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JimR
Instructor

How detailed are you about detailing?

On a recent weekend morning,  as is my habit, I was watching a favorite car show when it broke into one of those lengthy commercials with the host and a representative of a major brand of detailing supplies. Which brand isn’t important but if you watch these shows you can probably make a good guess.
Together with the host asking key questions, they discussed the plastic bag method of checking glass for otherwise invisible contaminants, using enough micro-fiber towels (that are also sold by this brand) folded like an origami project and in enough numbers to bathe a muddy elephant...all just to polish a few square inches of hood! Of course this was done using two or three different compounds, polishes and cleaners, each with its own proprietary blend of magic sauce and fairy dust to make the car literally glow under studio lights and sunshine.
Now I’m proud of my cars.  And two or three times a year I enjoy showing them off at local car shows...usually fundraisers for a cause or organization I support. To prep for a show I wash the car with a pail and wash mit, and do a little extra detail under the hood and interior. I’ve even been known to use. :gasp:  an old bath towel to dry wheels, and the same glass cleaner my wife uses on the patio windows.
Now the flyers for my shows have no words like “d’legance” or “concour” in them. More likely are phrases like “BBQ” and “swap meet”. Still, I seem to get as much attention and compliments as others. Maybe if I’d started with one of those flawless paint jobs to begin with the special sauces would make more sense? Maybe if I was younger and just had more ambition?
It all just seems like a lot of money, time and effort and I’d much rather spend the time behind the wheel. 
Am I wrong? Let me have it...I can take it. 

24 REPLIES 24
Sajeev
Community Manager

You bring up a lot of good points that make me feel I am somewhere between you and those guys on YouTube that are super clinical in their detailing. After spending five figures to restore multiple cars with very good (probably not concourse quality, but not too far off) paint jobs, I have become much better about cleaning/detailing: 

  • I pay a pro a few hundred dollars to do "paint correction" and get that perfectly deep shine. Once they get it right, I take over forever (or until the body gets scratched again) 
  • I use "waterless" car wash and microfiber towels (that I wash and reuse because I'm cheap), because its so much easier than traditional soaps, far less wasteful, and it leaves a coat of protectant afterwards: just a gallon of water in a bucket and a tablespoon of that magic stuff. 
    • I still have my hose and soap if i get a lot of caked on dirt from driving in construction zones, but that's the only time I use it
  • After washing I use polymer waxes (Duragloss Aquawax) because they are so easy to use, and they seem to last a long time (unless you wash the car, then most of the protection goes away) 
  • The pro already fixed every surface imperfection and I spend less time and make less mess with these new washes/waxes. 
  • I can wash and wax a small car in 30 minutes, maybe more like an hour for a big one with more complicated bodywork. 

Upkeep after the pros to their work is pretty cheap too, the biggest expense might be the wax because I probably use too much. Between my paint job, my paint correction pro and my easy maintenance regiment I suspect my cars look concours quality, but that just be my bias towards me. 😉 

NITRO450EXP
Instructor

Well I have taken wheels off and washed and waxed inside of the rim. So pretty detailed.

Nitro

JimR
Instructor

Full disclosure...I do usually pull the wheels off once in the spring. Wash, dry and the spray on some stuff to shed brake dust. After that I have a brush that I’ll poke thru the wheel gaps that cleans the barrel. Holy hell...maybe those program-length commercials are starting to work! 😳

hyperv6
Engineer

I show a black car on the national level. I did not choose to show a black car as it is just what I bought new and have kept it over 35 years. If I had known I was going to show it the car would have been red. 

 

Some people drink away work stress, I polish! To me detailing a car is Zen like and gives me time to just put my mind in neutral and spend a productive day in the garage. It also is exercise that is good for me to help keep in shape. I find it useless on the a machine walking when I could be pushing a mower or getting something productive done. 

 

Because of this I have honed my craft to a level I can match many pro detailers in quality of work. 

 

I started out like many washing dads car but once I got my own I decided I wanted to present the best I could with what I owned. I learned over time what could and would take me to the next step up. Once I started to show I found that was my unfair advantage. I learned just waxing a car is not enough. 

 

I learned how to use product like polish that I keep in 5 levels of grit to repair and correct paint. I have enhancers that deepen and finish the polish up. Then I have my wax that seals and protects. The same on my buffing pads where they are from mild to aggressive to repair paint. 

 

I also learned to work smarter. I employ now a high quality orbital buffer that is safe to use but also takes things to a level hand just can not easily do. I also employ a blow dryer for my daily cars and no it really does work better than a leaf blower and was worth every penny. I generally do not use water on my show car. 

