Project: Lexus RX330 Paint Restoration

One of the first things I do when I get a new car is detail it. For new cars, I can’t stand the factory swirls that either come from shipping, or from the dealership washing it up before delivery. To be honest, it was probably better for it to be dirty than for the dealership to wash it and make it worse. In this case, the RX is an 11 year old car – one that looks like it’s never seen a good detail in its lifetime. It’s a sad and exciting thing… Sad because it deserves more than that, and exciting because I love restoring paint on cars almost as much as I love modding them. It’s a good challenge and a ton of work, but when it’s all done – man, does it feel good.

I’ll walk through the steps of restoring the RX in this post – it’s not as in-depth but it does show the progression well. I tried to take pics when I remembered, but for the most part you’ll be able to see what I did and what I used. This is really just to show that you can bring any car back to life and make it look brand new if you put some elbow grease in paired up with proper products. The below will show you the RX330 coming back to life – AKA (as JC says) Hoanger Spec.

This was the night I got it home. I forgot to take pics of what the headlights looked like before I started wet sanding… But this pic was when I went over it with 1000 grit sandpaper mixed with soapy water. Literally just dish soap and warm water. The important thing is to keep the surface wet (that’s what she said). I like to sand in back and forth motions as opposed to circles, but I don’t think it really matters. I just find it’s easier to remove the swirls and see where you need to keep polishing.

After wiping it dry. You can see most of your sanding marks and where you may need to sand a little more. The headlights have been through a lot over the last 11 years and you could feel the grittiness when sanding. Although the headlights look 100x worse now, they feel 100x better. Smooth as a baby’s bumb.

This was after the second pass with a finer sand paper – 2500 grit. By going up each time, you’re effectively reducing the amount of polishing you have to do. You’re just minimizing the previous sandpapers marks by going over with a smoother grit. When you start, you’ll see some of the marring left by the 1000 grit sandpaper and as you keep smoothing it out, you see less and less of it. Eventually you’re left with a foggy but super smooth finish with very minimal (if any) sanding marks.

My go-to polish combo has been Menzerna PF2500 with an orange cutting pad for a while now. I’m using a Porter Cable 7424 (super old but super reliable) so it’s not strong enough to really burn the clear coat even if I tried. The combo has worked wonders for anything from minimal swirls to something as marred up like the RX. You’ll see what type of condition the paint is in later in the post…

The headlight looks bad now from all the wet sanding, but it’ll soon be better. Dab the polish around the headlight and start slow to spread it all over, then speed it up and finish until the polish has broken down and removed the hazing.

Here we go.

Voila! Good as new. All of the yellowing over the years has gone away… the hazing and foggy build up near the bottom is gone as well. It’s crystal clear now! Repeat for the other side. Also – once you polish, you’ll be able to carefully examine where you may have missed a spot when wet sanding. You can repeat the above process until you’re happy with the result.

I would caution though that I probably wouldn’t recommend doing this on newer headlights. Most headlamps come with a protective UV coating but they wear off as you can see here. If you wet sand a new headlight, there is a good chance you’re just sanding it away. Unless you 3M it afterwards, you’re probably worse off by wet sanding. There are other products out there to fix things like this but I’ve never personally tried them. Most of the cars I have restored headlights on have been older models so I’ll use the wet sand method.

Saturday morning – I was back at it again. I don’t typically clay bar – but this one was a must. The paint was gritty and it just felt nasty to touch.

Here’s a good pic of the condition of the paint. Lots of swirls and unattractive…

Here’s what one pass looked like on the front quarter. JUST the front quarter alone held that much debris and dirt – it is surprisingly satisfying when you clay bar and get this much gunk off.

More shots of the marring and swirls.

Last one. You can imagine how stoked I was to bring this paint back to life…

Here’s what the clay looked like after the first half of the car. Keep in mind to knead the clay every panel so that you get a fresh start on the next panel. The last thing you want to do is continue rubbing the grit and dirt from one panel onto the next one. You don’t want to make it more difficult for yourself when polishing.

