Exterior Detailing – The Products

The last installment of the Detailing Files focused on getting the exterior paint ready to be polished, by a very thorough washing using Dawn instead of a milder automotive specific detergent.

Now that you have a clean paint surface, mostly wax free (as is evidenced by there being virtually no beading of the water in the final rinse), you can begin the restoration of the finish.

This is typically a four step process (or five if you need to use a medium cut compound).

  1. Clay bar the surface – using detailing clay to remove embedded contaminants from the paint.
  2. Cutting Compound – Assuming that you have some fine surface scratches or marring to remove, a fine (or medium in really bad cases, followed by a fine) will get the surface ready for polishing
  3. Polishing Compound – this removes buffing marks and “swirls” in the finish to leave a smooth, clear surface
  4. Waxing or Sealant – A high quality carnuba wax coat, or a polymer sealant to provide protection to your finish.

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The exterior detail – washing

Geoff's S2000

Before you can begin a proper detailing of a car exterior, you must start with a good wash, and I don’t mean just run it through the wash at the local gas station, or even a “better” wash at a dedicated car wash franchise.

The Two Bucket Wash

The gold standard is something known in the detail world as a two bucket wash. This is pretty important, as it is crucial to clean without just rubbing the dirt particles into your paint and finish.

grit guardA two bucket wash is pretty simple, although, when I started, I heard the phrase, but it didn’t click at first. You need two buckets (I use standard 5 gallon buckets I bought at Home Depot), two “grit guards“, and washing detergent. Also, while you can use a soft terry cloth towel to lather and suds your car, I recommend a washing mitt or pad.

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Stewie gets TLC

stewie

When I originally bought my S2000 (aka ‘Stewie’), in 2008, I became maniacal about keeping it clean and pristine. I learnt how to wash it properly to protect the paint, and keep it as good looking as long as possible.

I also acquired various products, accoutrements and tools to do my own detailing. From a collection of chemicals and the like, to special cloths and buffing pads, I began geeking out in detailing.

While we lived in Tucson, I religiously hand washed it every Saturday, waxed it every 6-8 weeks, and twice a year polished the finish to keep it sparkling. I knew that I couldn’t expect to keep the paint perfect being a daily driver, but I knew I could keep it pretty sharp.

After moving to Chandler, it became more difficult to keep up the washing, but except for a slight slip in the schedule, I kept up the handwashing regime.

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Car Wash Madness

I own a nice car, a 2005 Honda S2000, and about 99% of the time I wash it in my driveway. With the move and the selling of our house, I have neglected it, so prior to it being loaded on a transport truck to get it to my new home, I took it to the local car wash.

Ugh.

It reminded my why I prefer to wash it myself.

  1. They do a terrible job.  The amount of crap they don’t get off is astounding. From the insect droppings, to just whiffing on my hood, I am completely unimpressed.  I would have asked them to run it again if I wasn’t headed out of town, and it wasn’t going to get on a truck.
  2. Even after doing a terrible job, they expect a tip. I know it is a crappy job that pays minimum wage, and I normally don’t mind tipping, but the effort that they put in, in no way justifies a 20% tip. But they expect $3 on a $15 wash.
  3. Even when you tell them no scent, they friggin’ spray it with “new car” scent. Really?  Is it that hard to just not spray anything in there?
  4. Upselling.  I just want a basic interior and exterior wash. I don’t want the extra undercarriage spray. I don’t want the faux spray on polymer sealant. I just hand waxed it a month ago, so I don’t want a mini detail. When I say no, I mean NO. 
  5. 3rd party harassment. I live in Arizona, the king of cracked and dinged windshields. I drive a 9 year old car, with the original windshield, so it has been dinged and repaired many times. Having someone who puts the high pressure sales pitch to replace your windshield, and who argues that the repaired dings need to be repaired again. I think I had to say no four or five times to that asshole.

I will go back to my 3 bucket hand wash, and 2x a year bringing out the polishing tools.

 

@$$hole driving

I often flow with traffic keeping a low key, and cluck-cluck people who do dumb a-hole driving stunts around me. Phoenix (and SE Phoenix) drivers rarely fail to amuse me.

But once in a while, I get an itch, and to scratch it, I need to drive like an a-hole. Honestly, it can be fun, as long as you do it in limited doses, and take care to not be near Johnny Law when you break free. Last night was one of those occasions.  I noticed that my usual path out of work was jammed, so I flipped a bitch, and hightailed it to back streets. Nothing like revving Stewie up, and rowing the gear box. The hard compound street tires (Yokohama S-Drives) have a little give, yet they break free fairly predictably. Make fun for aggressive cornering.

I got my start in aggressive driving tactics a long time ago. After the CX500 got wrecked, my next street bike was a 1979 XL500S. I lost the Titanic-sinking stock muffler, put on a SuperTrapp, and went about terrorizing neighborhoods. That was a fun hooligan bike, and it taught me how to be an a-hole, yet not get caught.

My first 4 wheeled A-hole-ness was in an old RX-7.  I think it was an ’83, or maybe older. It was quick, light, handled well, and had OK brakes. It was a lot of fun to cut in and out of traffic in.

My '05 Honda S-2000. The best car I have ever owned
My ’05 Honda S-2000. The best car I have ever owned

Fast forward to now, and I drive probably the most balanced, reasonably prices sports cars around, a 2005 Honda S-2000. Affectionately known as “Stewies”, it is a blast to drive. Now most of the time, I do my sedate 15 mile round trip to the office at the speed limit. But once in a while, I feel the need to air it out. And the car has the pedigree to do it. Redline at 8K RPM, 6 speed transmission (4th gear at redline is just 100 mph), and the vtec hit at 6K RPM when the valve timing changes is fun.

Of course, I am cautious to never cut loose in front of the po-po. And the great thing about the Stewie is that you don;t have to get to supra legal speed to have fun driving it. Taking a 90 degree corner at 45mph, kissing the apex, and drifting back into the lane is just fun, (but a little reckless)