Why Detail?


If you've come this far, you have some desire to do a bit more to your vehicle than a routine wash. You may be wondering if it's worth the time. (I hope you're not still wondering when you're done.)

There are a number of "logical" reasons to keep your car detailed. First of all, a fully detailed car will look better than a car which has been quickly washed once in a while. The details really do make a difference. Of course, this is less true for new, or newer vehicles. But if you plan to keep your car more than a few years, periodic detailing will slow its aging significantly. It isn't very hard to own a 100,000+ mile vehicle that looks "new".

Secondly, a well-detailed car will be easier to keep clean with routine cleaning maintenance. Water runs off more easily and contaminants will be less likely to stick to the surface. Dirt won't get a chance to build up in places like vent and other nooks and crannies.

And, of course, a thorough detailing will make a huge difference in a vehicle that has not been cared for in a while.

But I think the most important aspect of keeping your vehicle clean is emotional: the feeling it gives you...both during the process and in the results.

As you'll see, you won't need to devote every weekend to the task. Simply taking a few extra steps once in a while will make a big difference. Only you can tell if that difference is worth it.

And even if you decide this stuff isn't for you, taking your vehicle for an annual detailing by a professional is a good investment.


Detailing Overview


In my book, a “full” detailing treatment would include the following (and maybe more) pretty much in this order:

  • wash the vehicle (including the wheels, tires and wheel wells)

  • clean/prepare the paint

  • remove (or at least reduce) any scratches

  • apply polish

  • apply wax

  • clean and protect exterior trim and tires

  • treat all rubber weather stripping

  • clean and treat all interior vinyl and plastic including dash, controls and vents

  • clean and protect leather

  • vacuum the interior

  • clean all glass (inside and out)

Of course, you don’t need to perform all of these steps every time. The “Evaluation” (Step 2) and the amount of time you want to devote to the project will help you determine the processes you are going to undertake.



The Main Goal


Most vehicles these days are painted with “two stage” paint. That means that there is a base coat of color under a thin, clear, shiny coat. So one way to think of paint care is:

Get the clear coat as clear as possible, and then protect the shine when it is.

Pretty simple concept, right? And even with single stage paint, the products and techniques are basically the same. Clean the surface, then protect it.

But before you even fill the bucket, you need to decide how much time you are willing to spend working on your car. For example, if you only want to spend an hour on a Saturday morning before you take a drive, then a wash, and maybe a quick interior vacuum is what you’re going to get. If you’re willing to spend an entire day, you’ll probably be able to do a full detail as listed above – at least for a small car. (I try to do this at least once a year on each of my vehicles.)



Getting Started


My first suggestion: start simply, with a basic procedure that works for you. Don’t boggle yourself with all the products and procedures out there. Don’t go out with a shopping list that someone gave you. You actually “need” very few items (I’ll make some suggestions later). After you are comfortable with the basics, you can start experimenting with different products and techniques as time, budget and preference dictates.

Remember: taking care of your car should be fun and rewarding. If it isn’t, get someone else to do it.

This brings us to Paul’s First Theory of Car Care. After using so many products over the years, here’s the main thing that I’ve discovered:

Your technique is more important than the products you use!

I’ve found that this is actually a controversial statement. Many people swear by this car wash or that one. Wax A or wax B. On and on. But what I’ve found is that if you properly use products from major suppliers, and use high quality tools (applicators, towels, etc.), results don’t vary much…at least not to my eyes. Yes, some waxes may might make dark colors look a bit better; some may last a bit longer under certain conditions; some car wash soap may produce more suds. You might find that one polish is easier to apply or remove than another. But those are small changes that you can experiment with after you’ve honed your technique and acquired the right tools.

There are literally hundreds of products for the following steps. Not only that, but there are products that combine several steps (like a cleaner/wax). I can’t really tell you which products to use. As stated in the introduction, while I choose to use mostly products from Meguiar's, there are many other great products out there.

I’ll try to explain the steps the best I can and let you know which products I use and why. Once again, I suggest you start simply and fine-tune your technique to your preference or specific need.

Remember: Always read and follow the instructions on a products container.

And it goes without saying:

Remove jewelry, watches, long-sleeve shirts with buttons on the cuffs
and make sure your belt buckle is covered!

One more note about products: the ones I use and recommend are my personal preferences. There are many great products out there, and there may indeed be better choices than mine. No endorsements are implied.