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Car Washing is more than likely something that everyone understands is necessary upkeep with any vehicle. However, even in this area I've found my customers, through no fault of their own, are still very uninformed. I completely understand why they're uninformed as this is another area where the detailing forums, industry, products, and tools can be very confusing.
We will start with washing itself:
Car washing is a relatively simple task. However, here are some things to avoid: Do not use dish soaps! I am not going to explain, just trust me, that is a terrible idea. Go to the nearest auto store or big box store and buy some dedicated car soap/shampoo. Which specific brand you buy, in this area, is not very important. Some products are only cleaners, some are "wash & wax," and there are more options still. Don't get caught up on which one to buy, just choose one. Many detailing forums will talk about something called the "2 (or even 3) bucket wash method." What they mean by this, is during the washing process, the detailer will use one bucket for the soapy water, and another bucket for only clean water. After they have used the wash mitt or sponge on the vehicle, they will ring it out (or use a Grit Guard) using the "clean" water bucket in order to get all the dirt out of the wash mitt or sponge before using it again on the vehicle paint. This is all in an effort to avoid scratching or adding swirl marks to the paint. If you would like to use this strategy... go for it!
Car washing is meant to remove the surface dirt from the paint. It is very important to understand this because if your vehicle is a daily driver, you will have road grime, tar, bugs, industrial fallout and more on your vehicle paint that will probably not come off through simple washing! In the detailing process, washing is only the first step.
There are products on the market called "waterless wash products," which simply means that they will effectively "wash" your vehicle paint without using water. They come in many different configurations, and are simply sprayed onto the paint, and then wiped away with a microfiber towel. This is also a very effective way to accomplish washing a vehicle while saving time.
Whether it is a brand new car, or a vehicle that has been driven for years, all automobiles collect pollutants onto the paint. These pollutants are also called "industrial fallout" and "rail dust." Simply put, they are pollutants that are in the air (minerals, dust particles, etc...) that overtime collect on the paint, and most of the time cannot be seen with the naked eye. If not dealt with, these pollutants will cause something called "clear coat failure." They actually eat into the clear coat and destroy it, below is a picture of what I'm talking about:
Though this is an extreme case, you can see that the clear coat actually flakes off, and the underlying paint begins to get discolored, and faded. There is no fixing this, it is at the point of no return. To avoid clear coat failure, preventative care such as Clay Barring your vehicle is extremely important.
The process of clay barring is fairly simple. A detailer like myself simply runs the clay bar (with some added lubricant) across the vehicle paint in order to pull up all of those contaminants that are embedded in it. When you're "claying" the vehicle it sounds as if you are sanding the paint, but of course that is definitely not the case. The sound you hear while clay barring comes from the clay rubbing against the paint and pulling up those pollutants. As the clay bar works, the sound will die out, leaving behind the smoothest paint you have ever felt. I''m serious, you have never felt paint so silky smooth, until you've touched freshly clay barred paint.
Though all vehicles need to be clay barred, not all vehicles have to be clay barred before you wax. In other words, it's still possible to wax a vehicle before it's clay barred. However, many vehicles have so much contamination on their paint that they physically cannot have wax applied before they are clayed due to the paint's condition. It would be like trying to apply and remove wax from a piece of sandpaper... impossible. All cars will be easier to wax, and ultimately look better if they are preceded with a clay bar. However, if a vehicle is kept in a garage or showroom and rarely driven, it's not always physically necessary. On the flip side, if a vehicle is kept outside or is a daily driver, then a clay bar is absolutely necessary. It is also important to note that it is not necessary to clay your car too often. Most experts would say about every 3 months for best results.
I wish there was a quick fix for this, but unfortunately there isn't. Of course, over the years I have learned some extremely effective strategies that allow me to deliver superior results. At the end of the day, this is an area that takes a lot of patience, experience, the right products, and self discipline. I don't want to talk about the process of bug removal as much as I would like to talk about the nature of the beast itself. This is another topic where, through no fault of their own, many customers seem to be uninformed.
Most daily drivers do not take the time to properly keep up with their vehicles in the first place (this doesn't mean they don't care or they're lazy. Many folks just don't have the time with their hectic schedules), which means that not only does normal dirt and dust collect, but bugs are also allowed to sit on the vehicles paint. This can be problematic because not only do bugs splatter on all areas of your vehicle all the time, but if left to sit, "bug guts" will actually etch into the clear coat and even the glass. In other words, the acidity of bug splatter can eat into your vehicle's clear coat if left for even a short amount of time. I say this because as a detailer, I can remove every single bug on a vehicle's surface. However, even in doing that, if bugs were allowed to sit for a long period of time, there may be "outlining," "staining," and "etching" in the clear coat left over even after the bugs are removed. Bird droppings will have the same effect. Sometimes it even looks like the bug is still there, but it's simply the etching done to the clear coat. Bug splatter will do the same thing to glass (i.e. the windshield). The windshield may be very clean and detailed, but when you look closely there are small dots in certain areas from the bugs that were allowed to eat into it.