 

Before a show I will take each and every panel and make sure there is no marks or imperfections It could take me several days on a paint most think is ready. 

 

Does it work. I feel it does as I enjoy doing this and even last year I took a best paint award on a car with mostly original GM factory black paint. 

 

Gotten to where I cleaned off the under coating and I now polish my floor pan under the car. Yes I drove this car daily in the summer and snow in Ohio. As they say about driving a Fiero in snow. Pontiac Builds Excitement. 

 

I generally do well at the Pontiac Nationals at Norwalk Ohio. Out of 600 plus show cars I have gotten the best in show top 5 award twice. Not an easy thing with a Fiero. 

 

As for what I have learned it has helped family members as I will clean cars up for them. I also have kept my daily drivers clean to where they sell fast and at top price. I have shared much of what I learned with my car club members to where we have competed against each other enough that we have taken all our cars to the highest level. When any of us go to a national event we often all come home with awards. 

 

I built my shop to where it is a place that makes detailing easy. Lighting and tools, electric outlets from the ceiling etc. It is my man cave filled with my varied automotive collectibles but it is also a place of work. 

 

The bottom line is Detailing is my golf, my passion and challenge. 

 

My next project is to bring back a 35 year old Fiero GT that we just pulled out of 20 plus years of being buried in a garage. We just got it out and replaced the entire brake system and fuel system. It fired right up and I am pleased to say drives like a new car. Next we will go and fix the inside and out side of the car as it is not in bad shape but has 20 plus years of paint abuse in a garage. This one is read so it should clean up well. I am really looking forward to the challenge and I hope my buddy will place in a show next summer. He was so happy to be on the road again now he has time to play with the car. It was worth the smile just getting it running so next I want to get a photo of him with a trophy. 

 

So detailing is not just a job it is an adventure, challenge and life style to some of us. 

 

The win is not about the trophy it is about the accomplishment. 

 

 

 

spoom
Technician

Well, I wash my motorcycles twice a year whether they need it or not...
hyperv6
Engineer

Wheel cleaning is a must in many cases. 

I run the BBS style gold lace wheels. You have to clean each opening and with gold the brake dust shows. 

Also you can see the calipers and mine are silver aluminum so they need cleaned too.

 

Now with the transaxle in back on a mid engine set up I also use a tooth brush and aluminum cleaner to detail the transaxle. 

While  much of this sounds like a lot of work it really is not if you do this work a couple times a year. 

I have been working from home. So I detailed my trucks frame. It is cleaner than new even after 3 years. I have not washed it with water since March. At the rate I am going my truck will last for years. 

So does that mean the next vehicle can be my C8? Lol! 

Ed_Turbo
Pit Crew

I would say in your case some simple things like using good terry towels, window cleaner for cars and a good car wash soap will go a long way. All depends on how you keep your car- indoors is great, outdoors with a good car cover can help a lot. You don't have to go all out, just use the basics the right way.
NITRO450EXP
Instructor

My current truck had the bed and front clip pulled, and frame was wire brushed and KBS enamel painted.

Living on a dirt road is tough.

I do need to get under the truck and give the frame and suspension a good clean.

Keeping up on it is the key.

I have put 6000 miles on the truck in last 2 years, so need to get after it before it gets to the point of no return.

Unfortunately my well water is really mineral laden and leaves hard water marks.

Maybe time to put it on my friends lift and detail it.

 

Nitro

hyperv6
Engineer

The perception of a well detailed vehicle is also varied from owner to owner. 

 

Some folks are just happy with beading water and some Armor All on the tires. While others strive for a better than new condition. Just depended on what you want and expect as to how well a vehicle is detailed. 

 

The truth is products do make a difference and also in many cases can not only make for a better finish but also an easier job. Work smarter not harder. 

 

People think I work hard on my detailing. To be honest it is not any harder than they do once I got the car where I want it. It takes less work to maintain vs repair or correct. 

JimR
Instructor

Guys, please don’t confuse my comparative laziness with inability or ignorance. I worked my way thru high school and college in a family owned collision shop. I have buffers, D A polishers with three different pads and a couple different types of compounds and filler waxes for everything I might need in a pinch. But I drive my cars, and there are flaws that one gets in the process. Combine them with old single-stage paint and putting in the effort suggested in those commercials just seems like...well not lipstick on a pig, but maybe Botox on an aging supermodel. She’s pretty, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. 

Sajeev
Community Manager

Most definitely.  And yeah, it's tough to get an older single stage paint job to look really, really good.  Perfection is really only available on a car that doesn't get driven to places where people can mess them up, and with many layers of clear coat. 

hyperv6
Engineer

On the other hand I have no trailer and drive to all event even out of state. My car has seen three winters and 3 years as a daily driver. 

