This is a guide that basically describes my process in detailing a car and getting it ready for a show. I use these steps on just about any car I detail. Not every customer wants me to spend 6 hours on their car, so the time it takes varies by car. I’ve been detailing for nearly 8 years now and this guide lays out my process for proper car care. Like most things in life, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but if you are interested in my method, then these are the steps and products that I would suggest.
To get things started, there are a few products I would suggest getting. As long as you are going to admit that you are an Obsessive Compulsive Detailer, then you might as well shop at www.DetailCity.com while you are at it. These prices are subject to change.
Four Star Ultimate Paint Cleanser 9.95
Four Star Ultimate Paint Protection 14.95
Four Star Ultimate Gloss Enhancer 9.95
Four Star Ultimate Spray And Clay Combo 29.95
Meguiar’s Dual Action Cleaner Polish 18.95
Porter Cable 7424 Dual Action Polisher 139.95
The Edge 2000 Foam Pad and Adapter Kit $79.95
Four Star Rubber & Vinyl Protectant 32 Ounce $8.95
Soft Touch Microfiber Towel X 4 4.95 each
Big Blue II Waffle Weave Drying Towel $24.95
Also, if you have leather in your car then you definitely need their leather cleaner and conditioner. I've never used a better of either. Its awesome stuff.
The great thing about that list of products, is that you will have enough to do several cars with it. It may cost you $400 bucks to get it all, but you can turn around and make it all back in a couple days if you choose to hire yourself out to others. If you charged $40 dollars an hour while detailing then the amount of product listed here could earn you several hundred dollars if you choose to detail other people's cars. It is worth it
The list of stuff that you can't get from PAC (or at least, you can get it locally most likely) goes like this:
Prestone Car Wash (its blue. I don’t' know much more about it.)
CD2 Engine Detailing Kit (Kind of harder to find. Check K-Mart for them. PepBoys sometimes has it. I'll go more into this later.)
Prestone Foaming Carpet Cleaner
Meguiar's #40 or #39 (Get the #39 if you can find it. Its stronger.)
Shop towels (Get two rolls at least. You'll need em.)
Detailing brushes (might wanna throw in a couple of your old tooth brushes too)
Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner
Foaming engine degreaser (Gunk makes a good one)
Eagle One A2Z wheel cleaner
Eagle One Wet tire shine (not the gel. get the spray)
Eagle One tire swipes (I didn’t use to be a fan of them. Now I love them. They are the best way to spread the tire shine I've found.)
Turtle Wax Bug and Tar Remover
Off the top of my head I would say that you are looking at about another $60 or $70 dollars for those products. Some you may already have. They average about $4 bucks per product if you shop around. Some are less and some are more. They are, in my opinion, the best of the best.
Ok, here is the process...
This should all be done on a cool surface. There are actually a few separate jobs involved here. You can do them in any order you want. The jobs are:
I would suggest that you start on the inside and work your way out. Do the inside and then the engine and then the exterior. The reason for that is after you get done polishing and waxing the hell out of your car it is nice to be able to sit in the shade looking at the car and know that every inch is spotless. Its a lot of work and doing the exterior is the best way to finish. This is just the gospel of detailing according to Jngrbrdman. You can do or ignore any of this that you want. Its just my advice and its not by any means the only way to do it.
This is the area that is typically the messiest. People just don't know how to keep the insides looking good I guess. And there are just too many corners to cut when doing one. This is written for the purpose of preparing a car for show, so cutting corners is not what I'm going to talk about. There is obviously more to do on an interior than what I'm going to tell you, but you'll just have to see where the holes are and make sure you don't skip them.
First I would take out the seats. If you don't have a power seat then its a piece of cake. Removing the seats is an excellent way to get to all the areas that are frequently missed and painfully obvious. That area right under the seat that you can see when you open the door is the worst. Not many hoses can reach there and its always the messiest spot. Especially if you eat in your car at all. Stuff falls off your lap down the sides of your seat all the time.
