By on June 15, 2012

IMG_2737 (Custom)

(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.

Pic 1

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.

Pic 2 (Custom)

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.

Pic 3 (Custom)

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.

Pic 4

5. Wipe off the small section with a towel. Move on to the next section. Pic 5

Tips
-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.

Pic 6

-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.

DETAILING GAUGE:

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!

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

103 Comments on “Spare Me The Details #1...”


  • avatar
    Dukeboy01

    Excellent write- up. The only thing I would add in regards to claying is that a brand- new car fresh off the lot will need it almost just as much as one that’s been being driven around for a few years. Most new cars, with fresh new paint, are transported by rail at some point in their journey from the factory to the dealer lot. The dust and small pieces of gravel that can be sucked up from the railbed will embed into the paint. The dealer will do a quickie detail once the car arrives, but then the car will sit on the exposed lot for who knows how long to collect more contaminants until it’s purchased and given another quickie detail before the new owner drives it away.

    I’m looking forward to more in this series.

    • 0 avatar
      kitzler

      My Audi came from Germany with white protective paper glued over every metal and glass part, except the windshield, my feeling is that the car did not need detailing at the dealer, just remover the protection and wash it. Beemers and Mercedes also get that treatment.

      • 0 avatar
        mygeddygoesyaaahhh

        There are always factory defects in new cars. Every new car I detail usually requires compounding somewhere.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        I was a detailer at a Saturn and a Mercury dealership some years ago before I joined the military (Maybe I ran them out of business). Some of the cars would come with that plastick stuck to them and that stuff left a lot of nastiness in the paint. The clay bar wasn’t as widely done back then I guess (or was a real detailer secret…most dealership guys arent so skilled as the detail shop folks) but those cars would have benefited but I don’t know about doing it to a new car.

        One thing though, when my Miata was repainted I did this AFTER the paint had cured for a fer months and it made quite a difference. But I was advised by my paint guy to not even wax it for a couple months. That makes me wonder, how new is too new for this sort of treatment?

        This is a good column though. The only advice I could give would don’t get crazy with the wheel acid.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        double post

      • 0 avatar
        espressoBMW

        The protective wrap put on new cars for delivery are great at protecting against liquid drips from other cars on the carrier and errant paint chips but it won’t keep the painted surface pristine. Among other things, dust will get trapped between the car and the film which will cause micro-scratches on the surface. Also, the bonding of the film on the car’s surface will leave behind contaminants. The average person won’t even notice these things but a detailer/perfectionist won’t be able to live with it.

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    Ah. Now I understand the Why, How, and When of clay.
    And probably the What, too.

    From the opening picture of an infamous green Audi and Matt’s opening line, I thought the article was going to berate manufacturers for stupid design details that are a pain to clean, which might have been fun in a Vellum Venom kind of way, but I think I’m happy I was wrong.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    GREAT ARTICLE! – thank you. Will there be any future product comparisons in this series? I’d like to know some outside opinions on Griots products. My friends think I’m nuts for spending that kind of dough on car care products. I’m particulary fond of the fishy smelling car wash.

    • 0 avatar
      replica

      Is Griots that good? It’s about 30 minutes from me. I hear good things.

      • 0 avatar
        mygeddygoesyaaahhh

        There are all kinds of clay/lubricant combos you can use. Griot’s is good, but not much more than say, Clay Magic. I use it in a pinch since it’s carried at Autozone. I believe Advanced Auto is now carrying Griot’s products.

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    Excellent write up.

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    Thanks for the primer on clay barring, but what I really want to know is whether you played keyboards for Prince back in the 1980’s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Fink

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      It’s not often that Prince gets discussed on an auto website. Thought I had ran far enough from my past… but I guess not.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Either way, welcome. My Question is about soap. Should you or shouldn’t you. I’m guessing even car wash soap can strip wax. I’ve been using just a wash mit and a bucket of clean water without soap since Prince was on top of the charts and have’t looked back since.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I first heard of this from a demonstration at Griot’s Garage when I went there for a demo with my Mom’s group. Their retail store is not far from my Mom’s place, in the same town anyway.

    They demonstrated the benefits of claying and I may well be getting their products when I refresh the wax on my lil’ Mazda Protege 5 before long.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Very Cool

    You should do a segment on stuff not worth spending $$$$ on

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      Sounds like a fun idea to me! There are currently no manufacturers or companies (that I know of) mad at this column yet. We’ll see how quickly we can change that.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Using the clay on your windshield will shock you. Raindrops explode on contact.

    (hey, what’s with putting the microfiber on the ground?)

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      I used to clay bar my windshield at least once every other week back when I was a car-driving commuter. I want to say that I used water but apparently that is a no-no.

      Clay barring your windshield will make you realize that Rain-X is a giant waste of money!

    • 0 avatar
      amca

      My Dad used to use toothpaste to get that hydrophilic layer of silicon (at least that’s what his theory was) off the windshield.

  • avatar
    vicali

    Good Read, good intro..
    Lot’s of people think the claybar is a miracle, usually those who don’t understand what it actually does.

    I’m known in my neighbourhood as the guy out washing his car at 10pm in the dark (worklights!), or spending a weeks worth of nights polishing cars in the garage each spring, or for pulling out the Cali-Duster first thing before heading to work in the morning.

    When you say everything by hand do you mean no PC? Because that’s one thing that has given my progression into this craziness a huge jump.. and technically it’s a hand tool..

    • 0 avatar
      replica

      I’ve had great luck with clay. Its pulled out oxidation and paint/stuff from impacts and scrapes. It doesn’t “fix” it, but it does a great job of pulling the crap out. Then nail it with some wax.

      Ah. Fantastic.

      Another thing I like doing is drying the car with a leaf blower.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      I do use a dual action polisher when needed. Basically, I will write about using tools that the average person already has or could easily afford and learn to use. There’s no point in writing about how to use a carpet extractor for example, when no one has one.

    • 0 avatar
      espressoBMW

      If you stop using that California Duster, you probably won’t have to spend so much time polisihing your car. Those things just drag all that accumulated dust across the surface every time you use it.

  • avatar

    Nice write up. I’ve used a clay bar a few times and it does make a big difference.

    Unfortunately, in the last couple of years I’ve become less anal about maintaining the shine of my cars as there just doesn’t seem to be as much time as there used to be and now rely on the car wash. Don’t get me wrong, they are still clean and well maintained, but I decided I’d rather have a slightly dirty car to take me someplace fun, then spend the day cleaning that car and agonizing over getting dirt on it.

  • avatar
    graham

    Great write-up and I’m looking forward to reading more of your detailing expertise in the future. A couple of questions/suggestions:

    1) Ignore the temptation to use the “strikethrough” font. Aside from being a personal pet peeve of mine, it gives the effect of trying to hard to assimilate to your blog brethren. Different (and correct) is good!

    2) I would love to also get your insight and recommendations on the types of “screening” questions to ask a professional detailer if one is hiring someone to do the detailing work.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    For those of us who suck at detailing, it would be nice to know how to get wax off of the plastic trim pieces.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I have clayed my cars several times and the difference it makes in surface smoothness and shine is surprising. I also have found nothing better at removing road tar, gravel road oil spray, and tree sap. After a good claying items placed on the hood or roof will slide right off like they are on ice.

    I have had good luck with the Mother’s Clay Bar Kit which is fairly inexpensive.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      I would recommend using a bug and tar remover before claying. Getting as few jagged pieces of contamination into the clay is best, if you pick heavy soiled bits then you run the risk of scratching you finish. Iron X and Tar X are new items on the market. I haven’t tried Iron X yet, all I know is that it acts as a pre-clay step, emulsifying embedded iron particles in the clear coat. I’ve used Tar X and am quite happy with the results. Stoner makes a product called “Tarminator” which I believe is carried at NAPA, it’s also really good but is petroleum based and an aerosol so when you spray it be careful as it will get all over parts you don’t want. TIP: hold a toilet paper cardboard roll in front of the sprayer to avoid overspray.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        The bits of tar and sap that I remove with the clay are very small but firmly adhered to the paint. I only clay after a very thorough washing.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          My spring ritual always starts by washing the car with a heavy Dawn dishwashing detergent mixture, followed by claying with a Zaino bar and their Z-6 detailing spray, then washing the car AGAIN with Dawn! (The dishwashing detergent will strip all wax and polish, someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)

          Then I follow-up with Zaino Z-5 polish, followed by two rounds of Zaino Z-2 polymer wax, then an applicaton of Z-CS sealant. Car stays nice until just before the weather goes to crap in the fall, when I repeat the above procedure, minus the clay bar.

