DETAILING MY CAR > My Secret Method of Exterior Auto Detail

My Secret Method of Exterior Auto Detail

Brad's car pics 027Exterior Auto Detailing

Exterior auto detailing is an involved process that creates a beautiful finish on a car. The techniques include hand washing, power buffing, and polishing and hand waxing. The goal is to make a car’s paint look like a flawless mirror.

Exterior auto detailing is often best performed by a professional but can be done at home with the correct equipment, products, supplies and some careful practice. I know you can do it. I will tell you all my exterior auto detailing steps. My goal is to share auto detailing tips that will help you make your car shine. Have no fear! These are the same steps I have trained dozens of former employees to do. By following my method your car will look fantastic. And as we all know, clean cars even run better.

Steps to Detailing a Car Exterior

Here’s how we detailers and OCD car nuts do it. At least these are my methods … and you know your favorite detailer wouldn’t steer you wrong!

This job begins with a through prep wash. Yes, it’s time to get wet and soapy. First, all door jambs are cleaned out, wheels and tires are cleaned, and wheel wells are blasted out with water. Even wash off those chrome exhaust tips – that just looks cool! Next, we hand wash the car from top to bottom including grills and under bumpers. Exterior detailing should be done in the shade. A more detailed description of prepping your car can be found in my post on how to wash your car at home.

Exterior Auto Detailing Tips – My Secret Method

Once the car is washed and dried, the next step is to rub the car out with a bar of soft detail clay. Keep the car wet. Spray a little glass cleaner on the paint. Don’t worry – it acts as lubrication for the clay bar. The clay bar safely and non-abrasively removes surface contamination from the paint – these are things like overspray paint, tree sap and road tar. This leaves the paint smooth and ready for the buffing and polishing steps. A more detailed description and explanation of how to use a clay bar is included in my post on full auto detailing. Clay bars are available from most auto parts stores in the wax isle. My favorite brand is Meguiars.

Power Buffing and Polishing Steps

Power buffing and polishing is done using a variable speed polisher turned down to its slowest setting. I prefer the Makita brand of buffers. Hold the polishing pad flat on the paint and work one section of the car at a time. Apply about a tablespoon of product directly onto the buffing pad. You want to polish in a side-to-side motion and overlap each pass. Keep moving the buffer from side to side until the product has been worked into the paint. If you still see surface scuffs or dull paint, repeat this step.

It is very important to keep moving the buffer over the paint at all times. Should you stop and hold the buffer over a single spot, you could burn off the paint. Let’s not head to the body shop because you just buffed off the paint. Special foam polishing pads are used to gently work over the paint. These pads are available at an automotive paint store. A word of caution: Wear eye protection, a dust mask, ear protection, gloves and appropriate clothing. Also, don’t get the cord tangled up in the buffer. It can pull it right out of your hand. Heck, when I first made this mistake, the buffer hit me in the ribs. I even saw one guy get the cord tangled and the buffer swung up and hit him on the chin – ouch! Be safe.

The initial buffing step uses a very mild, clear-coat compound to remove minor surface scuffs, scratches and dull paint. The second polishing step uses a much finer-grade product – available at auto paint stores or your local auto parts outlet. My favorite brand is Meguiars. I like to start with their Diamond Cut clear coat compound followed up with Machine Glaze.

So What is This Paint Made Of?

Today’s cars are painted in layers using acrylic urethane – essentially a coat of plastic. The first coat is primer. This is covered over with colored paint. Multiple coats can be applied. The final step is to spray on a few coats of clear paint. This method is called base coat/clear coat. This produces a dramatic shine that is very durable.

The next step is to polish the car. Polishing is done using a softer grade of foam pad and a clear coat polish. This product is slowly worked into the paint to deepen the shine.

Get Some Random Action

Next, a random action orbital polisher is used to do the final step to remove any swirl marks from the first two power buffing steps. Use the second, milder product you used in the polishing step. These polishers come in many sizes and shapes. Keep in mind that this step is vital to produce a flawless finish. Skipping this step will result in swirl marks that are visible in the sun. That’s a no-no!

Put on a Coat of Wax

Finally the car can be waxed using a long-lasting paste. These steps are the same ones we used in my auto detailing shop to professionally detail a vehicle. I have never met a car that didn’t look better with a wax job. It is like a jacket for your car. Exterior auto detailing is like scrubbing our hides and then slathering on the moisturizing cream. We just look fresh.

At this point the exterior windows are cleaned and the wheels and tires are inspected for missed dirt and old brake dust. The tires are treated with a medium-gloss rubber dressing. This makes them look black and new.

The door, hood and trunk jambs are now wiped clean to remove any dust and polish. At this point the wax is removed using non-marking, soft microfiber towels. One word of advice is to wax and remove it one panel at a time. It’s just easier this way. Microfiber towels remove the wax without rubbing in any surface marks and help to produce an even deeper finish. Microfiber towels can be found at most auto parts outlets. Even stores like Costco – and who doesn’t want a discount.

Be Safe While Working

I just want to reiterate the importance of safety as mentioned above. You should wear eye protection, ear plugs and a dust mask. As I mentioned before, make sure the electrical cord is positioned so it will not get tangled up in the buffing wheel. It is also good to wear a long-sleeved shirt and rubber gloves to protect yourself from buffing residue.

So, we have covered all of the steps in doing an exterior auto detail on your vehicle’s paint job. We have gone over the preparations, tools, supplies and products to do the job. We have also discussed the basic techniques for using power polishers and doing the final waxing and wipe down procedure.

I like to do this job on my cars twice a year because I am a complete car nut. In most cases your car will still look great doing it once a year – provided you also do a hand wax job or two during the year. So come on, grab your stuff and jump in. Your car will shine like new and all of your friends will be insanely envious. When you’re done, don’t forget to grab your sunglasses – that’s how bright the car will shine!

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