After removing the seat you should vacuum the whole carpet. Try and get it all. Vacuum the floor mats before removing them from the car. Shampoo them first and then get them out. The best carpet cleaning solution I have found that you can get off the shelf is the Prestone foaming carpet cleaner. Its the one in the red can. I've tried several and nothing compares to that. Even the design of the can is better. The brush flips down if you need to. Others will flip up. That makes it very awkward when you are brushing. Sometimes the other brands' brushes will flip up while you are trying to brush the carpet and it is just a pain in the arse. Stick with the Prestone. I just saw it at WalMart the other day for $3.77 per can. That's an awesome deal. It can be as much as $5 bucks a can.
Here are some examples of what Prestone is capable of:
Pretty impressive I would say. Not bad for a product that you can pick up on the shelf of any local auto part store or WalMart. There are several ways to get those types of results, but I am a firm fan of the “whatever works” mentality and I really like the results I get from Prestone. Please use whatever method works best for you.
When you remove the floor mats, make sure you don't just set them in the dirt. You don't want to bring a bunch of dirt back into the car when you replace them. Hang them over something or throw them up on the porch. Try not to let them get dirty. They are going to be a little damp from cleaning and they will pick up foot prints and dirt really easily.
As long as the seats are out you might as well clean up the arm rest area. That's another area that gets missed frequently. The seat belt gets in the way and its hard to clean all the way down the sides. With the seats removed it will be much easier. Use Meguiar's #39 or #40 for cleaning. #39 is stronger and a better cleaner than #40 is. #40 is easier to find, however. Use what you can find. If you have a tan interior then you are going to see a much more dramatic difference than if you have a black one. Sometimes it is necessary to break out the brass bristled detailing brush to really get it clean. Don't be afraid to use what you have. WD40 is another last ditch product you can use on some really nasty areas. Just be careful where it gets. You should follow #39 with either #40 or another vinyl protectant. 303 is a good brand for that. I would suggest 4 Star's Vinyl and Rubber Protectant because I have had the best results with it. It doesn't give that greasy gloss that people hate and it doesn't attract dust. I can recommend it with confidence that you will like it.
Getting areas around the shift boot can be a pain. I usually shoot some protectant or #39 on it and then fold a towel a couple times. I fold the towel over the blade of my knife or use a tooth pick to go around the boot and scrape out all the crud. If the car is in too bad of shape then you might want to just undo the bolts and remove it to clean it really well. That's what I'd suggest doing if this is for show. I never said it was going to be a short process. ;)
Clean the gauge cluster with glass cleaner. Don't get protectant on the plastic because it can cause problems. Anytime you are using protectant you should spray the towel first and then wipe it over the surface. that keeps it off the glass and other areas that you don't need to spray. You'll be using a lot of towels for this process. I use those blue shop towels. I've finally gotten to the point that I buy the huge box of towels instead of the rolls. If you can get a good deal on a 12 pack of towels at Costco, then do it. I hate running out.
I do the glass very very last. Maybe its because I hate glass... I should do it first since I hate it so much. By the time I get around to it my hands are all greasy from doing the dash and doors. Sometimes I just skip it. Who pays attention to it anyway, right? Wrong. Judges pay attention to it. You can either use a clean and dry microfiber towel or you can go all out. Stoner's Invisible Glass is the best glass cleaner I've found off the shelf. Don't spray it like you are dusting your table. Just a light mist will actually do just fine. Its a foaming glass cleaner so less is actually quite a bit. You should know how to clean glass so I'll leave the rest up to you.
If you have leather then its important to take care of it. I don't care how new or old your car is. You need to care for your leather. Cleaning and conditioning is very important. I use 4 Star's leather cleaner and conditioner for a couple reasons. One is that it works. I've never used anything better. The second reason is that the conditioner actually smells like leather. Its like you are using a bottle of liquid "Wilson's leather store" or something. Very nice stuff. It nearly eliminates the need to use any air freshener.
