounding paint to check for improvement and if there is improvement... how much?

Then, after gaging the amount of improvement or lack thereof, I can can easily access if the paint is hard or soft as compared to the thousands of cars I've done this exact same thing to. The key is this, I don't know if the paint is hard or soft until I, like you, go out into the garage and start to work on the paint.

Reading some post by a person on a forum that says,

All Honda's have soft paint, or all Ford F150 trucks have hard paint, is a very broad generalization and I wouldn't put any faith in it.

The problem is however, that working on paint by hand is very technique intensive, I've met more people that don't know how to properly apply a hand-applied compound or paint cleaner and very few that actually do, so even if you go out into your garage and test your car's paint by applying some type of abrasive swirl and scratch remover, the results you get and the results I would get might be very different and we both might draw very opposite conclusion.

The fact is my first-hand personal experience is most people that have tried ScratchX will say it doesn't work, (the old ScratchX which was on the market for about 15+ years), but if I took the exact same product and rubbed in the exact same place on their car's paint I could make removing swirls and scratches look easy.

Working by machine is much much easier than working by hand and you can do the same kind of testing for hard or soft paint but again, in order to make a judgment you need experience working on many other cars using similar products and techniques so you have a mental database called experience from which you can draw from and make a comparison and then a judgment.

About the only generalization I've ever made is for new/modern Corvettes. I would seem as though most, if not all of the newer Corvettes I've ever worked on had very hard paint and this is easy to remember because it takes all the fun and joy out of working on America's Sports car. Working on your own car should be fun, not something you loathe to do, but you won't see me actively looking for swirled out new Corvettes for something to do on a Saturday, the work and risk isn't worth the profit at least to me.

It seems like a no-brainer that car manufactures would make a list of features to present to paint manufactures when looking for a supplies for the paint for thousands and thousands of cars that would look like this,
  1. Paint must look good on car
  2. Paint must last a long time, customer's like engines and tires to last a long time and they also like paint to last a long time
  3. Customer must be able to work on the paint

Doesn't item #3 look like a no-brainer? Isn't that a traditional car related pastime? That is on a Saturday across this country people wash their cars and then wax them? And part of waxing them usually includes the prep step where you undo some damage or neglect and make the paint look better?

But from what I can tell, bullet list item #3 is always left off the shopping list by GM, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, etc. and this has led to a huge increase in people moving up to machine polishing because it's so difficult to remove swirls easily out of modern clear coat paint systems with your 4 fingers pushing down on some kind of applicator pad.

Heck, just look at the time difference between working by hand and working by machine to do just ONE HALF of a hood.

Man versus Machine


Final Results.
  • The surface prep steps by Hand: 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • The surface prep steps Machine: 30 minutes.

So don't get caught up in sweeping generalizations as you just don't know if the paint on your car is hard or soft until you go out into your garage and actually start to work on your car's paint.

One of our goals is to help our members learn correct techniques for working by hand and machine and while the wheels of progress my turn slowly they are turning behind the scenes.


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Old 09-22-2009, 10:14 AM   #3
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Re: How do you know how hard/soft your paint/clear coat is?

Nice write up. I had been wondering the same thing.
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Old 09-22-2009, 01:11 PM   #4
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Re: How do you know how hard/soft your paint/clear coat is?

Comprehensive response, as always! Thanks Mike. Another general question on paint condition: Referring again to my own older car (1990 BMW), I've had folks tell me to be careful because on a car that old the single stage paint is probably "fragile and hard". But I don't think they're using 'hard' is the same sense as you've used it when referring to new cars with ceramic clear coat. I was thinking that the paint on my car is "fragile and soft".
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