I have a Frankenstein paint Job where half the car has 35 year old GM paint and the rest is parts painted at various times by different people. Yet I am competitive at every Pontiac event I attend. These are not the local ice cream place with popular vote awards. I do this just because I want to see if I can do it no different than some folks climbing a mountain. 

Everyone has a level of satisfaction and it is not all the same and that is fine. We should all choose our own level and not judge anyone for more or less. 

The worst  paint I ever had was a very expensive lacquer paint with tons of clear. It sure was nice new but with time and age it cracked like crazy. The car was painted before I bought it and it taught me how the old paints were and difficult they could be. 

On the other hand I save a old Ford and Chevy paint job that were factory to where they looked very good with some work. 

 

fdo
New Driver

I have a 2005 Boxster, stored in the winter. She come out April 1 or soon after and the cleaning starts, wheels come off and power washed inside. I now use ceramic polishes that last longer than your traditional waxes and very happy with the results.  I try my best with the interior but being a convertible, it's tough to maintain a high standard.

iseemtolikered
Pit Crew

My cars are a Hagerty #2 or #3. I can only get the paint to a certain level, and that's after a lot of effort. And of course it rains on the way to a show or cars and coffee. So the super detail only comes every few years.

 

But in response to this column, I like to pay attention to all the things non-paint. Cleaning and treating all the black parts, trim, convertible top, etc can really make red paint pop and give the car a heightened sense of preservation. And, if it isn't terribly complicated, taking things apart (or loosening screws) to clean gaps/joints really defines the boundary between paint and plastic.

Utopia1
Detailer

I put myself through college detailing cars and its something that I've always enjoyed and I find it therapeutic.  I love talking to my neighbours, but they know not to bug me when I'm cleaning my car - it's me time! 

My car has mostly original paint but some has been resprayed over the years.  It's pearl white which is relatively easy to maintain from a swirl-mark perspective.  Generally, it gets one solid day of detailing per year (engine, wheels off, clay, polish, wax) and the rest is just easy maintenance touch-ups.

In the summer, I wash my daily-driven truck by hand once per week or so if the weather is cooperative but in the winter I have no issues using an automated wash for the truck.

AyeSea65
New Driver

It all depends on where you are in life. At first, I detailed on my own for a while then detailed for a Porsche dealer. I was in detail mode for a long time. I would compare it to Forest Gump when he ran and ran and and ran until one day he stopped running and got on with life. So one day I stopped buffing and started driving. I keep the car covered now so I don't have to buff so much 😉

 

Of the things I did some people thought buffing the windshield was weird.  You want the car to slip thru the air with least resistance so make the windows slick too. 

Bob43
New Driver

I like to have my car clean and shine as best as I can. But I'm a driver I believe in driving the cars not just for show get on the road experience the fun of driving so clean as possible but they do get dirty

jluvzcrz
Pit Crew

My cars are older but paid for and I keep them super clean, washing and vacuuming once or twice a week. I constantly get comments about how good they look. However, when it comes to the nitty gritty of really detailing a car I just can't seem to take it on. I am happy to support my local economy and hire a detailer. Case in point, I just gave my 1990 Chevy Z71 4X4 some love, new body mount, new core supports, replaced both front and rear bumpers, cleaned and painted the frame, and wet sanded and then clear coated the tired bed cap. I enjoyed every minute of working on it. You'd think getting the buffer out and going to town would be easy after that... nope I couldn't bring myself to do it. By the way the detailer I hired made it look far better than I ever would have. You have to know your limits.😁

20201003_172259_HDR~3.jpg

 

Sajeev
Community Manager

Wow that Z71 is super clean, I LOVE IT! 

jluvzcrz
Pit Crew

Thank you. It certainly didn't look that good three months ago. I felt badly that I had let it go a little. The driver side has a cab corner that needs attention but that project is for Spring. Time now to make sure it is all working mechanically before the snow flies here in New England. Luckily I like the mechanical stuff!
hyperv6
Engineer

It is a proven fact that a clean car runs better, gets more MPG and make more power than a dirty one. 

 

Well it may not be proven but it sure feels better driving a clean car vs one covered in salt spray. 

 

It is true everything looks better on the web. We all know that just from car shopping. 

Sajeev
Community Manager

In theory a really oxidized paint job would have more aerodynamic drag than a slick, shiny one.  Ya never know...

JimR
Instructor

Yeah but what about the birds that are attracted by shiny things?  😉

hyperv6
Engineer

Birds can’t do their deed as clean cars are faster and harder to hit. 

Even my John Deere cuts the grass better the cleaner it is. Lol!