I didn't add air freshener to the list for a couple reasons. Some people don't like it. Others don't need it. I love it, personally. I use Ozium's New Car Smell all the time. To me it smells just like new car. Another product I use is Meguiar's odor remover. That stuff really works well. Its in a little orange bottle and you can find it at WalMart for 3 or 4 bucks usually. If you have odors you want to get rid of without tearing out your carpet, then that is the stuff.
Don't forget stuff like the rear view mirror and the headliner. Those are areas that are frequently missed. Although they don't always get very dirty, its amazing what gets up there. Trust me, you don't want me to go into it.
Detailing a brand new car is actually harder than detailing an old beat up one. The main reason is that all you need to do is toss a bucket of water on an old car and its already looking better. Its tough to get a new car to look any better than it starts out looking. That is probably why the engine is my favorite part to detail. You need to do very little to get it looking better. Some of my methods may not agree with yours, but they are just my methods and I take no responsibility for anyone who FUBARs their car using them. Capisce?
I start out by covering my intake. I've got a short ram air intake and the filter is exposed. I just wrap a plastic bag around it and that does the trick. Cover any other exposed filters and/or blow off valves as well. Some will say to cover the alternator and distributor cap and I can't argue with them. You don't want the water to corrode anything important. Tin foil is a useful product when you are covering things. It covers and protects for the purpose of detailing your engine just fine. My solution to covering half the engine in plastic and tin foil is just common caution. I don't spray water in those directions. If they do get a little wet in the process of detailing, well.... I'm fairly sure that they aren't made of sugar and won't melt.
After you have covered everything that needs to be covered I break out the foaming engine degreaser. I'm a big fan of Gunk brand engine degreaser. I like the foaming action. It helps me see where I've got it and where I don't.
I spray the firewall down really well with it. That is the hardest part to reach so I want all the help I can get. Basically all the painted surfaces get sprayed with Gunk. I don't really do much on the top part of the engine since that will be more meticulously detailed by hand. This is just for the harder to reach areas that show up more. Any painted surface will show up if its dirty.
I only use water on the engine two times. Once is to spray off the degreaser. You should let it sit and do its magic for a little bit before you go blasting away with a water hose. I take this time to go get the hose and fill a bucket of soapy water. I've got a towel and a wash mitt especially for engines. I've got one for wheels too. I like to keep things separate. Anyway, when I get back to the engine I'll spray it down with a little more degreaser just to take care of some of the drips that you'll see and then with low pressure I spray it off. I use my thumb to change the pressure of the stream. Sometimes you want to just rinse and sometimes you need a little blast. You aren't putting out a fire here so don't go crazy.
I don't use any attachments on my hose. In fact, I cut off the metal tip of my hose. I don't want to run the risk of dinging the car with anything. I'd wear a total microfiber body suit while detailing if I could find one. I'm out of my mind insane though. Don't follow my example when you see me dressed all in microfiber like I'm working in a laboratory studying highly contagious diseases. lol
I use the wash mitt to wash down all the painted areas that I can find. If the mitt can't get under a hose or something, then I've got some towels that I use. I just use old microfibers that have been retired from my collection. Don't be afraid to cut up your hands on this job. If you can see it, then so can the judges and you might as well try and reach it with the towel. I've been known to do some pretty wild things in order to reach spots on my car. Get creative and I'm sure you can do it. ;)
For the valve cover I use Simple Green and a tooth brush. Its amazing how clean it gets. You shouldn't have to do it that way very often. Be very careful with the simple green too. Its pretty strong stuff and you might want to dilute it just to be safe. This stuff is not good on plastics and I would probably avoid aluminum with it too. Its a really strong cleaner.
I really can't explain much more about engine detailing than that. Just keep using the tools that you have till its clean. If you can reach it then clean it. If you can't reach it then wrap towels around a tooth brush and try to reach it. Products that work well that you may not think about using under the hood are things like Tire Foam, Glass Cleaner, Armor All, and probably a few others that I can't think of.