One thing that I got a lot of questions and comments about on my Instagram story was about the clay bar method. Clay barring your car is used to remove contaminants and debris that is “lodged” in the clear coat that regular washing wouldn’t have removed. There are people that clay bar their new car and still find debris and contaminants in the paint. I’m not one of those people – but I do think that after 11 years, a car that has not received a good detail does require claying. Technically, I could have gone straight to polishing and it would’ve had a similar effect. However, you would just get a lot of the debris in your polishing pad and make it less effective as you go. Clay barring also does not remove swirls – polishing and sealing/waxing is vital to follow up with to protect the clear coat after clay barring since it removes everything – even existing wax. Please don’t think clay barring will fix your paint – it will make it look ‘cleaner’ for sure, but your swirls are there for good until you polish.

The final product after claying. The car does shine a bit more with a lot of the dirt out of the clear coat, but there is a bigger challenge ahead – swirls.

Here’s a shot of the polish after being worked into the clear. The biggest thing to remember is that polish needs heat and time to break down. You can’t run your polisher on the lowest setting and expect swirls to be gone. You need to spread the polish at a low speed, then gradually work your way up and begin generating heat on the pad to the surface of the clearcoat so that the polish starts to break down. I typically work on a panel for 5-10 minutes depending on how many swirls or how bad the condition is. It also helps to have a light over the panel you’re working on so you can see how much you’ve fixed.

Once you’re satisfied, wipe the polish off with a MF cloth and inspect the surface. This is how you’ll know whether you need to make another pass or if you’ve removed enough swirls to your liking.

Here’s a shot of the front fender after polishing with one pass. 99% of the swirls are gone and the surface is reflecting as expected.

Aria came to join and help out for a little bit…

A shot of the rear bumper – the rear bumper was probably the worst part of the car. Lots of scuffs from many things I imagine – luggage, swiping with jeans/jackets, bumps and bruises from parking lots… I was able to remove about 95% of the scuffs that did not go past the clear coat.

Also polished the tail light. Yes – you can polish your tail light to reveal a nice, clear finish.

A shot of the rear quarter and tail light.

One more of the tail light. Note – I did not wet sand the tail lights. Typically, tail lights receive much less abuse than headlights. The only time I’ve wet sanded tail lights was when the previous owner has taken the car wash brush to it one too many times. You’ll be able to tell based on the scratches and scuffs and haziness of it, but this wasn’t bad at all. A quick pass on this really just helped clear it up again.

Once you’ve done the hard – and most important – part of it all, the next step is to help reveal and protect the shine you’ve just brought out. I decided to try out a new type of sealant – a product from Japan – Soft99’s Fusso Coat. It’s the Japanese brother of Chemical Guys, if you will. It’s a fairly hard paste sealant made of a fluorine polymer. It’s marketed as a ’12 month wax’ but I suspect with our winters, I’ll probably last 4 months if I’m lucky.

This particular tin is made for dark cars. Small print if you would like to read the details…

Here’s what it looks like. I was totally expecting it to smell like squash but it just smells like strong chemicals. Bummer lol. I’m not going to bore you with wax application pics – it’s pretty bland. The best pics are after the wax is wiped off…

While I was inspecting the car, I also noticed the grill had taken quite the beating over the years. it looked like a cookies and cream grill now. I wanted to restore it back to black so I masked it off and painted that while I was waiting for the wax to cure.

Finally done! All in all, it took me about 5-6 hours to complete it all. I consider myself lucky because the car was already pretty clean to begin with – it was kept in good condition and all I needed to do was fix it up here and there. A little hard to tell in these pics since the sun was half and half…

A shot of the rear quarter – it truly looks like a brand new car.

One more…

A shot of the rear. The rear hatch was also quite beat up I imagine from opening and closing and other things. The 3″ pad that I picked up worked wonders on the tight spaces here.

A shot of the refreshed grill. Nothing fancy, but definitely better than before.

A shot of the now-cleared headlights.

Another shot of the headlights. No more swirls, or haziness!

Reflection shot. Much better than the swirly shot I took above…

Tail lights refreshed as well.

Head on…

And one last one before the garage closed for the day. It’s a total bummer too because I wanted to drive it while it was so damn shiny… But it’s snowing and shitty today and no one will ever be able to appreciate it like I did on Sunday… Oh well.

If anyone has questions, feel free to email me! I’m always willing to help and answer questions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s