          (The weekend I got my new car, before any weather hit it, I was able to go over the whole car with the detailing spray, then applied that Z-CS topcoat. The car looked better than when I brought it home, and water still beads on the surface, so I may skip the Z-5 polish step, or skip one of the Z-2 steps, since the car (and paint) are new, especially if the paint feels smooth after the clay.)

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    Welcome Matt. Thanks for the great write-up on a product that is near and dear to me. For the many out there who choose to spend big bucks on quality wax, claying before waxing a clearcoat will give you all the benefits your paying for. You’ll see your shine pop in a way you never experienced before. It’s one more step in the detailing process, but hey, we’re all enthusiasts right?

  • avatar
    mtl_one

    Great read!

    Love the Meguiars Quik Detailing kit. A few word of advice:

    1 – Check the contents of the box before leaving the store. In my area, most times the clear sticker seal has been sliced opened and the clay has been removed.

    2 – Split the clay into two pieces and save 1/2 for next spring.

    3 – after claying the windshield, apply PPG’s Aquapel. AWESOME!!!

    I love my 03 P5 that much more after claying her.

  • avatar
    phlipski

    Timely article. I bought this very kit last weekend and attacked my wife’s car with it – 2003 dark blue jetta, probably has had 2 coats of wax in it’s life. Glad to know I clay barred correctly. For anyone who’s wet-sanded/polished wood it’s kind of a similar feeling – the clay kind of hangs up on the paint for a bit then frees up after a few passes. So how did she look afterwards? Well the author’s right, those scratches, and oxidation spots are still there :(, however hopefully I’ve stopped any more damage from occuring. But it really is pretty easy to do – I’d say it’s almost easier/quicker to clay-bar than wax.

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      now it’s time for Mequiar’s SwirlX and ScratchX. (no, I don’t work for them, but they’re fantastic and expensive)

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        If you wash and wax your car regularly there is no need for extensive claying. Meguairs Scratch-X 2.0 will take out most scratches up to the ones that your finger nail can catch on.

        Follow up with Meguiars Ultimate synthetic polymer wax as it’ll bring out the metallic in the paint like none other.

      • 0 avatar
        Apollo

        I wash my car every week, and the clay bar still makes a ton of difference.

        A couple of years ago someone decided to have a picnic on my trunk in a parking garage. Aside from making ridiculous swirl marks with a brown paper bag on my trunk lid, they seem to have spilled a grape soda on my trunk lid, which ran down the back of the trunk and the bumper. I didn’t notice this for a couple of days, meaning it was nice and caked on by the time I washed it. Washing did not make a dent in it whatsoever, and neither did the mild clay bar, but I got a medium clay bar that took it right off. If it weren’t for knowing about clay bars, I guess I’d still be driving around with a purple racing stripe because some yutz couldn’t find a picnic table.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Well, I have never heard of a clay treatment for a car. Makes me all the happier I signed up on TTAC two years ago!

    Excellent write-up and welcome to TTAC. I approve.

  • avatar
    RayH

    I keep my car interior clean enough to eat from, but rarely if ever wash the exterior (that’s why it rains). But I do clean the windshield from time to time and it sounds like this stuff would be a great addition to that! Does clay work with plastic/composite headlamp covers as well?

    I have a friend that details his own cars insisting things buff out with clay. Is there a special “buffing” clay? I don’t see a scratch on his car.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      Not that I’ve heard of. If anything, Claying a car causes marring in the finish, usually clay should be followed up with a quick machine polishing followed by a wax or sealant.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    I just did my white truck the other day. I used the exact same products as shown. What a pain in the rear…it takes me about two hours to do the the whole truck…mostly just the bottom part where these small specks of rust looking dots accumulate. I found that if I add too much lubricant, the clay bar just glides over without taking anything off. I can’t clay and wax in one day…I would need about 5-6 hours and that won’t fly with the wife. She always accuses me of doing “unnatural” things to the truck and spending 5 hours rubbing it only reinforces that:).
    30 minutes? No way…only if the car is clean already.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      What you’re describing is “rail dust”. A trick I figured out is to clay those areas with nail polish remover (yes, arduous, but works. I have a white car as well). It will leave blemishes and you will have to machine polish them out. Tar remover does not work so well on these stubborn spots so It does take a lot of work. This should cut that process down a bit, plus a good polish will be well worth the results.

