On the first day, God created sunlight and dirt; four days later, He added bugs and birds. Some time after that, the car came along, and the four have been locked in mortal combat ever since. Like a game of Paper, Scissors, Rock, car kills bug; bug kills paint; bird kills bug; bird poops on car, kills paint (occasionally, car kills bird). It is a vicious cycle, and if you've been on a long drive anywhere out of town, you're familiar with the Technicolor insect necropolis on your windshield as a testimony of the damage it can do to your car's shiny side. You can sit there and watch as your Kiss Me Red paint job is relegated to Pinch Me Pink, or you can do something about it.
Well, you've made it past the first paragraph, and that means you want to do something about it. You can start by taking a look at your car; a really close look. See those swirls in the paint and spotted white rings that look like a Dalmatian's backside? The diagnosis: You just threw out a Rock and Nature slammed you with Paper. You're losing the battle with dirt and your car will pay the ultimate price. The pH balance of its paint job must be maintained in order to keep its appearance in top condition; this is something that washing cannot do alone. Waxes, polishes and conditioners are needed to protect your car against the triple-threat enemy, known here as the Axis.
Primarily, the main enemies are acid rain, bird droppings and alkaline-laden water drops (hard water). Thanks to the industrial revolution, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions from powerplants, car exhaust and air pollution from industrial plants have become trapped in rain water and get dumped on your car during a rainstorm. It's called acid rain, which is basically a very diluted form of nitric and sulfuric acids. The sun dries water droplets containing these acids and they are left behind to concentrate on your car's surface. The concentrated acid soon penetrates the clear coat, dissolving the resin and forming a microscopic pit. Left untreated, the pit collects new droplets and the concentrated acid can continue into the basecoat, destroying the pigment and eventually, the whole car.Bird droppings (and yours), on the other hand, contain a byproduct called uric acid. This alkaline, if left non-neutralized, can penetrate the clear-coat and cause damage similar to acid rain.
Alkaline water marks are all too familiar. What amounts to hard water spots are calcium and magnesium salts that deposit on the paint after the water has evaporated. These are white rings of minute crystals that bond to the paint, and we say bond here not in the sense that they enjoy spending time together, but in the you-were-bought-by-your-cellmate-for-a-pack-of-smokes bond. They cannot be re-dissolved by water, and only a conjugal visit by good degreaser can break up that relationship. However, harsh detergents found in some car soaps contain sodium silicate or sodium hydroxide that may etch the surface of the clear coat, leaving white residue or dulling the entire finish, similar to hard water.
Fortunately, there are people out there who genuinely care about the condition of your car, and Chris Schaich and Robert Allen of CR Shine Detailing are two such friends you'd be lucky to have on your side. They keep the fleet clean at the Monster Garage, as well as all the bikes the come out of West Coast Choppers, not to mention Sandra Bullock's Porsche, Kid Rock's chopper and Tyson Bedford's Bentley. With nearly 20 years of combined experience deep in the trenches of the war on dirt, we unleashed the dynamic duo on a freshly washed 2003 Ferrari 360 Spyder so we could learn a thing or two on how to keep our cars looking their best.
Perhaps it was the awe of a Ferrari in our midst, but the car initially looked stunning and as clean as we thought it could be. Robert, the exterior man, took a closer look and turned up his nose after only a few seconds. The car was filthy. He showed us that, by running our hand down the hood, it wasn't perfectly smooth like a baby's bottom, but bumpy and coarse like the skin of a basketball. If we followed his advice, all of our Ferraris could be ER clean. So, get out your Ferrari and follow along.
The Wash Cycle
Wash your car regularly. You shower regularly (or you should), and your car should too. When the car is clean, any unwanted moisture will dry up quickly, but when it's dirty, the moisture accumulates with the dirt and causes corrosion. Use a soap that is intended for a car's paint, not for washing dishes. You don't eat off of your car and you don't drive your plates, so leave the dishwashing soap in the kitchen. Get yourself a bottle of Mother's California Gold Car Wash or Meguiar's NXT Generation Car Wash, as they are both top of the line. Wash your car in the shade and never in direct sunlight. Use a different sponge for your tires (and any exterior rubber) and always start at the top of the car and wash down, so you're not dragging dirt over clean panels; plus, the closer you get to the street, the dirtier the car is. Use a degreaser on tough areas, like oil spots, salt damage, bug splatter, etc. A good one comes from 3D Detailing Products (www.3Dproducts.com).
