(Yet another new contributor! Matt Fink brings us his detailing tips from Speed:Sport:Life — JB)
Welcome to the first edition (and potentially last if none of you like it) of ‘Spare me the Details’. Your author is an
amateur Professional Car Detailer. I’m not sure what exactly makes one a professional car detailer, except that people pay me to do it, so I’m claiming to be a professional. Plus I have hordes of fans that follow me wherever I go. I have worked for a car detailing business as well as a car wash and now have my own small business of auto detailing that I run out of my home. I detail cars on the weekends and have a “regular” job the rest of the time.
To my neighbors I am the creepy guy who cleans his car like 3 times a week… but to you guys I’m just your friendly neighborhood car detailer giving you unsolicited advice. I have never been to school for car detailing nor do I claim to know anything about the chemical makeup of a cleaner wax compared to a paint sealer. What I do know is what works for me. I have detailed hundreds and hundreds of cars and I want to share with you, the readers of TTAC, some of the things I have learned. ‘Course, you’ll have to pay me, seeing as I am a professional.
For my own detailing business I pride myself on doing everything by hand. That means on average it takes me at least 6 hours to clean a vehicle. The nice thing is that most of the products and tools I use are readily available to the average Joe Accord driver, and that is the point of this column. Most TTAC readers should be able to do anything discussed here if you care enough about your ride.
The first topic I will cover is clay barring, mainly because I get more questions about that than anything else. Also, I get the impression that people view clay barring as some kind of detailing secret that lay folks just won’t understand. Well, I have more faith in TTAC readers than that, plus let’s keep no secrets between us. Some time ago, I had a friend get his vehicle damaged by an automatic car wash. They paid him off and told him to go get it “clay barred”. If you keep reading, you will understand why he should have been upset with their advice.
Your car’s paint is always accumulating “stuff” on it that takes away from its shine. Over time, despite how often you wash and wax it; you won’t be able to get that new car shine back. That’s because some of that “stuff” won’t come off simply by washing it, and it prevents light from reflecting off the paint. The stuff that doesn’t come off with washing is what we are attacking with a clay bar. These include invisible things like pollution, paint over-spray, car exhaust, oxidation from acid rain, brake dust, and rail dust (which even some new cars have after being delivered by train). Along with some visible things like road tar, tree sap, and bug guts.
How will you know if your vehicle has these contaminants? Wash it as best as you can, and then run your fingers over the hood. If you feel a rough or slightly bumpy texture anywhere on a painted surface, then you have contamination. That’s where clay barring comes in to save the day. On top of your car’s paint is a very thin layer of clear coat. These contaminants pile up on the clear coat, but won’t come off with a normal wash (having your car waxed does not prevent this). You have two options: You can use some kind of abrasive compound to basically cut the contamination off… but this can only be performed a few times before removing too much of the top clear coat. Or you can clay bar, which is basically pulling the contamination off the surface. If done correctly, clay barring will not do any damage to the paint.
For any female/metrosexual readers out there, you can think of it as exfoliating the dead skin off your car paint.
There are different types of clay bars available. I recommend using a mild clay bar that does not advertise being abrasive or the ability to do “cutting”. A nice mild clay bar that I regularly use is by Meguiars and comes in their Surface Clay Kit. The kit includes a 16 oz. Quik Detailer lubricant, a case, micro-fiber towel, sample of cleaner wax, and two bars of clay for around $21.
Supplies needed to clay bar your vehicle:
1. Clay – Not from your yard, but the real stuff from an auto store.
2. Lubricant – There are many to choose from, any type of quick exterior detailing type product should work fine. I use the Meguiars Quik Detailing lubricant that comes in the kit. DO NOT USE WATER as it does not have the same lubricating principles.
3. Clean towel – Preferably micro-fiber or soft cotton.
4. A car you care about.
Basic steps you should take:
1. Wash and dry your car.
2. Warm up the clay (yes, a clay bar feels like a regular piece of clay) by kneading it with your hands or letting your kids play with it like Play-Dough for a few minutes.
3. Spray lubricant over a 2’x 2’ painted area. This part is key. You must always have enough lubricant on the painted surface. Don’t do more than a two or three-foot area or it will dry before you get the clay to it. Never rub dry clay on your paint.
4. Rub the clay bar back and forth over the area until it feels smooth. If it starts to stick, spray more lube onto the area.
5. Wipe off the small section with a towel. Move on to the next section.
-Always keep the clay bar and bodywork wet. As you work the body panels, the clay will keep accumulating dirt, so make sure to continually fold it over so you have a clean surface touching the paint.
-Claying (is that a word??) should not take much elbow grease at all or you’re doing something wrong. To give you an idea, it takes me about 20 minutes to do my car.
-Store the clay in a cool dry place to keep it fresh. I keep mine in the plastic case it came in which works great. Just make sure it is a little wet when you put it in the case.
-Most clay bars can be used on windshields and wheels as well.
-Don’t use the same bar of clay forever. After many cars, it will eventually fill up with dirt and need thrown out.
-Be very careful if you ever drop your clay! The clay will pick up dirt from the ground, which will then be rubbed into your paint if you don’t clean it off and fold over the clay.
**Since clay barring is designed to remove things from the surface of your paint, it will remove wax from your car!! This means the first thing you should do after claying your vehicle is to put a layer of wax protection on it. Do not reverse the order of those steps! Always clay, then wax.**
So to review, claying lifts contaminants off the surface of the paint, it does not remove scratches that are in the paint. That means swirls marks, scratches and some oxidation will not be affected by clay barring as they are below the surface (why in the world would a car wash tell someone to get their car clay barred to remove scratches??).
So why should you clay bar your vehicle? Well, if you are looking for that smooth as glass feel for your baby, then claying is the way to go. Until you have clayed your car it is very hard to explain just how smooth it makes the paint. Try a ‘Dukes of Hazard’ hood slide to experience it. Removing the contamination in your paint will also help it last longer. Plus, more light will be able to reach the paint and reflect off it creating a much shinier vehicle.
In closing, for all of my detailing tips I will put a self-explanatory rating system for how frequent you should perform each task.
How often I do it to my car: Once a year
How often I do it to my wife’s car: Once every other year
(For clay barring you can certainly do it more often, and there are a few reasons why some of you should. If any of you work at a factory or live near one, you may need to clay more often. Also, if you plan on showing your vehicle in a car show I recommend clay barring it.)
See you all next time!