The CD2 products I said to find are awesome. If you do a search on Google for "CD2 Engine Detailing Kit" then it will take you to a link from the Wax Depot that carries it if you can't find it in a store. K-Mart usually carries it. Anyway, the first part of the kit is a degreaser. Not necessary if you have the Gunk. However, the second product is incredible. Its an engine shine product that I've never seen the likes of before. It adds a non greasy gloss to the hoses and plastics that will blow people away. You could seriously just degrease the engine, spray it off with a hose, spray this detailer on it, and then walk away and people would think you spent hours under the hood. Its really that impressive. It will make your black valve cover or hoses or whatever under your hood just look outstanding. I spray it on and then smooth it out with shop towels. After I'm done with that I'll use 4 Star's Gloss Enhancer (a QD) and wipe down the painted areas. Here are a few examples of what this process can achieve.
I use a little glass cleaner on my intake pipe because its chrome, but that's about it for under the hood. Unless the car is modified, then you can probably just stick to the normal methods. Special cars require special care. You will know when detailing a car that has special needs.
I take special pride in detailing my engine. Because engine detailing is an art that requires every bit of skill and attention to detail that you can muster, I feel that it is the best place to show off what can truely be accomplished. When detailing my engine I have been known to take several parts off the car in order to clean areas better. I don’t know that I would suggest that for details on your client’s cars, but it is a good way of getting everything. I feel confident that when I pop my hood at a show or for someone who is just curious what I have under there, that they will see a well detailed engine bay that I can be pleased to show them.
The underside of the hood usually gets pretty gross. Clean that like you would clean anything else. Use a wash mitt and soapy water. You should actually probably do this before you do the rest of the engine. Integra drivers have it lucky because the hood will prop up at a 90 degree angle from the engine bay. That makes it way easier to clean under. Scrub scrub scrub and then QD when you are done. That will make an impressive hood. Just use your common sense and use the products you have available. I am pretty lucky with my hood. It is white and also clear coated. Sometimes it acts like a mirror for the engine. When my car is in a show I think the reflection under the hood is my favorite part.
If you can really gloss up the areas that are possible to gloss, then you will have an appearance that many people do not get under the hood. I have had much success at car shows with my method of engine detailing. I firmly believe that the deciding factor between my car and another car has been the detail under the hood and the extent I will go to obtain the best look in the engine bay.
This is the tricky part. There is a lot to consider when doing the exterior. This could take an awful long time to do as well. When I started prepping my car last year for shows I spent probably 15 or 20 hours on the whole car. The exterior took the longest because I spent a lot of time scraping wax buildup out of the seams of the car that had been missed before. You will be surprised how much crud is on your car when you break out the toothpicks... I cleaned every painted surface of that car. That included the door jambs and around the hinges. Just think about where there could be paint and then clean it. Like I said, you'll need a lot of towels.
Start by getting the bugs and tar off if you can. I use a bug and tar remover from Turtle Wax. Its in a yellow can. If you can find the version in the yellow can then it is quite effective at removing bugs, sap and road tar. Awesome product.
The order that I wash a car in is like this:
Top to Bottom of Car
Call me a bad person, but I shoot some Gunk up under the wheel well to get started. Obviously if this were a concours show where they inspect with dental mirrors you would remove the wheels and do the suspension, but let's say this show is just at a local park and the prizes aren't really all that flashy. Nobody is probably going to inspect your suspension. They will see the messy wheel wells from a mile away, however, so its good to detail them.
I start by spraying the wheel wells with degreaser and then A2Z on the tires and wheels. A2Z is awesome stuff. I love using it. Its possibly too harsh to use on a weekly basis, but its a killer wheel and tire cleaner anyway. The first time you use it you will be amazed at how much brown crud pours off your tires when you spray them down.
Its best to apply A2Z on cool, dry wheels. So, I suggest you spray the wheel wells, wheels and tires and then go fill a wash bucket while its soaking. I use Prestone car wash because I think the bubbles last a really long time. I'm a huge fan of Meguiar's Gold Class wash too and haven't figured out which one I like better. Use whatever you want.
