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Auto Detailing 101

How to Wash and Protect Your Car

Text By , Photography by Meguiar's,

Regular washing is important, but to keep your car looking good, you should detail and wax it regularly. Even if you’ve neglected your car’s finish, making it look almost new isn’t really all that difficult. The car care experts at Meguiar’s sat me down for a quick instructional course that was followed by hands-on detailing to show us how to use their products to bring that new car shine back to our filthy Subaru WRX with impressive results. Using Meguiar’s products including their newest 2012 lineup, we began the process by following their “Five Step Paint Care” process: 1) Wash; 2) Clean/Prep; 3) Polish (optional); 4) Wax/Protect; 5) Maintain. Embarrassingly, we admit the last time our Subaru was detailed was back in 2006 for the SEMA Show. We decided it was time for a makeover. Upon retrieving the car from storage last year to remove the decals off the car, we noticed some severe marks across the doors and hood that required detailing along with an unintentional two-tone color scheme that existed between the doors and fenders. Plain and simple, the paintjob was screwed.

Auto Detailing: What is it?

More than simply washing the exterior of your car with soapy water and a rag, or wiping down the interior with various cleaners and a vacuum job, auto detailing involves a number of procedures that will ultimately give the car a renewed luster with brighter color. The goal of auto detailing is to restore and clean the car to its newest condition possible. The question often becomes: How committed are you toward cleaning your car? Sure, you can take the easy way out and find professional detailers in your neighborhood, but if you enjoy taking the time to make your car look its best, you can get the same results right in your very own driveway. All it takes are the right supplies and your time and attention to the job to get it done right.

What you will need

1. Microfiber towels
2. Plastic/rubber treatment
3. Spray-on detailer
4. Polish/wax
5. Wax applicators and/or orbital polisher

If your car hasn’t been washed or waxed and has been sitting as long as our WRX, you’ll need some additional items, including:
6. Clay bar
7. Compound (pre-wax cleaner)
8. Wax

Step 1: Wash Your Car

Wash and dry the car thoroughly before starting your detail work using the two-bucket method. While there is no approved way to wash a car, there are a number of wrong ways. Properly washing your car will minimize unwanted and unsightly paint swirls. Dark-colored cars, in particular, require utmost care and patience. Use a microfiber or genuine sheepskin mitt along with special automotive wash soap when cleaning. Stay away from dish-washing detergent, which will strip any remaining wax off your car. Quality car washes/shampoos are usually pH controlled, contain gloss enhancers, and some even have small amounts of water-soluble wax for good measure. The two-bucket method involves using two car wash buckets to ensure your car is properly washed. The first bucket is filled with clean water, and the second bucket is filled with car wash shampoo. Soak your mitt into the soapy car wash solution first to wash your car with suds and then soak into the bucket with clear water to rinse the mitt thoroughly. Using two buckets virtually eliminates the risk of transferring dirt back onto your paint and scratching the finish.

When wiping your car be sure to use a microfiber style or genuine sheepskin cloth. Stay away from towels that contain polymer fibers that will scratch the clearcoat surface and leave unsightly swirls. Do not assume that the 100 percent cotton label on the towel is telling the truth. The only way to check is to actually set fire to a rolled-up corner of the towel. If you get a clean flame like a candlewick then it is 100 percent cotton. If you see black smoke and melted fibers, then most likely it uses polymer fibers.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Paint

Meguiar's recommends washing your car at least once a week to help maintain its luster. If your vehicle's paint has been neglected or shows signs of heavy oxidation, similar to our carbon hood, we recommend moving onto the next step, which consists of claying the car.

Step 3: Claying

To check if your car is in need of a clay job, simply run your fingertips over the paint surface of your car. Does it feel rough or sandy? If the answer is yes, your car's paint has contaminants that attached to your car's paint, where it bonds and begins a process of oxidation and needs to be addressed before waxing. Clay bars are used to remove deep ground-in dirt and stains, contaminants such as brake dust, overspray, and rust without damaging the car's finish.

Meguiar's recommends using quick detailing spray as a lubricating agent for the clay versus water.

To begin the process, glide the clay in a straight back-and-forth direction while making sure that you are only using one side of the clay. When the clay glides freely as you rub the surface, this means the clay bar has pulled the contaminants out of the paint. Immediately discard any clay if dropped on the floor as rock or dirt sediments will adhere and scratch your paint surface if reused. Clay bars are also an excellent source on glass to remove heavy road film, bug deposits, and water spots.

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