      • 0 avatar
        Carrera

        Polish remover sounds a bit harsh. it won’t damage the paint? When I lived in Florida I never had this problem but here in Canada I have to clay the whole truck once per year. White wasn’t my first choice, but I bought the truck slightly used. I won’t buy white again…

      • 0 avatar
        mygeddygoesyaaahhh

        It won’t be harsh as long as you plan on machine polishing and protecting afterwards. I understand not everyone has access to a rotary or DA polisher, just giving some food for thought. And honestly, I’ve given up on my white daily driver. Twice a year I’ll go balls out on it but that’s only because the detailers car should represent his own work.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      Do you work at a factory or live near railroad tracks Carrera? Most cars I’ve done have taken under 1 hour. I’ve worked on an older truck that was daily parked outside a GM factory and it took most of the day.

      • 0 avatar
        Carrera

        Well, I don’t live the railroad tracks, I mean there are some close by, within a mile or two of my house, but my commute is 15 miles each way on hwy. Where I live, in the winter, the city uses salt exclusively…and tons of it…like it’s going out of style. I just have to go over the same spot with the clay bar lots of times though. A simple pass would not do it. The truck would be peppered with the so called rail dust…at least on the lower portions and on the tailgate. This is the second time I am claying the car so I don’t think the clay bar is used up. That damn rail dust really gets imbeded though….
        In Florida I had mostly tree sap and that came off easily. Not so with the rail dust. I’ll take tree sap any day…

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      What about using mineral spirits or the like? Did that on my last car on some bad tree sap that a clay bar wouldn’t touch, then rinsed the area well, polished and sealed the area, and it seemed to be none the worse for wear.

  • avatar
    Nate

    Really looking forward to more entries in this series. This has the potential to rival Piston Slap in the “Useful Articles” category.

  • avatar
    mygeddygoesyaaahhh

    Great article, as a professional detailer as well, it’s nice to see any advice on this subject. Claying is still not quite understood by my customers so I’ve given up explaining. It’s a wonderful process (of many) to proper paint correction. I apologize for chiming in so much but I felt like I needed to answer a few comments. I love doing this craft and am very excited to see some time put into it here on TTAC!

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Fink

      Please keep responding, I appreciate all the comments! We can make it a team effort to help answer questions and make detailing not so scary. (But still try to make it sound hard enough that people pay us to do it for them, right.)

      • 0 avatar
        mygeddygoesyaaahhh

        No problem, I’d love to help out. Working on a G35x sedan as I type. I’ll be checking in later to hopefully help field any more questions.

  • avatar
    AJ

    I Zaino my Jeep, and it shines so much that some think I’m a mall crawler when I really do take it off-road and get it dirty. I just wash it afterwards. Plus, keeping the paint protected, mud and bugs so easily wash off with little effort. Scratches also don’t show up as much.

    Picture:
    http://img337.imageshack.us/img337/6112/dsc02052y.jpg

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Very nice addition to the site. Although I understand ‘claybaring’, it’s still cool to get new blood here.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Great write up….. That is the most informative article on claying I’ve read. This is coming from a guy that was detailing cars,before the word was invented. I have done some “pro detailing” However, I prefer to do my own cars,on my own time schedule.

    These days, I find myself tied to home a lot. I look at detailing as good therapy.

    Tomorrow I’m buying a clay kit.

    Matt…..you taught me something today.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    Excellent write up, Matt. I’ve read elsewhere that clay bars should be discarded if dropped on concrete or asphalt. I always thought that was a bit extreme, and I’ve never scratched a car with a dropped bar that was subsequently kneaded and sprayed with detail spray.

  • avatar
    Commando

    So, you’re saying that I should finally say farewell to my old friend and trusty companion of nearly 50 years, Dupont #7 ???

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    Interesting article, although I’m amazed frankly that anyone could be bothered spending the time doing this.

    Don’t you all prefer driving cars than cleaning them? A scrub down with a bucket of soapy water and a brush and hose off is all a car needs.

    • 0 avatar
      mr_muttonchops

      As some one that does car photography on the side, I can say that proper detailing goes a long way. While a casual glance may not reveal much, if you spend 2-3 hours viewing a car at every angle/distance and under the afternoon sun, lack of detailing will drive you nuts.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      This is the sort of thing I’d do once, right before selling it!

      I couldn’t imagine even washing a car more than once a month. Rain would be such a depressant, ruining all the work you put into keeping it clean.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Couldn’t agree more. There’s a little bit of OCD about being so fixated on having a clean car all the while. Don’t people ever sit back and ask themselves “why am I doing this”?

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Don’t people ever sit back and ask themselves “why am I doing this”?

