DIY: 3M Auto Boot Camp Proves You Can Make Your Old Car Look New Again

It would be wonderful if we could each buy a shiny new car the second the old one started to look shabby. Even if you’re careful, scratches, dents, and general wear and tear can take their toll on your precious. One solution is to take it to a detailer and have them buff and polish until it looks like new, but that can be expensive. I recently discovered how easy it is to bring a car back to life and here’s why you should try this, too.

I write about cars all the time. It’s my day job to know about horsepower and torque and wheelbases and all those numbers the engineers love to quote. I know a lot about cars, but I have never once tried to do any cosmetic work on my car to reduce the effects of age. Awkwardly applied touch-up paint, yes, but buffing and polishing, never.

Scratches break your heart when you see them on a perfectly painted car, but I was afraid my attempts to make them look better would backfire. It’s like getting a spot on your shirt. You try really carefully to blot that speck of tomato sauce, but somehow, by the time you’re done, it looks like you may have been stabbed because there is red everywhere.

That was my fear with trying any DIY to repair scratched paint on my car.

The folks at 3M disabused me of this notion during an event they call 3M Auto Boot Camp. The company makes a huge line of products, everything from the Post-It Notes adorning every desk to medical supplies to automotive supplies. This particular event was focused on showing us how their products could bring older cars back to life. I was intrigued.

We had to put on goofy protective goggles and aprons as we entered the lab. There were old door panels, headlights, and even a Ford Mustang in the middle of a brake job sitting in one of the bays. They guided us through each area with experts demonstrating how their products worked and then they gave us a chance to do the work ourselves.

Trying this out on my own car would have been nerve-wracking, but given free rein to try this on demo car parts was incredible. The first thing we tried was restoring headlights using an abrasive called Trizact. Under a microscope, it’s made of pyramid-shaped pieces that wear off in such a way that they don’t get flat, but expose another angled surface to continue doing their job.

Headlight Half Treated
The restored section on the right is so much brighter. Image: Nicole Wakelin

Trizact is used in 3M Headlight Restoration Kits to bring yellow, cloudy, plastic headlights back to their original condition. The kits include everything you need to complete the job including abrasive Trizact discs, sanding/polishing pads, wax protectant, and even masking tape to protect neighboring metal parts. It was incredibly easy to use and required only a little elbow grease. The results were amazing.

Headlight Clarity
Restored headlight on the left, unrestored on the right. Image: Nicole Wakelin

There was a visible difference by the time we finished, a process that took just a few minutes, but it’s not just about looks. The 3M folks used this on one of their colleague’s cars on only one headlight. When they turned out the lights in the room and flipped on the car’s headlights, the difference in the level of illumination was stunning. It’s not just about your car looking better, it’s about driving safer.

They offer three different kits depending on how damaged your plastic lights are, and they range in price from $6.99 to $31.99. That’s a lot cheaper than what you’ll pay to replace a headlight and you’ll be safer on the road for the effort. I was honestly amazed by how easy it was and what a difference it made in the lights.

Another product we tried was the 3M Trizact Precision Scratch Kit, which is brand new. It does to scratches on your car what the headlight restoration kit does to your headlights. The part that made me nervous about this one was the fact that it’s your paint. My fear has always been making it worse; remember that tomato sauce stain?

Scratch Start
This is the before, big scratch on both sides of the black tape. Image: Nicole Wakelin

They demonstrated the kit, which is similar to the headlight kit in process, then set us to work on some old panels from cars. Once again, it was easy to use, quick, and what a difference it made. I saw a big improvement in the paint’s appearance without being an expert or spending a fortune detailing. You can buy the scratch repair kit for $19.99 at places like Walmart and auto parts stores, so, once again, it’s easy and it’s cheap to do these fixes on your own.

Scratch Finish
And the scratch disappears to the right of the tape! Image: Nicole Wakelin

The class went even deeper, demonstrating how to use Bondo to repair body damage and how 3M products can make something like a brake job easier for both professionals and do-it-yourself enthusiasts. That was the biggest take away from this event, that you these products are great for do-it-yourself types.

We had experts demonstrating these products, but you don’t need to be an expert in order to use them. Sure, something like body damage repair isn’t a skill you’ll learn overnight, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to keep your car looking its best.

I never would have tried one of these kits on my own car for fear of what I might do wrong, but that fear is gone. These are easy for anyone to use and I’ll be breaking one out this weekend to touch up a few scratches on my baby.

3M covered my expenses to attend this event.

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