Wash the rims first (the tires and windows last), and make sure they're dead cold before applying any wheel cleaner. Hot wheels will burn the cleaner right onto the rim and cause discoloration and/or permanent damage. Don't wet down the rims/tires first, as you want to make sure the chemical you're using is strong and not diluted with water. Eagle One has several good products for rim cleaning (like A2Z All Wheel & Tire Cleaner), but read the labels closely to determine if it is right for your wheel.
While the car is still wet, mist the entire thing with some instant detailer such as Meguiars #66 Quik Detailer and chamois the whole thing dry. The instant detailer acts as a wax and gives you a great start toward the final product. Never use a terrycloth towel on your car, unless you love thousands of little scratches caused by dirt trapped in the loop pile. CostCo offers an affordable microfiber towel that works perfectly. At this point, the car doesn't have to be 100% dry, but just make sure you remove most of the water so it doesn't get a chance to bead up. The rest will dry as you move on to the next step.
When the car is mostly dry, apply the tire dressings to the tires and bumpers. Tire Wet is a good product for this, also No Touch. Do this before you wax the car, and spray the dressing onto a rag so all the airborne droplets won't mar your freshly washed car. Avoid any product that contains formaldehyde or any harsh preservatives as they are not good for your tires. Once you are done, take a quick spin down the street and wipe off any water that has been blown from the mirrors, tires or molding.
On the inside
There's nothing a good vacuum can't suck up in a car's interior. Use it on the floor, the pockets, cup holders, everywhere that something can fall into (glove box). For best results, remove anything from the car that's not nailed down, from the floor mats to the coffee coupons in the console. Start with a small brush and get the dust and dirt out of the speaker grills and around the dash joints. When cleaning carpets, always brush carpet in one direction to achieve truly professional results.
Never use a window cleaner that contains ammonia, especially if you have a leather dash. Ammonia blocks the pores of the leather (from overspray) so it can't properly breath (it is cow skin after all), which will fog up your windows and leave streaks. For the windows, Robert suggests cleaning horizontally on the outside and vertically on the inside, so if they do streak, you'll know which side it's on.
The spin cycle
Most waxes on the market today aren't very durable or long lasting. A few years ago, 3M and DuPont did a study and found out most waxes won't last more than a month on a regularly driven car, so take that into consideration when you're feeling frugal when buying your next bottle of wax. If you just use a run-of-mill wax you're not really protecting your vehicle's paint very well, and this is because most waxes actually have small amounts of wax and a lot of petroleum distillates (picture rubbing Vaseline on your car). The petroleum is a byproduct from the processing of the carnauba, palm, and montan waxes. There's no real gain from using it except that it will aide in stripping some grime off the finish, and that's about it.
Cars that have been recently waxed or those that are somewhat new can stand for just the use a good one-step product, like Meguiar's cleaner/sealant/wax. If you wax the car often (every two to three months, let's say) you can just use a good carnauba wax, such as Mothers Pure Carnauba Wax or Zymol, or a quality cleaner wax such as those made by Meguiar's.
If you're really into it, consider laying out the money to get a DA buffer to protect your wrists from the Karate Kid's "wax on, wax off" syndrome. Forget about the cheap ones that will burn through your paint job if under the slightest pressure and check out Meguiar's Dual Action Polisher.
Prepping the paint
Prepping is necessary to get a clean, smooth surface ready to receive sealer/glaze, and a good way to do this is with a clay bar. It also removes mild oxidation, some that you can't even see with the naked eye, as well as swirl marks and very minor scratches. As well, Meguiar's also makes a good prep product, No.7 clear coat compound (followed by the No. 26 for a finer compound), which is inexpensive and does a good job removing small scratches and swirls. Whether it is the clay bar or No. 7, always work in one direction, horizontally down the length of the car.
Sealing the paint
Whenever you use compound to strip away old wax and dirt you must then seal the paint. Waxing alone is not good enough. A sealer/glaze is just what it sounds like. Since the paint is basically exposed to the elements, you'll need to seal the pores. I'd recommend Meguiar's sealer/glaze for this. Apply this just the same as the prep. Use soft towels to remove it after it has hazed over, after no more than 10 minutes.