        That’s exactly what happened to me last time I tried using clay. If I could do it in 20 min like the author suggests is possible, I would probably do it once every 6 months.Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I even finished the trunk lid in twenty minutes.

        My car is a daily driver that sees close to 100 miles per day. It doesn’t stay clean for very long, even in California. I swing by one of those coin-op self-service washes on my lunch break about once every 3 weeks to keep things from getting embarrassing. That’s about all I can handle right now.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Doing the work makes it easier to clean things after it rains. And if a couple water spots get on the finish, five minutes with detailing spray and a microfiber towel, and..done!

        (Saw the comment about the Cali Duster up the thread–is this something NOT to be used?! (Bought one, and can still take it back to AutoZone.))

  • avatar
    Broo

    A few years ago, I remember that I thought clay bar was an optional step for diehards/freaks. I tried it once and saw the light.

    I since learned much more starting with Meguiar’s 5 steps paint care system. I experimented many products and eventually found what I call my best combo so far.

    Though I use less Meguiar’s products than I used to, their 5 steps are still true.

    However, I cannot wash my car 3 times a week. I just don’t have time for that. However, unless weather is against me, I wash it every weekend, a complete detail is done twice a year.

    I could say that I enjoy washing cars as much as driving them.

  • avatar
    Ben

    Great start, looking forward to more of this series.

    “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.”

    Try doing this with a crinkly, disposable plastic bag over your hand. The plastic amplifies the contamination, and gives you are more accurate feel for just how severe the problem is.

  • avatar
    modelt1918

    TTAC just keeps getting better and better! Could you run an article explaining the best pads to use for a machine polisher? Do you use a different pad for getting the wax off then change to a different pad for polishing? Always had trouble with the waxing part.Seems the car looks good in some places and flat in others. Been using clay bar for quite awhile and glad I have been doing that properly.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      There are literally dozens and dozens of pad and product combos that work different together along with pressure techniques. Certain combos are good for ze Germans (Audi, BMW,Merc) because the clear coat is so hard, whereas Japanese manufacturers tend to have softer clear. I’ve worked on plenty of early ’00 Fords and I’m pretty sure my 2 year old could buff mid level scratches out the clear is so soft. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer.

  • avatar
    mr_muttonchops

    I’ve always considered doing detailing work at a dealership to help me get through school (there’s a TON of dealerships in my area) so this is an interesting little read. I doubt they go to this extent, but hey now I know a little more just in case!

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Nowhere near that extent. The cars can arrive fairly filthy due to transit from the factory, but most of the dirt washes off pretty easily as it hasn’t had time to bake in yet. The average customer wouldn’t put up with waiting multiple hours for the clean up before taking the car home. The time the detail department has to do their job is usually limited to the average amount of time it takes to prepare and finish the paperwork (from 45 minutes to an hour and a half on average).

      The job entails working out in the elements all day (I’m not aware of any place that has an indoor detail facility around here, but they may exist up north where the winters would require it) for not much money. At least around here the guys doing the job seem to be Central/South American or Caribbean immigrants. It’s not a glamorous job, but their work does have a direct effect on customer satisfaction, and because of that any salesperson who has been around for a bit has learned that staying on good terms with the clean-up guys is second only to keeping your finance department happy. Sending back a few pizzas every now and again is a small price to pay for making sure that the little bit of extra effort is taken to clean up the grease smudges from PDI or buff out the mystery scratches in the clear coat that always seem to show up on cars destined for the most persnickety of customers.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        ^^^ This. I had water freeze to cars I was trying to clean up for delivery.

        And that is the extent of what most dealership detail shops do unless you work for one of the brands like Lexus or formerly Saturn that washes and vacuums the car when any service is done.

        Even if we took a car on trade that we ended up retailing it was sent to a detail shop to be prepped to go on the lot. Ride in a typical kid hauling minivan and then look at one on a used lot and you’ll see why…they earn their money.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      The worst thing you can do, especially on a new car, is have the dealership put their hands on it. Request that no one touch the car then bring it somewhere reputable or do it yourself. I don’t think those workers even know how to wash a car properly. I can’t tell you all the new cars I’ve seen with swirls already in the finish. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T PAY FOR THE SPECIAL “SEALANT”, it’s the biggest rip off you can imagine. Once they improperly wash the car, then “permanently seal it” those scratches/swirls will be trapped under the “sealant” for a good loooong time.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Alcohol-diluted gasoline ate up the rubber tubing in the fuel system in my ’97 850-T5 wagon. Every summer during its last few years of service it reeked like a distillery. Then some %$$&^@#^% in a 7-series BMW put it out of its misery with a 30-mph rearender. (Uninsured, he then skipped town leaving my insurance to clean up his mess.)

