I recently bought an 03 Element, and the panels on just one side are faded and have some swirl marks. Perhaps someone tried to clean them with a chemical that it didn't like. Is there any way to cover this up and make it look normal again?
You might wish to try a trim restorer product like one of the three listed below.
I swear by Poorboy's World Trim Restorer.
1. Mothers Back 2 Black (Walmart type stores)
2. Meguairs Gold Class Trim Restorer (autogeek.net / other car detailing websites and possibly Walmart type stores)
3. Poorboy's World Trim Restorer (autogeek.net / other car detailing websites)
1st two products I had smearing issues after it rained, could have been how I used it, not 100% sure. On the flip side I've had great luck with Poorboy's were other folks have had issues with it, so go figure.
Only way to know is to try it yourself.
Both sites listed in my signature line have EXCELLENT forums for this kind of issue. Check them out (they are the equivalent to this site for car detailing).
Looks like someone may have tried to wax them many moons ago. Use a very stiff bristle brush and some Wesley's Tire Bleach. Might be Wesley's Tire White, can't remember. I've used it on the plastic fenders of my ATV's for years. You can get it at WalMart and most auto parts stores.
Once you get them clean, then treat them with something. I'm sure the "Wax on, Wax off" section of this forum has numerous postings for what to treat them with.
I had the same problem w/ my 03 but I got it out w/ this stuff called acrylic werks and it came out looking like new!!!... but it did take some time to work it out about an hour to do all of the plastic but im glad I did!
I used the back to black for awhile ( trying to empty to bottle to try another product). It looks great for about a week, and as long as there isn't rain in the forecast should go for longer. It doesn't hold as long as I would like to to though, perhaps because I have the Rallye Red with black oem panels? I'm going to check my local ACE Hardware store for this 303 aerospace protectant. It can be pricey but man everyone I know swears by it.. best price so far is $27 shipped for a 32oz bottle.
Whatever method you use to get them back to looking normal, (all good suggestions above), make sure you prevent the look from happening again by protecting it with something like THIS, the clear stuff is great on the plastic! I have been using it on the black areas on mine with great long life between applications. The UV protection is a big plus too on the bare plastic areas of the E! This will NOT turn your panels chalky in the future.