Wax it up
Now that the paint is sealed and prepped, the next step is to apply the wax, and two thin coats is much better than a single thick coat. The wax will add depth and shine to the paint, and even more durability. Mother's Pure Carnauba Wax has about the most carnauba wax in it than any other product on the market, and after applying it, don't let it sit for more than 10 minutes before removal, as it can be difficult. Apply it with a side-to-side motion instead of a circular motion to prevent swirl marks (regardless of what the label might say). This process will leave an amazing finish and help prevent scratching. To remove the hard-to-reach white residue from moldings and badges, make a detail brush by cutting in half the bristles of a 2.5-inch-wide paint brush, and make sure to tape up the metal collar to prevent accidental scratches.
What you're left with is a clean car, with complete protection from the elements. However, as in life, the concept of clean is fleeting, so keep this issue for future reference and we'll see you again in a couple of months. Happy waxing.
When Earth was being formed about 4.6 billion years ago, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron were the only things floating around in space. These molecules were formed in the Big Bang (if you believe that), and the iron molecules soon started to bond with the oxygen molecules, which prevented the carbon and the nitrogen from reacting with oxygen. If oxygen had combined with these two elements, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides would have been formed, and these are both hazardous gases for human beings. Instead, iron reacted with oxygen and turned into rust. This gave carbon and the nitrogen a chance to react with hydrogen and form methane and ammonia. Subsequently, these two compounds eventually formed DNA, and here we are.
The funny thing about Mother Nature is that she likes things to be the way she created them, and she didn't expect us to build our cars out of iron, the fourth most abundant element on Earth, and a poor choice in hindsight. As mentioned, iron bonds extremely well with oxygen, and that's all well and good if your car is kept in a completely 100% oxygen environment; that's fine, bond away, as the reaction is harmless. However, the air we breathe also contains hydrogen, which bonds with oxygen to form H2O; we call it humidity, but it's really just water vapor swirling around up there.
You see, whether you want them to or not, chemical reactions happen all the time, as each element in the periodic table meets other elements, like a big singles' bar. Sometimes the elements get together and sometimes they don't. When it comes to Mr. Iron and Ms. Oxygen, they always hook up. Because of the baggage Ms. Oxygen carries into the relationship, by way of her three-way with hydrogen, unprotected Mr. Iron will always corrode, or turn into, as we know it, rust.
It's like this: The oxygen and moisture combine with iron to create a hydrated ferric oxide-Fe2O3 x H2O-on the surface of the metal. It's a two-step chemical process. I didn't like chemistry when I was forced to take it, but some of you may, so here it is:
Step One: Two parts Iron (Fe) + Three parts Oxygen (O) = Iron oxide, Fe2O3, which is relatively harmless by itself.
Step Two: Fe2O33 + H2O, water, = hydrated ferric oxide, Fe2O3 x H2O, or rust, which is harmful in every way.Because the ferric oxide that is created is bulky and porous, it allows more oxygen access to the iron below, causing additional rust. If allowed to continue, the oxygen and water will completely convert the remaining iron to ferric oxide or solid rust, which is weak and flaky.How do you stop rust? It's easy. Keep oxygen away from your car. No oxygen, no chemical reaction, no rust, no problem. However, since oxygen makes up roughly 21% of the air we breathe, and there's tons of moisture in that air, it's pretty much impossible. The alternative is to keep your car sealed, and to keep the paint shell intact and protected by a host of car care products.
A Word About The Car Washing Industry
So you want to take your car to a car wash to ensure that it is spotless? You think when the guy at the end of the line twirls his towel in the air with his hand out for a tip that your car is clean? In fact, the only thing that's been cleaned is your ashtray full of change, as most of the damaging elements are still there; the bright sun glimmering off of your hood makes you think the dirt has been eradicated. Well, it hasn't; a heavy rainstorm will yield similar results.
Believe it or not, it took nearly 50 years from the time Detroit spawned the first automobile in this country to when we had an official car wash: Paul's Auto Wash opened its nozzles in the Motor City in 1948. It was touch-free, meaning nothing actually touched the car but soap and water. Before the Korean War, all car washes were touch-free, but that concept proved to be too expensive for operators to live with, so in the early '60s, they switched to brush-operated washers, and those relied on a heavy dose of friction to clean the vehicle. It was cheap and it took the dirt off of the car, as well as a little paint each time too.
