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Frequently Asked Questions on car paint and corrosion removal

Can you clean a complete bodyshell?

Yes.   To clean the complete bodyshell inside and out, we put it onto a rotating frame which allows us to reach into every corner. Broadly speaking, if we can see it we can clean it. We can't get into the door sills or other closed box sections unless they are cut open, which may be possible if you are replacing them. 

How do I prepare my car for stripping?

If you are doing a complete stripped down restoration, then everything must be stripped out including engine, gearbox, transmission, suspension, glass, interior, instruments, wiring, etc.  Everything must go.  Boot bonnet and doors must be removed, or left with finger tight bolts for transporting.   Since we put the shell up onto our rotating frame, the weight needs to be kept to a minimum.  If the tub can be removed from the chassis, if it is strong enough or braced, it should be to get the best job and it may be too heavy if you don't separate them in the case of the big American cars.

The best way to deliver the shell to us is sitting on a pallet on a trailer or transporter. However, if the car has to be on the running gear for transporting to us, please ensure the bolts are only finger-tight and you are able to lift the shell off the running gear when you get here (we are not mechanics!!).

If you want just the outside paintwork removed, the windows must be left in (to prevent the blast media getting into the car) and we will tape up the door, boot and bonnet shuts.   You will have to hand finish the edges of these areas to remove the paint, a strip about 10mm wide. See below.    

Can you remove the paint from the outside of my car for a re-spray, I only want to do the exterior?

Yes. The car can effectively be driven into the stripping room in its normal running trim.

First we block off all the obvious (sometimes not so obvious) openings into the engine and passenger compartment. This includes covering the exhaust, the air intakes, the heater intake etc.  and any other vulnerable areas like the radiator. Then we sheet over the engine bay to try and reduce the dust contamination of the inside of the engine bay ( but some gets there from under the car while blasting it.  It is just dust and it can be blown off or steam cleaned off). The bonnet, boot and doors are then sealed closed with a special tape that covers the gap between the doors and the wing and the bonnet and the wing etc. This is done to stop the plastic media blasting into the ‘shut’ and peppering the paint there, which is usually quite sound because it is protected and can be lightly rubbed down before painting. This will leave about a 10mm strip of paint around all the shut joints and the panels, to be removed with a dual action sander. It is quite easy to finish off and has the benefit of not removing the paint from the edges of the panels, it is difficult for a less experienced paint sprayer to get enough paint right on the edges of the panel.

We mask the windscreen, glass and chrome etc. more as a precaution than anything because whilst the Plastic Media is soft and wont harm the glass, we cannot be sure there is no road dirt in the system which could mark the surface.

After we paint strip it and unmask and blow off the dust as much as possible. You can remove the brightwork and lights etc if you want to paint behind them, and sand off the remaining paint around the panels, ready for the painter. 

Can you do the door shuts too?

Yes. Doing the door, boot and bonnet shuts means taking the doors off and an extensive masking job to try and protect the interior of the car as much as possible from any dust penetration. Masking is difficult and this adds quite a lot to the cost, but it can be done. We do require that you release all the fixings and door hinges in advance so they are finger tight because we can spend hours fighting with one seized bolt where you may decide to drill it out, for example, and that is chargeable time.

Can you do the stripping of the whole car with the dash board still in?

Yes. It is sometimes possible, but not advisable. The instruments really must be taken out because the dust will certainly get into them, it is just not worth the risk. We will then do our best to protect what is left but it is not easy to protect the back of the dash with all the wires and fixings.

Do I need to remove the wiring loom?

It is not good but it is sometimes possible to leave the hard to remove parts of a loom in the shell but it does depend on what it is made of and its condition. The old fabric covered wiring is just not tough enough but the later plastic coated wiring is more robust and will withstand a certain amount of blasting close-by.  The best protection for a bunch of wires is to put them all into a builders rubble tough polythene bag and tape it up with Gaffa tape.  Odd wires are best wrapped in anything, cloth, paper, cling film and then covered with Gaffa tape.  If you put the tape straight on the wire it is a devil to get off later.

My car has an alloy body on a steel tubular frame. I want it all cleaned and blasted but I am worried about distortion damage.

The aluminium is obviously the problem, being much softer than the steel frame. However, by careful use of plastic media, followed by very low pressure abrasive blasting, we can clean both, but it is slow because it requires a lot of care and skill by the operator.

My car has an ash frame inside the panels. What happens there?

We can broadly blast around it, if you really don't want it blasted but being Ash it is very hard and dense and the blasting will do little more than clean it. The bigger issue is the avoidance of stressing the metal panels by over blasting the inside of the skin. Not being able to get to all of the inside face can lead to panel stressing, it needs care and expertise.

Can you blast the underneath of my car, the rest of the body is good.