Side Note: A product I use to remove obnoxious bugs and make removal easier without damaging your paint. Pinnacle Safe Scrub Bug & Tar Remover
Below is a picture of what I am talking about:
Road grime and tar is very different from regular surface dirt which can simply be washed off. Much like bugs, road tar sticks to the vehicle paint with incredible strength, and requires some heavier duty products to remove. This is yet another area where your average low budget or inexperienced detailer may fail to produce satisfactory results. Road grime and tar usually will appear on any fender, door panel, and bumper that sits directly behind a wheel. Below is a a picture:
With the right products, patience and self discipline, road tar can be removed fairly easily. It is important to know that if tar is left to sit for extended periods of time, when it is removed there may be a shaded stain left over. This is especially problematic with light colored cars. I use a product called Rapid Remover. It's not available in stores, and is fairly expensive, however, I have found that it is one of my most effective products as it can be used on so many different things. Plus, and most importantly, it allows me to produce superior results.
In my experience, wheels are one of the most neglected areas of the vehicles exterior. The main problem here is brake dust. Brake dust is a corrosive substance, meaning if it's left to sit for long period's of time, it will begin to eat through the clear coated wheel, and into the metal itself. A large build up of brake dust normally means that some of it has become permanent.
This is one of the main areas where I talk with my clients. If I notice a large build-up of brake dust I tell them all the same thing. For example; "I can detail out these wheels, but because they've not been cleaned in a long time (if ever), and I like to be as thorough as possible, I always detail out the inside barrel of the rim, it will raise the price because it will take extra time to bring these wheels back to like-new condition." I also inform them about the nature of brake dust itself in saying something like this: "Because there is such a large amount of brake dust on these wheels, I will not be able to tell if some of it has become permanent until I start cleaning. If some of it has permanently etched into the rim, it may look a little splotchy like a Dalmatian inside the barrel, so you may just want me to detail the face of the wheel in order to leave the inside one solid color (black)." I've had clients who have gottn upset because I detailed the inside barrel out completely, and some of the brake dust had become permanent, and the cleaned barrel of the wheel actually appeared dirty! They would have preferred to keep it dirty because it sometimes looks "cleaner" as one solid color.
Here are some pictures of wheels with excessive amounts of brake dust:
This is not a complicated subject, and it should not be over-thought. The only real issue with tires that I've found customers sometimes don't understand, is the time it takes to detail them correctly. Low budget detailers will slap some overly shiny tire dressing on the wheels, get over-spray on the paint, and move on. At Revive Auto Detailing that is just not acceptable. In order to properly detail tires they must be degreased before ANY tire dressing is applied. Tires build up more road grime than any other part of the car, and for that reason are more difficult to clean. Excessively dirty tires will cause the detailing price to raise if the customer is looking for 100%.
It is also important to note that all tires have a shelf life, they will not last forever, or "look new" forever. Tires go through more wear and tear than arguably any other part of the vehicle, and it does not matter if they are cleaned and dressed once a week. Eventually they will degrade, look worn, and need to be replaced. How a tire looks after it has been dressed is dependent on the tire itself. If you give an artist a canvas that is torn and dirty, it doesn't matter how skilled the artist is, the painting will not look its best. It's the same with tires, in that the less they are maintained, the more difficult it will be to clean to 100%. I have dressed tires that have been cleaned extensively, but are just very old, and though they look dramatically better, and to the uncritical eye may even look perfect, they were not. Does that mean a better detail could do a better job? Not at all, it means that eventually things must be replaced.
Tire dressings come in two main configurations:
Silicone based Vs. Water based. Silicon based dressings, as a rule, will be shinier, however shinier does not mean better. I do not use silicone based dressings on tires for several reasons:
#1) Silicone based dressings will be extremely difficult to clean off. By nature they are water resistant, and therefore do not come off easily.
#2) They sling on the car paint more than any water based dressing ever will. There is nothing worse than a freshly detailed car getting dressing slung all over the paint.
#3) They cause dirt & debris to stick a lot more than it would if the dressing was not on the tire, and nobody wants that.
I use a water based dressing because:
#1) It does not sling onto the paint surface. Therefore, you didn't wast your time (if done yourself) or your money after having your vehicle detailed.
#2) It's shiny, but not overly shiny. Through the years I've learned that for the most part in the auto detailing world - More shine means the detailer has less experience because he is trying to overcompensate for a job he is not doing very well.
#3) They are easy to clean off! I personally use a water based dressing not only on my own vehicles, but all of my customers (unless they request otherwise) every day. I simply clean it off and reapply it quickly and easily, and it looks great every time!
Here are some tires that have excessive road grime to help you visualize exactly what I am talking about: