It has been awhile since I have written about any of my own cars, and some other updates will be in order. But for today, the topic is my 2007 Honda Fit and its paint.
This was my first new car since 1985. We ordered it during the summer of $4/gallon gasoline, otherwise known as 2006. At that time, the Fit had just been introduced to the U.S. market, and other than a dealer demonstrator that we were lucky enough to test drive, there was not a car on the lot anywhere, so an order was necessary. Mrs. JPC had two requirements – an automatic transmission and interior that was not black. The second one was a problem, because in order to get a Fit Sport with the tan interior, you had to take a white car. So, white it was. Shortly before Thanksgiving of 2006, I got the call that our Fit was go, and we have been happily Fitting around ever since.
Until now. I am going to make a confession here. I do not wax my cars twice a year. There was a time when I did, and I still do in my imagination and in that thought process that is still too fluid to actually be called “planning”. Am I a horrible person? There is just too much to do. But oh well, in this modern era of clearcoat paint, finishes hold up pretty well. A quick trip through a good carwash and a little Maguires and good as new, right?
Then, two things happened. First, I bought a Miata in January, which banished the poor Fit from it’s long-occupied space in the garage. Second, starting in May, I hardly saw the car because my daughter was home from college and she became its regular driver. I noticed the finish getting a bit tired, and resolved to do something about that. Actually, a look up close shocked me. How does a clearcoat finish look like the neglected white cars of my youth?
I know a little about automotive paint. At one point, I had a job at a wholesaler that handled DuPont automotive finishes and I also actually painted a car. OK, that last one was not completely DIY, as a good friend whose day job was in a body shop took the lead, but I was working right along side him the whole way. If you are curious, my Tawny Gold Metallic ’71 Scamp looked quite good when we were done. I had also spent many productive hours with Dupli-Color spray cans, and can say that I was pretty good with them. But clearcoats? They have made most of my auto paint knowledge obsolete.
Fortunately, I came across a promo for a guy who would come to my house and do a good detail for a reasonable charge. The lazy way? Well, yes. But let’s just say that certain sacrifices have to be made to find time to write things like this. After the first basic wax job, the paint was not nearly where it should have been. He recommended a polish, and I agreed. Even after the polish, the car was better but still did not look like it should. I decided that a trip to the Honda Forums was in order to see if problems with Honda’s white paint were a widespread thing. Aren’t online forums great? It is like walking into a club meeting full of owners of your model of car and listening while they tell you about your problem. And I learned something astonishing.
My Taffeta White 2007 Honda Fit was not a clearcoat finish at all, but an old-school single-stage enamel. Mystery solved – it looked like all of the deteriorated white enamel cars of my youth because it was just another car with deteriorated white enamel. I was completely knocked over that anyone was still using a single-stage paint as late as 2007, but here it was. I had understood that the crackdown on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from drying paint had virtually outlawed anything but a base/clear finish system. Suddenly, my knowledge and experience became relevant again, and how often does that happen? Xavier the detailer had gotten a good start on the oxidation, but what was needed was some good old fashioned polishing compound. I had read that the paint on these cars was none too thick, so better to go conservative than with real rubbing compound, and by hand instead of by machine.
I am happy to report that the shitloads of paint transfer onto my polishing cloth confirms what the Forums told me – regular old white car paint. By the way, that picture shows the cloth after doing only half of that small hood. And after both waxing and polishing by Xavier. The other thing that kept ringing in my ears was my old car-mentor Howard telling me “Never buy an old white car.” He believed that there was something about the white pigments that made the finish less durable. He may have been right, as white was not commonly seen on cars until the mid 1950s. I also believed him after trying to keep my white 1959 and 1966 Plymouth Furies at their shiny best. Both of those cars had a way of grabbing me by the collar and shouting “Get some cleaner-wax on me NOW, Junior!” Some things never change, apparently, although my now 56 year old shoulders are not among them. Honey, where’s the aspirin? Maybe I may be waxing this car twice a year after all.
Why is my Honda not a clearcoat? No idea. I have seen some opinions that the magnesium oxide pigments in white make the paint plenty hard, that environmental regs are less stringent in other countries so that cheaper single-stage paint can be used in some instances (my car was Japan-built). This theory might be true, since some other Taffeta White Hondas of those years were base/clear finishes. And in case you are curious, some Honda reds were also single stage as late as 2007, as well as possibly some Toyota finishes.
Anyhow, I have now completed the hood, roof and tailgate. The doors and fenders are going to have to wait for its owner’s second wind. It is not perfect, but it is good enough for a nine year old subcompact that will be my daily driver all winter. So, this is my sad story. Now it’s time for yours. Has there been a particular car finish that has caused you more grief and headache than the rest? And what, if anything, did you do about it?