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How to Remove Trail Rash: Getting the Scratches Out!

Posted in News on February 1, 2018
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We’ve all been down trails that are a little too tight for our 4x4s. The result is a vast array of scratches in your paint, sometimes running down the entire side of your vehicle. We call this Trail Rash. Most trail rash is the result of low-hanging tree branches or bushy plants encroaching on a tight trail. If you drive a fullsize 4x4, you definitely know what we’re talking about. For a lot of us who daily drive our 4x4s, this type of trail rash can be an unsightly eyesore. We headed to Meguiar’s detail studio in Irvine, California, and met with Mike Pennington, their director of training, events and consumer relations, to learn how to properly diagnose and treat trail rash.

The first thing we learned from Mike is that there are varying degrees of scratches. Auto paint has three layers: the primer, the base coat, and the protective clear coat. Most trail rash is only going to consist of shallow scratches in the top layer of clear coat, anything deeper than that is going to require professional help. A good rule of thumb is that if your fingernail can catch the scratch, it’s too deep to handle on your own; most anything else you can handle using one of the following techniques.

Minor scratch removal can usually be achieved with either a three-step or a one-step process, depending on the amount of time you have. A three-step process requires three treatments with three different types of pads and three different corresponding products. You start with a compound, move to a polish, and finish with a wax, with each step contributing to a better level of scratch removal and paint treatment.

A one-step process requires only one type of pad and one type of treatment—a one-step polishing wax. The three-step process will always look better, but will take at least twice as long. A one-step process still ends up looking great, and for the purpose of removing trail rash might be the best bet; 4x4s are big and so is trail rash, so it would take a long time to polish out using a three-step process. Especially if you’re going to take your vehicle off-road again anytime soon, you don’t want to put in all the work of three-step and end up with more imperfections a week later.

Another factor that plays into time spent during this process is whether you’re going to be applying your product by hand or with a dual-action (DA) machine. By hand, you’re in for quite the time-consuming chore. With a DA you’re looking at more of an afternoon job. Most detailers we know won’t even bother working by hand anymore because the dual-action machines both rotate and oscillate, offering a better overall coverage of product than most anyone could do by hand. For our demo we used a Meguiar’s MT300 dual-action polisher, which features non-forced rotation, so no matter how hard you press on it you won’t risk ruining your paint. We don’t want to say it’s totally idiot-proof, but it’s pretty close. Meguiar’s also offers an inexpensive drill DA kit that will work with any power drill and has the same dual-action technology as the MT300.

For our 2016 Tacoma TRD Off-Road we decided to go with a one-step scratch removal process using the MT300 dual-action polisher and one round of Meguiar’s One-Step Solution Ultra Polishing Wax. Many different brands make a one-step, and it’s OK to use whichever brand you prefer; however, whatever product you are using, be sure to carefully read the instructions for best results and to avoid misuse. We washed the truck before heading over to the Meguiar’s shop, and before applying any of the one-step we used some quick-detailer and microfiber cloth to wipe the Tacoma down and remove any remaining dust.

We also taped off the door handles, lights, and plastic parts of the exterior. This is done to protect the plastic and make final clean up easy, it keeps the wax out of the cracks!

We began the waxing process by applying a small amount, five drops, of the one-step wax to the soft yellow Meguiar’s waxing pad attached to our MT300. We used the DA polisher to carefully cover every painted surface of the truck to ensure an even polish. If you only go after the scratched-up areas, in the end those spots are going to look clean and polished and the rest of the truck won’t look as good. Some areas we covered twice, or three times, to ensure they were properly polished and waxed. Then we wiped the wax off the truck with clean microfiber cloths.

The one-step polish worked amazingly well! The difference in the finish of our Tacoma was unbelievable. From a few feet away the panels that were most scratched from trees and bushes appeared to be pristine, almost in showroom condition. If you took a magnifying glass and tried to find imperfections you would—some of them might have been polished out with a three-step process, and some might just be too deep to handle with a DIY polishing kit, but for the most part this one-step system proved to be the perfect cure for our case of trail rash.

If you experience trail rash a few times a year, this one-step process is the perfect way for you to restore your rig to a crisp, clean finish. However, if you’re driving a $200,000 Raptor and want to protect it permanently, you might consider vinyl wrapping it or using a clear film to protect the venerable body panels. Wrapping may be expensive, but if you’re trying to protect an expensive rig it’s worth it. Otherwise, occasional cleaning, waxing, and polishing using the right products and techniques should keep your 4x4 squeaky clean and relatively scratch free, if that’s how you prefer it.

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