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Another great idea for a series.

    It’s been a while since I clayed my car, but I remember it taking significantly longer than 20 minutes. It simply took a long time to get the really dirty sections smooth (trunk lid and hood).

    Where did I go wrong?

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      Once you gain a bit more experience you’ll get a feel for how clean the area is by how the clay feels gliding over it. I do half the hood, then knead the clay again. On average maintained cars the most contamination comes off the lower side panels, rear quarters and bumper/trunk from where everything kicks up during your commute (especially amplified area on hatches). Sometimes a fine clay will work but a lot of areas will require a more aggressive bar. Also, you can tell by ear how a panel is going.

  • avatar
    manbridge

    Great series idea.

    Could you address strategies for dealing with different types paints? Single stage vs base/clear?

    I new a guy who sweared by Glasurit. He found an older BMW in the desert. Oxidized to hell, yet revived with wetsanding and a polish.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      I would not compound a single stage clear too much. The look on the pads alone changing color is enough to freak you the hell out. You’s swear you were taking the paint right off. A bit of warning for wet-sanding factory clear; it may look nice after you’ve polished it but a few months down the road you may be in for a surprise. If the clear is too thin and you wet sand the whole car you could very well be taking it right off. Wet sanding IMHO should be left to spot treatment or re-painted cars where the clear was put on thick.
      Compound it once, then take car of the car with proper washing techniques. Once, maybe twice a year, clay the car with a fine clay. If necessary, follow with a machine polish (using a Dual Action polisher) and your favorite sealant of choice. Carnuba Wax is not necessary as most modern synthetic sealants work amazing and can last up to 6 + months. Carnuba doesn’t last as long and is more time consuming.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      I would not compound a single stage clear too much. The look on the pads alone changing color is enough to freak you the hell out. You’s swear you were taking the paint right off. A bit of warning for wet-sanding factory clear; it may look nice after you’ve polished it but a few months down the road you may be in for a surprise. If the clear is too thin and you wet sand the whole car you could very well be taking it right off. Wet sanding IMHO should be left to spot treatment or re-painted cars where the clear was put on thick.
      Compound it once, then take care of the car with proper washing techniques. Once, maybe twice a year, clay the car with a fine clay. If necessary, follow with a machine polish (using a Dual Action polisher) and your favorite sealant of choice. Carnuba Wax is not necessary as most modern synthetic sealants work amazing and can last up to 6 + months. Carnuba doesn’t last as long and is more time consuming.

  • avatar
    Spencer Williams

    Great writeup. I claybarred my last car twice a year. White car. It was kind of a pain, probably took me closer to an hour, but was always worth it. My new car had a clay, polish, and wax her first weekend home. I’ve read a bit about detailing, but I’m excited to read this series and learn a lot more.

    It’s funny, back in the 90s I used to use Meguiar’s #7 polish then #26 wax. Three or so years ago I got a detailing book out of the library, and what do you know, there were still recommending using the same combo!

    Then I noticed the guy in all the photos was wearing a half shirt and the book was published in 1988.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Curiosity got the better of me one day, and so I clayed the hood of my wife’s car with my kids’ modelling clay and plain old soapy water. It was yellow, and cost about two bucks per pound. Results were so amazing that I did my whole car. Someday I will do the rest of hers.

  • avatar
    espressoBMW

    Welcome Matt! Glad to see this information getting out to more people. I’ve been detailing my cars extensively for about the last seven to eight years. Typically using Adam’s Polishes products, a P-C, and recently the Flex. I’ve thought numerous times about going pro in the manner you have but have not yet done it. I feel I don’t have enough free time to take care of my own cars and other’s while still haveing some time left over for other responsibilities/recreation.
    Do you post on the Adam’s Forums?

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Another welcome to Matt!

    I am very interested in learning the proper way to detail my cars. Everything from bringing back an old car with a weathered finish to maintaining a nice finish. Up to now all I did is wash and wax the body.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Thanks Matt, you

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      Sorry for the second “oops” post above. I started typing and it disappeared. Then it appeared as a posting without the edit feature.

