Similar to the article “How much should I pay for Paint Protection Film?”, I wanted to go over some info and rough costs of paint correction. PPF definitely has some variables and unfortunately paint correction has even more. I listed material, quality, location and vehicle as the main (possibly only) deciding factors for PPF. When it comes to paint correction, there isn’t really a material that you can see nor is there a “quality” install you can see. It’s not like you buy a certain thing, look it over and give it your blessing. Not only can correction be accomplished by a multitude of products (tools, towels, polishes, etc), it can also be hidden, it can be done well in some spots and not so well in others and it can be extremely subjective! On top of that, whatever you think you know one day about polishing paint can go down the drain when you come across a different paint that is softer, harder or in general just more difficult to work with!
I recorded this video years ago to show different levels of paint correction…
It shows the difference of light buffing vs actual paint correction. As you can see the light buffing greatly improved the paint condition. It removed a lot of the lighter swirls and actually got rid of the faded, grayish look, leaving a much more glossy surface. This is technically one level of “paint correction”, but it’s not what most consider an actual paint correction. Actual paint correction is what you see with the 2 and 3 stages of polishing on the right side. This is where paint is “pretty” perfect and you remove most/all swirl marks.
Which brings us to probably the biggest variable in paint correction…
While PPF installation and quality can be subjective, there are only a few things to consider… quality of the film, wrapped edges, installation marks (bubbles, stretchmarks, etc) and overall quality of cuts (close to edge, straight, etc). These few things apply to every single car, paint, color, panel or part of a car. It’s pretty straightforward even for the average person to check over a PPF install. With paint correction though, you’re first inspecting paint then correcting/removing paint. Inspection can be extremely subjective as it depends on who is actually looking at the paint, what are the lighting conditions and of course what car/paint/panel (panel location, curvature, etc. can all look different to different people in different lighting). Then there is the correction… how much of the defects will be removed? Is a paint gauge being used to make sure correction is possible and to what extent? Not to mention the plethora of products that may or may not hide defects and hide the true results for hours or weeks after the work is done (until the “filling” product washes off and reveals the actual condition). Subjectivity aside, actual paint correction occurs when you remove paint from the vehicle and “level” the scratches, which brings me to actual amount of correction..
Amount of Correction
Leveling can be done up to a certain amount and if done properly, it’s usually limited by paint thickness and/or budget. Swirl marks from regular hand washing a few times per month are not too hard to correct. These can be removed pretty easily even by an enthusiast with a decent polisher, pads and polishes. If however you have paint that has been through years of bad washing, especially if it went through the automatic brush washes, it’s a different world. This usually results in very deep swirls that require a lot of work and someone who knows what they’re doing. Assuming this worst case condition, the paint may not be thick enough to fully correct. Thus you have to figure out with the detailer the best way to improve the paint without risking clear coat failure (single stage paint is a different story but that’s very rare these days and similar risks apply, so we’ll stick with clear coat.
Amount of correction can vary from detailer to detailer simply based on how they structure their services. At LUSTR Detail we have a “good, better, best” approach to most things. Our quicker polishing is called Enhance and it’s a very quick buff around the car to remove minimal swirls and improve gloss. Not counting the prep (wash, clay, decontamination, etc) or protection (wax, ceramic coating), time spent polishing here is maybe 2.5-3 hours on a standard sedan like Tesla Model 3. This never changes because regardless of the paint condition, the whole point is to just go over the paint and slightly improve it.
Next up is Level 1 correction (1 stage polishing in the above video), where we make a little adjustments based on paint condition. Here we actually aim to remove a decent amount of swirl marks, but only as much as we can remove using a single pad/polish combination and going around the vehicle once (thus the name 1 stage correction). This takes about 4.5-6 hours of polishing on that same Tesla 3. If things are going well and correcting evenly we may be closer to that 4.5 hour mark. If however we notice that going a bit slower or putting in more effort (smaller sections and/or more pressure) is yielding noticeably better results, we’ll take our time and put in that extra 1-1.5 hours of polishing.
Lastly there’s our Level 2 correction and this is 2-3 polishing stages that make the paint look as good as possible. This usually takes 8-12 hours of polishing, sometimes 20-30+ if paint is really bad and/or client wants EVERY square inch corrected (door sills, engine bay, painted trim parts, etc). Here we make decisions based mainly on the paint thickness and results we’re getting. In the above video, the 2-stage correction produces nearly the same results as the 3-stage, so to preserve paint and save our client money we’d stick with just 2 stages. This is especially true for a black soft paint like the Camry above, because even with good hand washing some swirls will pop up and would’ve made that 3rd stage a complete waste of time and money.
Type of Paint
If there is enough paint and detailer says they can make it pretty perfect, this perfection may take 15-20 hours or it may take 30-40 hours. Different paint responds differently to polishing… “hard” paints can be very difficult to correct whereas soft paints are difficult to leave in perfect condition. The soft paints are those “jet black scratches if you look at it wrong” so they can be very finicky. Comparing it to PPF again… if I have a Porsche 911 in front of me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s black, white or pink, the process is always the same: Stretch, squeegee, make sure there are no marks or bubbles, cut/wrap edges and you’re done. Regardless of the paint color, it would take me practically the same amount of time to apply film to a specific panel.
With polishing paint, black can take what seems like years to properly correct if it’s very soft and finicky, while white is a quick 5 hour buff. On the other hand, if white paint is hard and hammered with swirls and scratches, it can take even longer than black because correcting those marks is very difficult. Pink, well pink is somewhere in between obviously :).
Vehicle Type/Size and Location
These two speak for themselves. As I mentioned in the article on PPF Cost, location determines price based simply on supply/demand. Rural areas will cost less, while bigger cities will cost more. As for vehicle type/size… the larger it is the more it will cost and the more complex the panels the higher the cost. Some exceptions to this rule are tiny cars with TONS of painted trim that clients want corrected (Audi, BMW and of course Range Rover are notorious for this!). Range Rover has so much black trim on the car (mainly roof/pillars) that it sometimes increases the cost by 50% compared to a similar sized SUV.
Another thing that comes up during correction is plastic vs metal panels. Plastic panels are usually much harder to correct due to their flexibility. Both the plastic panels and flex additives in the paint are flexible, so polishing them is different than the metal ones.
How Much Should Paint Correction Cost?
Assuming you’re dealing with a reputable detailer whose work is of decent quality you can expect to pay $500-800+ for 1-stage paint correction and anywhere from $1000-2000+ for 2+ stage paint correction. 1-stage correction should usually yield 50-80% improvement and 2-stage should get 80-95%+. Cost of paint correction should include a full and proper prep/detail as well as some sort of wax or sealant protection. Ceramic coatings are usually extra done after paint correction. That said, some shops include a ceramic coating and others throw in random other things, like interior work, wheel detailing, etc. Obviously you should do some research on what exactly is included and what results you should expect, but these are rough prices I’ve seen around the country for paint correction.