This one is a bit of a none starter.  The plastic granules and the grit, used to remove corrosion, are sharp edged and angular in shape.  If they come into contact with the good external paintwork they will mark it or scratch it,  even wiping or sweeping it off the panel. We can mask the whole upper part of the car, but if one grain of material gets between the polythene sheeting and the paint work it will damage the paint, and as the blast air makes the polythene flap so the abrasive particle will bounce around damaging the paintwork.  Also, the tape we need to use has to be very high tack to hold the polythene on while the blast air tugs at it. When you remove the tape there is a very high probability of the tape pulling the paint off the lower levels of the body work. Then there is the fuel in the tank, all the mechanics, and how do you get underneath to blast, its dangerous and it is no fun, so it is a no to this one.

Can you clean just the engine compartment?

Yes. Of course the engine must be out and all the other things found in the engine compartment. The big problem here is masking all the little holes through the bulkhead.

I don’t want to dismantle my engine / gearbox / axle, can you clean the outside?

Yes. In many cases we can, but it takes very careful masking and protection of the item to be cleaned. The carbs must be removed and the inlet and exhaust ports / manifolds blanked off with metal sheet / plastic / hardboard etc. and sealed.  Stuffing rag into the ports first is a further precaution. Special care is needed around the output shafts and pulleys etc. Of course there are always risks but we have not had any problems so far.

Can you clean my wheels and do I need to take the tyres off?

Yes, we can clean them, and no, the tyres don’t have to be removed if you don’t want the hidden parts cleaned.

I’ve heard that blasting panels distorts them. Is this true?

If blasting is carried out by inexperienced operatives and with incorrect blast media, distortion can occur. However, our operatives are fully trained – we don’t let them work on car bodies or panels until they have worked for us, typically, for about a year, and 2-3 years for fiberglass and aluminium panels. At the end of the day the process is operator sensitive and, like any blaster, we cant say we have never had any panel distortion, but it is a rare occurrence because we train the operators carefully.  The biggest danger area is trying to remove corrosion from braced panels, like bonnets. Blasting into cut-out holes and around the bracing can be very risky as the process is not being applied uniformly to the panel. We have ways around it in many cases, but sometimes there are little areas of corrosion where we just dare not go unless specifically instructed by the client and acknowledging the risk. It is sometimes better to take the risk of having to skim a part of a panel than to leave an area of surface corrosion that is hard to deal with by any other means in those deep recesses and voids.

How much will it cost?

We don’t have a fixed price list.  All our work is charged by the time spent on the task.  We think this is the fairest way, since fixed pricing would mean customers would be charged higher than necessary on relatively simple jobs to compensate for the difficult ones. For example, if a car panel has a modest skim of filler on it, it can take about 4 times longer to strip than if it is paint only, and some cars have many, many millimetres of filler, and some literally have filler all over. (See our pictures in the section ‘ Just a little filler Sir ’ which has some horror stories)  If you call us and tell us what you want to bring in for stripping / cleaning, we can give you a ‘ballpark’ figure. Even then we sometimes get it wrong because when we start stripping a car we could find multiple layers of paint, or loads of filler, or particularly difficult paint to remove. Modern paints are made with chip resistance in mind and are getting tougher.

So if we find there are reasons why the cost is / has / will rise we would contact the customer and discuss how far they want us to proceed; if budget is a constraint then the paintwork may be more important to remove than the underseal for example.

We have built our reputation on fair pricing, we are not the cheapest blast  cleaners around, but restorers come to us time and again because the clean finish that we can achieve gives the best possible start to any restoration project.

Why don’t you dip cars to remove paint?

We have been in the business of stripping paint from cars since 1989 and have tried and tested every available method, including cryogenics dry ice blasting and even liquid nitrogen.  Whilst we do occasionally use chemicals to break through particularly hard paints on delicate items, we go to great lengths to avoid any chemical substance getting into the seams.   In our opinion, dipping a car and removing the manufacturers seam sealer (unless it is for seam welding for the racers) is not the way to go.   There is a huge risk of chemical entrapment and subsequent seepage of chemicals from seams not long after an expensive paint job – a problem we are hearing about more and more frequently, and other problems too. Restorers are returning to the dry methods of paint removal like plastic media dry stripping, after experiencing a number of the problems arising from dipping. Removal of seam sealer is only really desirable in a very few instances but is an unavoidable side effect of chemical dipping to remove paint, filler and glue etc.. In our view there is no better seam sealer than that put on by the manufacturer, why disturb it and expose the seams to entrapment of chemical and corrosive salts from the road, its asking for trouble.

Oh, and ask yourself why the lead loading is removed from the body shell when chemically dipping? There is not much that attacks Lead so it must be heat. The melting point of lead is 327 degrees C. How good can that much heat be for your body shell?

Do you prime the car after stripping?

