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Painting Stone Chips

on Tue, 16/09/2008 - 17:00

It didn't take me long to find out the Lotus was susceptible to stone chips. The first time I heard a stone hit the front end I winced so badly I nearly left the road. Since there isn't a lot of noise insulation in the Elise even a small stone can make a terrible, terrible sound. I later discovered that the louder and more metallic the sound the better - it meant the stone had probably ricocheted off the aluminium under-tray rather than hitting the nicely painted nose.

Touching up stone chips to the front of any car, let alone a low slung and stone attracting Lotus Elise, is a bit of a pain. There are lots of guides out there for dealing with chips, many written by specialists or experts. I don't claim to be an expert but in this post I describe the method I use to get a result I'm happy with.

If you are looking to sell your car then the question of whether or not to touch up stone chips is a common one. Really you have three options: 1) leave the stone chips as they are and make an honest assessment of them in your advert, 2) DIY the chips with touch-up paint, or 3) get a full (or lower part only) front clam re-spray. Re-spraying is obviously the most expensive option and unless you are finding it hard to sell your car you probably won’t recoup the cost in the sale. In my opinion a re-spray is only worth it if you are going to apply a stone protection film afterwards to gain maximum advantage.

So that leads us to touch up paint, which unless applied carefully, often ends up looking worse than the stone chips themselves. So unless you are confident about your touch up skills or, like me, are planning to keep your Lotus a long time and want to make sure it gets a good bit of TLC every now and then it is probably better just to leave the chips alone. There is also the added bonus that since the Elise body work won’t rust (it’s made from Fibre Glass) you won’t be causing any long term damage.

If you do decide to touch up stone chips then here is my advice on how to approach them. In my experience you can get a fairly decent finish this way but it will never be perfect and can take a bit of time.

Step 1 – Find your paint code and purchase the required touch up paint. In the S2 Elise/Exige the code can be found just inside the driver’s side door on the inner sill panel down by the side of the seat. The paint can be purchased either from your dealer or from a variety of online stores. Details of Lotus paint codes can be found on the SELOC Paint Codes TechWiki

Step 2 – Wait for a warm dry day and find a spot where you can keep the car out of direct sunlight when painting. Make sure the car and stone chips in particular are clean from any dirt. I suggest marking next to each chip with a small piece of masking tape so that you don't forget where they are part way through the process.

Step 3 – Do away with the clumsy oversized brushes that you get with most touch up paints. Poor a little of the paint into a shallow glass jar, or jar lid, and then use a cocktail stick to apply it (you might find you need to ever so slightly blunt the stick to allow the paint to stay on the head).

Step 4 – Fill the stone chip with paint until there is a very small bulge. This isn’t easy to do and it will finish better if you can achieve this without going outside the perimeter of the chip. Leave this to dry hard, I tend to leave mine 10 hours over night.

Step 5 - Next is the tricky bit. Rub down the paint until it is even with the surface of the surrounding paint. This step has to be done with extreme care so that you don’t damage any of the surrounding area. To rub down I use a small lightly abrasive pad that came with an old touch up set from Halfords. Please note that if you follow this step and mess up your car, I take no responsibility. Once you have rubbed down use a lint free cloth to clean the surface of any paint dust.

Step 6 - Apply a clear lacquer on top of the paint using the same techniques as above. If the stone chips are very small this step can be skipped.

Step 7 - Finish with a generous polishing. I polish the area twice, the first time applying firm pressure in circles, the second a lighter coat. It is important to make sure that the paint (and lacquer if applied) is fully dry before polishing as some polishes will remove un-dry paint.

Last but not least step back and admire your handy work (or the total mess that you have made – I said it wasn’t easy). I anticipate that in a few years I will probably get my front clam re-sprayed and have a full stone protection film applied so stay posted for updates. I've become slightly more accustomed to the sound of a stone hitting the front of the car but still can't help but wince when it sounds really bad.