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3 Things to Know Before You Polish a Car

paint correction

If your car or truck needs a good polish, a good paint enhancement or paint correction may be just the thing it needs. But before you run out to buy some polish, there are 3 things you should know ahead of time.

Paint Correction versus Paint Enhancement

A paint correction is best for most vehicles that are 3 years old or older. It involves a “cut” to remove light to medium scratches, followed by a polish to smooth out the clear coat following a cut. The result should be at least an eighty percent improvement in defect removal and a noticeable improvement in the clarity and gloss.

paint correction

A paint enhancement is for newer vehicles and generally involves an “all-in-one” or a “one-step” polish that has a mixture of a cutting compound and a finishing polish formulated into one product. This type of polish can often remove light scratches and micro-marring, whilst leaving a clean, polished look that deepens the visual appeal of the paint.

Types of Polish

There are 3 basic groups of automotive polish:

  1. Cutting compound
  2. Finish polish
  3. One-Step polish

A cutting compound is used to remove moderate to heavy defects such as car wash swirls, light to moderate scratches, water spots, and oxidation. It contains abrasives that “sand” the clear coat, or “cut” the clear coat – meaning it removes a microscopic layer of clear coat to remove the defect. It is a non-diminishing polish, which simply means that the polish holds up during the buffing process.

paint correction

There are different types of cutting compounds with varying amounts of abrasives.

  1. Coarse cut compounds designed for rotary polishers contains the highest amounts of abrasives.
  2. Heavy cut compounds designed for dual action polishers contain less abrasives than the coarse compounds.
  3. Micro cut compounds designed for dual action polishers contain even less abrasives than heavy cut compounds.

There are situations where you might use all 3 types of compounds, or 2 of them, or just one. It depends upon the job and what your objectives are.

A finish polish is used to improve clarity and add gloss. It smooths the clear coat following a cutting compound. It has diminishing agents to help it “finish” the clear coat. This means that it contains mild abrasives that break down when it’s being applied by a polisher. It removes micro scratches from the cut step and when the agents diminish, it’s a smooth polish that enhances gloss.



A one-step polish combines a cut and a finish polish to achieve some amount of cut and some amount of polish. The advantage is that it can fix light defects and save time by eliminating one of the two steps above. The disadvantage is that it may not be heavy enough to fix moderate to severe defects.


To do the job right, you need the right tools. For the average person, a 5” dual action polisher, like the one’s sold at retail stores, will get the job done. Additionally, the correct pads are essential in paint correction and paint enhancement work. Foam pads are the most widely used pads, but you need to know which one you need for the job at hand. Stiffer foam pads are for cutting, while softer pads are used for polishing. However, there are circumstances when a wool or microfiber pad is the best one for the cut step. You can read other articles I’ve written on polishers and pads.

Additionally, you will need high quality microfiber towels, that won’t leave scratches, to remove the polish and buff the finish.


The right polish, with the right tool for the right job will normally lead to the right result. On the other hand, the wrong polish, with the wrong tool for the wrong job will lead to the wrong result and may even damage your vehicle’s paint. If in doubt, check with a local professional detailer who can answer questions. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to paint correction and paint enhancement, and hopefully this article helps educate you to make the best choice.

About the Author

Ken Chance is the owner of Dripping Auto Pros in Dripping Springs, Texas. He is an IDA Certified Detailer with a wealth of experience in automotive care. You may reach him at




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