Go back to the car and hose off the wheel wells, wheels and tires. Don't worry too much about getting the wheel 100% clean because you'll be back with a wheel brush and mitt later.
Rinse the entire car first before washing. I don't know why I do that. It just seems like a good idea. Kind of like priming the surface for washing. It also helps float of some of the dust and that may help prevent swirls. ...or, at least that I what I like to tell myself. ;)
There is a thing called the 'double bucket' method. This is a method where you have two buckets to wash from. One bucket has clean water and the other has soapy water. I really like this method and employ it whenever I can. You wash from the top of the car and go down. Load the mitt with soapy water from one bucket and then after you have washed a section you rinse it in the other bucket before going back for more soapy water. The principle there is that the soapy water will stay clean longer and you won't be washing your car with the same dirt you are trying to remove. Its a very good idea if you have two buckets.
Rinse the car and dry it. Since we are going through a full show car detail, the drying step is a little different. Normally you would dry the whole thing with a waffle weave towel. We are going to clay the car next and the extra water on the surface will serve as a lubricant for the clay.
Claying the car is easy. You don't need an awful lot of pressure to do it. Just glide the clay over the car in the same direction that the wind blows over the car when you drive. The water on the surface will help, but use the clay lubricant when necessary. If it grabs too much then it needs some lube. Do it slowly and one section at a time. Fold the clay often and if you drop a piece then throw it away. It is possible to do a lot of damage with clay if there are abrasive particles in it. Even the smallest rock or piece of grit can cause problems. Better to be safe than sorry. A 200 gram bar of clay will cut up in to 6 or 8 pieces really easily. You don't need much to do a complete job.
You will feel the difference right away after you clay. The surface will be smooth as glass. I love the feeling of a freshly clayed car. At this point you might want to wash it again because there will be drips from the clay. Don't worry about cleaning that up as you go. Just save it for the end and you can wash your car again. Since our next step is step one of the polishing process, we don't have to worry about that.
Swirls come in many degrees and a lot of it depends on the color of the car. It may take longer or shorter to deal with them depending on a lot of factors. I like to start with DACP (Meguiar's #83) and do that first. From my experience I have learned that not many cars come to me with just a few swirls. Obviously if its a brand new car then I wouldn't do that, but I might. ;) DACP is pretty darn effective. If the swirls are really bad then you might need to step it up a notch. The order of abrasives on the Meguiar's scale is like this:
#85 Diamond Cut = 10
#84 Compound Power Cleaner = 9
#4 Heavy-cut Cleaner = 8
#1 Medium-cut Cleaner = 7
#83 DACP = 6
#2 Fine-cut Cleaner = 5
#80 Speed Glaze = 4
#82 Swirl Free Polish = 3
#9 Swirl Remover 2.0 = 3
#3 Machine Glaze = 1
They don't list anything at the 2 rating that I know of.
Choose the product that is appropriate for your application.
Swirls need a machine to be removed. I know there are a few super men out there who can do it all by hand, but that isn't most of us. If you want to spend 30 hours polishing your hood by hand to equal 10 minutes with a Porter Cable 7424 then be my guest. Take my advice and get the PC. You'll be glad that you did. Meguiar's also has a good variety of pads to use. I stick to the red pad while polishing. Maybe I'm using a cannon to kill a mosquito, but it works and I haven't seen any adverse results from it.
These results were obtained using a Porter Cable 7424 and Meguiar’s DACP. It is possible to get incredible results from a machine like this and the proper techniques.
Polishing is a process and it may take a couple hours to get the results you are looking for. I would do this in a garage with a good light overhead. I've got a tripod with two 500 watt halogen lamps that I use. Depending on the angle that I'm at I can see just about every imperfection in my paint. ...Both of them. ;) It may not ever be perfect without touch up paint or wetsanding, but let's say that you can get it good enough for the show you are entering. After you are done polishing you need to protectant it.