      I was originally going to say “Thanks Matt, now I just gotta try claying and it will probably get the wife upset when I spend the complete day detailing!

      Side question for everyone: In the interest of time constraints, what should you pay for a good detailing job and what should you look for to find a good shop?

      • 0 avatar
        mygeddygoesyaaahhh

        I will go all out on a mid-size or smaller car for $200. $50 and above for interiors depending how bad it is. I can charge a bit lower for better work since I pay no rent for my garage. Plus, my shop is in a rural setting next to more suburban towns on a dead end street so folk don’t mind leaving a car overnight if need be. A full onslaught; wheels, tires, undercarriage, engine, wash, dry, clay, machine compound, machine polish, glaze, two coats of sealant, plus all the little things such as the cowl, tire dressing, etc and interior is at least a 12-14 hour job on, say, an Accord.

  • avatar

    I only buy SILVER cars because silver hides light scratches very well and looks clean even when it’s got a light coat of dirt on it.

    I hand wash my cars Fall, Spring and Summer, but, take them to the car wash in winter immediately after snow storms.

    I use microfiber towels (Walmart $5) and plain old dish soap. To wipe down the interior, I use Armor-all interior spray. I hand wash my wheels and don’t use brushes.

    When my car starts to accumulate too much debris and the paint doesn’t look good anymore, I trade in that car for a new one. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Dish soap will strip the wax off. Not as fast as rubbing alcohol, but it still does the job. Maybe Matt can chime in, but I believe details will wash a car with dish soap to strip the old wax so they have a fresh start with the new stuff. Are you putting on fresh wax or sealant after your seasonal washes?

      If not, I think you should consider an actual car wash soap. It won’t be as cheap as dish soap, but you don’t have to pay a lot either. Wax or paint sealant is a big help keeping your car clean – don’t strip it off when washing.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Once again, I am reminded of why I don’t like to buy used cars. You are just buying somebody’s neglected car. Armor-all?…ugh. I hate that cheap greasy look it leaves. I pay good money for cars that have expensive looking matte plastics and won’t ruin them with crappy, shiny, silicone products like Armor-all.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      Yes, dish soap, especially Dawn I use to strip wax/sealant. Used as a regular soap it will begin to dull the clear coat (let’s remember, you’re washing the clear-coat and not the paint). The best store bought car soap I can think of is Meguiar’s Gold Class since you can find it at Target and AutoZone. Car wash soap has different characteristics than regular soap and actually “glides” dirt off while rehydrating the finish. A really good soap will actually gloss the finish.
      I also agree with the use of Armor All, ACK! If you want better results with real protection grab a bottle of Meguiar’s Interior spray. If you want, buy 303 Aerospace Protectant online, it leaves a great look without being all glossy, more of a “new” look. Works awesome on clean leather too.
      I would hope you haven’t spend too much money trading in a car if the “dull” could’ve been avoided.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    This is cool but the fact that I live on a dirt road keeps me from getting motivated to detail my cars.

  • avatar

    I do hope this enlightening article is the first of a series. The many responses to it indicate a fairly extensive knowledge base, so here’s my question: I’m thinking of trying Swissvax, but even their entry level products are stunningly expensive. Is it that much better than everything else? I can justify the cost for exotics, collector cars and concours vehicles; daily drivers, well, maybe not so much. Thanks for your input, TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      mygeddygoesyaaahhh

      What are you looking at in the Swissvax lineup? I honestly don’t use their products, there are many alternatives more effective at a lower cost. I can’t go blowing money on overpriced items without jacking up my rates.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    One thing to remember (after reading some of the comments that have come in since late yesterday on my phone), some of you still appear to be using the same products for decades, as long as 40-50 years. I’d caution you on that and for a good reason. Today’s new car finishes.

    Yes, the 2 stage clear coat finishes aren’t the same as a good lacquer, lacquer enamel or even acrylic enamel paints due to the top clear coating when it comes to how they weather and the car they require.

    Back in the olden days, rubbing compound was used to buff out the faded, oxidized paints to a “fresh” layer, just mm thick before you wax it to protect it. Eventually, that paint is worn down enough to require a respray and older paints simply didn’t last much beyond a decade before it was unrestorable if they lasted that long, even with good care.

    Today, clear coats are softer and thus tend to scratch easily so it’s been recommended one use products made for clear coat paints since that’s just about what all cars have now. This usually means rubbing compounds and waxes with less abrasive compounds, but will still do the job for heavily oxidized paints without stripping off the top clear coat layer.