To add insult to injury, the government stepped in and passed the Clean Air Act in 1986, banning the use of lead in paints. This created a dramatic change in the paint and the finish applied on all vehicles, because without the lead, the paint on cars was softer. To help protect the softer paint, a clear coat finish was added, but unfortunately, the brushes easy scrubbed through the clear coat and caused track marks and hazing on the car's finish. No doubt, this created an uproar from the customers, as the popularity of the "soft cloth" car spread around the same time. Soft cloth: A half-dozen minimum-wagers rubbing the dirt into your car with grimy towels, and the results were the same: swirls, hazing and tracks. Finally, the car wash came full circle, and most modern operations use the touch-free method again. How nice.
This was probably more than you wanted to know about the history of the car washing industry in America, but it stands to prove a point: The purpose of washing your car is to protect it, make it look nice and help it last, not to rub off the one thing keeping it from rusting away to a pile of oxidized iron dust.
Mothers spends a great amount of time formulating its products for specific purposes. Mothers cleaning products are not a "one-size-fits-all" line. Each bottle is made for a specific purpose, allowing the detailer to custom design his car's appearance.
My pick: Check out the Mother's Powerball. It attaches to any standard drill and makes short work of big jobs. The Powerball is especially good with Mother's chrome polish and its multi-stage cleaner/polishers. The Mothers "Reflection" line is designed for the more anal enthusiast, while its FX line is more for the "get it done fast" crowd. -L.B.
Curiously, everything from Stoner comes in a pressurized can. Don't let that scare you-the stuff is great and easy to use.
My Pick: Stoner's glass cleaner is great and leaves no residue. It makes cleaning glass super easy. If you've tried to get perfectly clean windows before, you'll know it's not an easy thing. I also like Stoner Spray Wax. It's easy to apply, dries evenly and leaves a good shine. -L.B.
Hands down, Meguiar's has the best smelling product in the business. While that may not be the best reason to buy it, be advised Meguiar's product is some of the best in the biz. That they go the extra step to make it smell nice is a bonus.
My pick: Meguiar's Quik Detailer is a standard in the show-car industry for its ability to give any car an instant $100 shine. Its Gold Class Wash and Wax are also brilliant. Incidentally, Meguiar's also fabricates the best cleaning brushes we've ever seen. Get the Meguiar's wheel brush, great for ridding your rims of brake dust and grime, or the Wide Body Brush, which is, unbelievably, softer than a cotton wash mitt. -L.B.
Eagle One's products are designed for ease of use and maximum results. The company is constantly revising its product line, keeping the technology on the industry's cutting edge, and making your life easier in the process.My pick: Eagle One's Nanowax is amazing stuff, using the company's Nano technology to fill in fine scratches and swirl marks as well as leave a rich, long-lasting shine. Bucket-Free Car Wash is also great, eliminating the need for a bucket and eliminating the process of re-depositing a dirty sponge or mitt into your clean suds. -K.F.
Funny name, but don't laugh... this company has a wide range of products to cover just about every detailing need.My pick: Shining Monkey Fabric Protectant is a good way to shield your interior bits, as preventive maintenance is the best way to keep an interior clean. -R.H.
There's probably no name in car care better known than Armor All. As far as we know, they may well have invented car care for the average auto enthusiast. Enough said.
My pick: You can't go wrong with Armor All's original-formula protectant. It protects from harmful UV rays and can be used on a wide array of materials, including rubber, vinyl and plastic, from tires to interiors. -R.H.
Mr. Wax's line of care products is designed for not only the automotive market, but also for marine and household uses.My pick: If you want to really get down to business, pick up some Show Stopper Plus polish and prepare to break out a little elbow grease. It cleans and shines in one step and is safe for use on your painted surfaces and clear coats alike.
Griot's prides itself on making car care products for the perfectionist. The fact that the company's products come in simple, no-frills packaging is testament to the fact that most of its effort goes into making quality product that does exactly what was intended.
My pick: You'll never know how much garbage is actually embedded in your paint until you use a product like Griot's Paint Cleaning Clay. Use it with Griot's Speed Shine and minimal pressure to literally lift environmental contaminants and oxidation from your painted or clear-coated surfaces. -K.F.