For a good protectant on your paint I would suggest using a sealant. 4 Star's Ultimate Paint Protection is my current favorite. 3 coats of that and you'll have people walking into trees because they can't keep their eyes off your car. UPP works best if you use the pre-cleaner product first. Klasse AIO is also a good product to use. Since you just spent a couple hours polishing I would say that the surface is pretty clean and doesn't need much more help. Those products are good bases for the UPP to bond to and are recommended for best results.
UPP can be applied by hand or with a Porter Cable. It spreads really easy. Apply it to the whole car and buff it off all at once. The thinner you apply it makes buffing it off easier. Try and get it to spread around as much as possible.
You should buff off all these products with microfiber towels. If you fold it twice you have plenty of clean surfaces in one towel that you can use. Use one towel for buffing off polishes and one for sealants and one for waxes. I always have another towel under my left hand just so I'm not touching the car with my bare hands. You can wash the towels like normal when they get dirty. Just don't use any dryer sheets when you dry them. That leaves some kind of coating on the fibers that cause it to streak.
UPP should have about a day to cure between coats. The best I've ever seen it at starts at 3 layers. I just add a new layer every weekend before a show. If I want to really impress the judges then I start the process a week before the show and add a new layer of UPP on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Saturday morning I put on a coat of S100 carnauba wax. You can get that at any Harley Davidson shop. You don't really need to top UPP with a wax, but I love the effect that UPP has. Dust doesn't stick to it and that is a good thing. It looks great too. Basically you can look at the process like this, (and you can quote me if you want) "Polish to correct. Seal to protect. Wax to perfect." That's an easy way of keeping the steps and their purposes straight in your mind.
The wheels need to be cleaned at some point. Fill a bucket with soapy water and get the hose nearby. I have a wheel brush for this and I would suggest you get one too. You can get by with just a wash mitt though. Wash the wheel like you would wash anything else. You may even want to consider removing it from the car so you can wash the inside and get all the brake dust off. If you have wide spaced spokes on the wheel then that area is noticeable and you will want it cleaned. It also gives you the opportunity to clean the brake calipers and other suspension parts that are visible.
Dress the tire with Eagle One Wet tire shine. Spray it on the tire and then spread it with the tire swipe. It spreads a lot so don't use too much. I would save this step for when you actually get to the show. If you use too much then it flips off the tire and onto your car. You'll have to use a quick detailer (also commonly called a ‘QD’) on the car when you get there anyway, so its your choice.
Since some of the tire shine will get on the wheel I save the wheel for last. I use a QD and spray the wheel and wipe it off. This is the final step to cleaning the wheel so make sure you get it all. This is also the step you'll want to remember when you get to the show. Sometimes water gets trapped in the center cap or around the lip and can make drip marks. Get those as soon as you get there.
QD the whole car when you get to the show. It will help. Make sure dust and dirt didn't get up into the engine bay too. You might want to give it another shot of the engine detailing spray. The products you'll want to have with you at the show are as follows:
That should keep your car looking good throughout the show. Try to keep people away from your car if you can. I have a sign I put up that says "Unless you are naked then I don't want to see you leaning on my car. Zippers and snaps can scratch." and another one that says "I kill every 4th person who touches my car and the 3rd just left." I'm pretty fanatical about it.
I have a business card stand on the edge of my engine bay for anyone who wants to take a card. I work the rest of the show handing out my cards to anyone else who I deem has a dirty car. lol I won't compete in a show where I have detailed another car. Sometimes I've got 2 or 3 guys in the same show. If I am doing a show car detail then I generally charge between $300 and $500 dollars for the job. That includes going to the show with them and maintaining the appearance until judging. That can be tricky if I've got more than one car competing, but its great exposure. I've even had a couple winners. :)
Obviously I've missed some things, but I think you can fill in the blanks. This is written with the expectation that the reader has at least a basic knowledge of detailing and can remember to do what I forgot to tell you. I think I have covered the use of the products in the list fairly well and if you have any questions then let me know and I'll see if I can answer them. Happy Detailing!