No, not with paint , but we do protect it.  We like to leave the car completely stripped so that you can see exactly what repairs might be needed and spraying on a primer creates more problems than it solves. Primers are not necessarily waterproof so don’t think priming it necessarily protects you bodyshell. With a primer you cant see if we have done all our work properly, it could be hidden by the paint, and you should grind off the primer to do welding repairs. We do, however, protect the bare metal by applying a zinc phosphate corrosion inhibitor, an acid based treatment that carries a small amount of zinc into the surface of the panel that will keep atmospheric corrosion at bay while you carry out your work. It is not a paint, and it is also an adhesion promoter so helps your paint to adhere to the steel surface, you can weld through it because it is not solvent based. Best of all it is clear,  you can see the metal and see we have done the job properly, in all the corners.  That’s the hard bit, all the fiddly corners getting the last 20%  of the shell clean is what really takes the time. 

How long will the corrosion treatment last before I have to re-paint the car?

It depends on storage conditions.  The car must be kept under cover in a dry workshop and in these conditions we would expect it to last many months. As time goes on there may be the odd pin-prick of corrosion show up in areas where the corrosion was most severe, but these are usually areas that will be cut out and replaced. We have known of it lasting months, even years. A customer told us of a project that has been sitting for 12 years in phosphate because he cannot get on with it, but it is in good shape. Another shelved a Mustang for 4 years in phosphate and the same applied, it was not perfect, but required minimal work to correct the areas that had deteriorated slightly.

How long do I leave my car with you?

Typically 2-3 weeks but if you are in a hurry we can sometimes accommodate shorter periods, it just depends on how busy we are.  If you call and tell us your timetable we will do our best to fit in around that.

Can you store my car before/after stripping?

We usually have space to keep several cars in the ‘queue’ uncovered in our yard, before stripping but it is essential that you arrange transport to collect the car as soon after it is finished as possible, because of limited covered space and it is not really dry. Our workshops are not heated because there are thousands of cubic feet per minute of ventilation air going through the buildings and we just could not heat all that.

My car has some steel parts and some aluminium parts – can you clean them all?

Yes, we have much experience in cleaning both metals.   However, if they are joined together and cannot be separated, we may not be able to fully chemically protect the steel parts with corrosion inhibitor if obscured by the aluminium.

My car is made of fiberglass – can you help?

Yes.  We have much experience in cleaning fiberglass bodyshells and panels. They have many potential problems. In the early days of fiberglassing the mixing ratios were much more critical and there was a lack of understanding regarding the potential problems associated with moisture and humidity. In laying up the panels, air bubbles were trapped in the layup. Later manufacturing processes used pressure moulding to expel the air so voids were eliminated. These air bubbles are generally the cause of most problems and micro blistering. The moisture trapped in the tiny air bubbles in the fiberglass lay-up try to expand when the air heats up and the moisture is vaporised; then when it freezes the air contracts and the moisture freezes.  This cycle eventually causes paint blisters to form.

Click this link to go to the fiberglass section Automotive - Fibreglass

Blasting off the paint from fiberglass cars is like walking on a frozen lake with snow on top of the ice, you cannot see what is coming until the paint has been substantially removed and by then the peppering action of the plastic granules has broken the fragile and often brittle gel coat which covers the bubbles, it’s a bit like eggshell, revealing the voids that are often the cause of all the problems.

I have discussed these gelcoat blisters with some of the leading experts in fiberglass repairs over the years, one was the fiberglass expert in one of the early fiberglass car manufacturers, one was a paint specialist who worked as the quality assurance manager for Aston Martin for 10 years and wrote books on paint finishing car bodies, and the third was another specialist in repairing early fiberglass bodied cars. Each have their own views about how to deal with gelcoat blisters, one said they should be pricked out with the bradawl if necessary and dealt with if you can see them, one said don't disturb the gelcoat bubbles under any circumstance if you can avoid it. One explained that old and early fiberglass does actually rot, it breaks down, which may contribute to the appearance of gelcoat blisters. Whichever route you decide to go, you need to talk to your painter and have a clear understanding of what he wants and what he is going to do. You really do need to use a painter who has experience in fiber glass if you want to avoid the many problems associated with fiberglass bodies.

One option available to us, if you are particularly concerned about the gelcoat, is for us to blast off as many layers of paint as possible until we see the last coat of primer and the gelcoat just showing. The finish will be patchy to look at but all that will be required will be hand finishing of last bit of primer to expose the gelcoat. It is not always possible to have this control, it depends very much on what paint systems have been used. There will be gelcoat voids, but hopefully fewer exposed.

Can you leave the gelcoat on?

Yes, in almost every case the gel coat remains in tact, but the bubbles, blisters and star cracks will be clearly identified.

Can you clean cylinder heads etc.

Yes, as long as they/it  are/is completely stripped down and great care is taken to plug any open areas to prevent blast media entering and contaminating any working parts. Plastic media is excellent for de-carbonising cylinder heads and ports, because the media is soft and does not damage surfaces.

Click this link to go to the engine cleaning section Automotive - Engine Cleaning

Can you clean motorbike frames and parts?

Yes, we clean all motorbike parts using the same processes as cars.  We recommend that all parts are stripped down and any areas that require plugging to stop the blast media getting in are done in advance, or pointed out to our staff when booking in the part for cleaning. Paper masking tape is not tough enough, use good duct tape and several layers of it.