Motorhome Paint Swirl Removal
Get Rid of Holograms and Fine Scratches with These Techniques
During the past 10 years, one of the most striking visual changes that has occurred to the exterior of Class A motorhomes is the use of automotive-grade, full-body paint. The designers that develop these flashy paint jobs really know how to make a coach look great. In fact, it is much harder to date a motorhome these days simply by looking at its exterior, because it can look new for many years if well cared for. There is, however, one disadvantage to full-body paint jobs, and if you own a coach with full-body paint, you most likely already know about it. I’m referring to “swirls” or hologram scratches.
Swirls have been the thorn in the side of professional automotive detailers for many years, and now that motorhomes are painted, it has become our thorn as well. First, let’s define swirls and understand where they come from. Then we can better understand how to remove them.
Swirls, or holograms, are fine scratches in the clear-coat layer of a paint system that occur from improper washing or polishing. Motorhomes are large, and difficult to wash, and their non-uniform surfaces — with the slideout seals, awning arms and recessed windows — make washing a coach a big job. The temptation is to use more aggressive methods than is necessary, and when combined with subpar lubricity soaps, the result is a large motorhome covered with swirl marks.
These swirls are easiest to see on dark-colored surfaces, such as black, and they show up best from certain angles in direct sunlight. When you first see a motorhome covered with swirls, your first thought might be that the beautiful paint job is ruined. Fortunately, that is not the case.
One simple option for swirl removal is to hire a service that specializes in motorhome buffing. The downside is that you’ll be out hundreds of dollars, and if you’re not familiar with buffing automotive paint, you’re better off leaving this job to the professionals.
If you want to tackle the job yourself, your success will depend on the severity of the swirls, your physical ability and your level of determination. We can’t promise that this is a quick and easy task. With one person, and the proper tools, our 7-year-old Tiffin Phaeton 36 footer took about 14 hours — not counting the preparatory wash. That may sound like a long time, but if you split it up over several days it’s really not that bad.
In addition to time, you are going to need the correct supplies. The first, and most expensive, is a good random orbital buffer. This is a specific type of buffer and the random orbital motion is key to preventing paint damage that can occur if you press down too hard while polishing. There are numerous brands on the market, but after having used several, my preference is the Griot’s Garage 6-inch model ($139.99). It has a longer stroke, and a bit more low rpm torque, compared to others. Though the cost of the tools should be considered when deciding whether to do the job yourself or hire someone else, just remember that the tools and supplies will be used many times. In addition to the buffer, you will need enough foam pads for the job (one to three pads), as well as lots of high-quality microfiber polishing towels.
You will also need a ladder, and enough agility to work from a ladder on the upper sections of the coach. Usually an 8- to 10-foot A-frame-style ladder provides a safe platform to work from, and is not too heavy to easily move around the coach.
Perhaps the most important item is the polish/swirl remover, because it’s the polish that will do the actual swirl removal. There are literally hundreds of products on the market aimed at swirl removal. Many of these swirl removers are one-, two- or even three-step polishes and a final “sealer,” which provides the long-term protection. After polishing something as big as a motorhome, the last thing you probably want to do is polish it two or three more times, and then apply a final sealant.
To prevent all those steps, we used a product from Griot’s Garage called “One-Step Sealant.” A 16-ounce bottle cost only $17.99, and after finishing the job, there was enough left over to polish it at least two more times. While we hesitate to call anything perfect, this one comes very close. Not only does it go on and come off easily, it also does a great job of removing swirls. In our case, it only took one application to remove more than 90 percent of the visible swirls. The real advantage is that it also has a built-in long-term sealant. This means you don’t have to seal the entire motorhome as a separate process after polishing.
The best time of year to tackle this project is spring or fall if you live in a warm area; however, you need to avoid working in direct sunlight while polishing. If you don’t have a covered area to work under, just schedule your work sessions at the appropriate time of day so as to limit any exposure to the sun. At all costs, you must avoid polishing in direct sun, as it causes the polish to react too fast due to the excessive heat.
Prepare yourself for a good workout, as well as a great looking coach. If you follow the steps outlined here, you, too, can be one of those owners who proudly drives into an RV resort knowing that your beautiful, shiny motorhome is the envy of everyone there.
E. Don Smith is a Tennessee-based freelance writer and photographer who has been a frequent contributor to MotorHome since 2006.
He is the proud owner of a Tiffin Phaeton coach.