    The reason for 2 stage paints these days are several fold. One, it is much easier to match up metallic paints when repairing from an accident. That is, the color layer is sprayed onto the car’s underlying primer and if the metallic flakes are suspended right in comparison to the surrounding factory applied paint, it’ll have the same shading, more or less and the clear coat will help it blend in even more so hopefully you can’t see where the damage was if done right.

    Also, these modern 2 stage paints are water based to reduce environmental hazards and finally, it’s so much easier to get a glassy smooth shine with these new paints than when using straight acrylic enamel for instance and lacquer required one buff it out to produce the nice, deep shine they are known for.

    The side benefit of clear coats is paints today can, with care last easily 15-20 years before they need a respray, or the life of the average car. However, a heavily weathered paint with a pealing clear coat layer will simply look awful as the shiny clear coat layer peals off, the dull base layer is left exposed and thus the metallic flakes can then burn out the pigment until the paint is left white or clear, showing the base primer below. Light colored finishes, such as light metallic blues, silver will loose their pigments quicker than darker colors, but eventually, they all will loose their pigments if left exposed and unprotected to the sun’s rays over time. That is how modern 2 stage paints last as long as they do. They protect the underlying paint layers from the direct affects of the sun and other contaminants.

  • avatar
    mikey

    My daily drivers are an Impala, and a Cobalt Coupe. I also own a V6 Mustang rag. Pretty, run of the mill,boring cars eh? Esthics are huge part of my vehicle world. When I buy a car I HAVE to like its looks. No matter how good looking/expensive your car is,when its dirty,it looks like crap.

    Inside, and out my cars always look thier best. You don’t need to spend big bucks. Though you do need to spend time. I understand,some people don’t have the time. So why not pay a pro?

    Would you pay a 1000k for a suit,and wear it dirty, or wrinkled? Probably not. Same rule would apply if you bought your suit for a 100 bucks.

    IMHO

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Most people don’t wear the same suit daily. If your commute is more than 15 miles each way, then it becomes more like working out in the same suit daily. That’s an uphill battle to keep that suit clean and pressed, and it is the same with cars.

      I agree in principle though – some people are shockingly careless with how dirty they let a car get. It’s the brake dust on the wheels that really gets to me. I swear at least half of all car owners don’t realize what that that mess on their wheels is or that they can do something about it.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        “I agree in principle though – some people are shockingly careless with how dirty they let a car get. It’s the brake dust on the wheels that really gets to me. I swear at least half of all car owners don’t realize what that that mess on their wheels is or that they can do something about it.”

        I fail to see why a dirty car is ‘careless’ any more than having a obsessively clean one is hopelessly bourgeois. Unless the dirt is affecting performance and the car is otherwise well maintained, who cares?

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        The dirt won’t necessarily affect driving performance (unless you can’t see out of the windows), but it does affect the condition of the car over time.

        Brake dust can eventually eat away the clear coat on the wheels. Things like tree sap and pollen will do the same for the clear coat on the paint. Consistent neglect will turn the car into a beater much faster than necessary.

        Not sure if you actually read any of my posts or just latched on to my characterization of certain owners as “careless,” but I’m not advocating twice weekly washes. Just clean the wheels sometime while you can still recognize their original color.

        It’s fine to have a car that doesn’t always look pristine detailed because you actually drive it, but a perpetually filthy car is embarrassing (or should be) and suggests to me a careless, lazy owner. I’ll put it this way – in a tight parking lot, would you rather park next to a filthy car or one that might get washed every 4-6 weeks?

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I have been detailing for years and am a moderator on the largest detail forum – Autopia.org. Any detail questions can be answered on our forum, please feel free to look and lurk or join.

    BTW, Clay Magic owns the patent on clay, their blue clay is very good, Mothers is ok too, I don’t care for Megs at all. There is a new product that will replace clay bars. It’s a towel that does the same thing, Sam Arnold makes one version of it. 3D is coming out with one soon.
    Boutique wax, in other words, anything pricey, you are buying the marketing, that’s all.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Thanks for the info. My wife has a white car and she drove thru some construction site that littered the side with all kinds of black gunk (tar like). I’ve been battling to remove it without screwing up the paint and I’m being to think the “claying” might be the answer. Same goes for the windshield, once again the wife’s car has a very distinct wear pattern where the wipers keep moving across so I’m wondering if clay wouldn’t help clean up the untouched areas.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States