DETAILING MY CAR > Full Auto Detailing

Full Auto Detailing

Nothing keeps your car looking newer than a full auto detail

Who Doesn’t Want Their Car to Look New

Get your car looking as good as new with a DIY complete auto detail. I’ll start by covering the prep wash, exterior buffing and polishing, waxing and interior shampoo. I will also go over leather cleaning and conditioning. The steps and techniques are the same as a professional detailer would follow – I was one for many years. With practice it can be done by a true car lover. I spent years developing this system and I’m sure your results will be remarkable. It’s how I keep my cars looking new. Here are the tools and supplies you’ll need, with my preferences noted. You can find the items at an auto parts, auto paint supply and home improvement store.

  • Power buffer (Makita)
  • Random action orbital polisher (Porter Cable)
  • Clay bar
  • Tar remover
  • Buffing and polishing compounds (Meguiar’s line of products)
  • Wax (3M Show Car Paste Wax or NuFinish polish)
  • Rubber treatment
  • Five gallon wash bucket
  • Wash mitts
  • Synthetic chamois
  • Car wash soap (don’t use kitchen dish soap – it removes wax and dulls the paint on a car)
  • Soft wheel cleaning brush
  • Tooth brush
  • Microfiber towels
  • Cotton towels
  • Paper towels
  • Sponge
  • Glass Cleaner
  • Simple Green all-purpose cleaner
  • Leather conditioner
  • Foam buffing and polishing pads and foam pads for orbital polishers
  • Velcro backing plates for the power buffer and orbital polisher
  • Can of compressed air
  • Soft paint brush
  • Soft nylon scrub brush

Start Detailing your Car

The job begins with a thorough prep wash. First, all door jambs are cleaned out, wheels and tires are cleaned and wheel wells are rinsed out. Next, hand wash the car from top to bottom including grills and under bumpers – even the chrome exhaust pipe! You can refer to my article on proper car washing tips. The next step is to rub the car with a bar of soft detailing clay. The clay bar safely and non-abrasively removes spots that are stuck on the paint – tree sap specks, road tar and overspray paint. Follow this step by using some tar remover to make sure any road tar that was missed by the clay bar is removed. This leaves the paint smooth and ready for buffing and polishing. To use the clay bar spray glass cleaner on the spots and gently rub it with the detailing clay bar. The glass cleaner makes the surface of the car slippery. The glass cleaner will not affect the car’s paint. If you skip this step you may rub stuck on contaminants back into the finish, which causes scratches.

Move on to the Professional-Style Auto Detailing Steps

Power buffing and polishing a car is done using a variable speed polisher turned to a very slow setting. I favor the Makita brand car buffers. They are lightweight and hold up well. The initial buffing step uses a very mild clear coat compound to remove minor surface scuffs, scratches and dull paint. The next step is to polish the car. When it comes to products I prefer the Meguire’s line. I use Diamond Cut buffing cream and Machine Glaze polish. Polishing is done using a softer grade of foam pad with the clear coat polish. This product is slowly worked into the paint to deepen the shine.

How to Buff and Polish a Car

The techniques involved in operating a power buffer require some patience and practice. Believe me, the results are worth it. First of all, set the buffer on its slowest speed. Attach a foam pad to the Velcro backing plate. The next thing to do is apply some compound or polish to the car. I like to put a couple of tablespoons of it directly onto the foam pad.

Tips from the Pro – That’s Me, Your Favorite Car Fanatic

The exterior portion of an auto detail is a little intense. Hold the buffing pad flat on the car and slowly spread out the product. Don’t use too much – you only need about two tablespoons of product at a time. Keep the pad flat against the car at all times. Hold on tight. Work in an overlapping side to side pattern. I like to work on a 2’ by 2’ section at a time. This helps reduce swirl marks. Go slow and work over the paint gently. Today’s foam pads make the buffing and polishing process much easier than it used to be. Be sure to work safely. Use eye protection, ear plugs, long sleeved shirt, a dust mask and gloves. Also make sure the power cord does not become tangled in the buffer.

Get Some Random Action out of Your Complete Detail

Next, a random action orbital polisher is used to do the final step to remove any swirl marks from the paint. Use the same polish you used in the last step of the polishing process. This step is vital to produce a flawless finish. This prevents swirl marks from showing up on the paint – especially on a sunny day. Don’t make it look like you are a rookie. Finally, the car can be waxed using a long-lasting paste. Always wax one panel at a time – it makes it easier. I prefer using soft microfiber towels to remove the wax. They polish the paint even more. At this point the exterior windows are cleaned and the tires treated with a medium gloss rubber dressing. Your tires will look new. Note: if your car’s paint is in good shape you can skip the first two power buffing steps and go straight to orbital polishing.

The Interior Auto Detail

The first step in detailing the interior is to go through the entire car with a can of compressed air and a soft paint brush. The idea is to blow and brush out all of the nooks and crannies throughout the interior. You want to blow out the air vents, between the seats and center console, around all instruments, seat seams and carpets. Next a preliminary vacuuming is done to remove all lose dirt and dust. Suck it up! Shampooing begins at the top of the car – the headliner. It is gently spot cleaned with a damp sponge and blotted dry to remove any stains. Do not soak the headliner with too much liquid. It will sag and be ruined. Use your sponge on all of the surfaces: simply dunk into the cleaner and get cleaning. One word on the cleaner: try using Simple Green. This product comes in a very concentrated formula. Read the manufacturer’s mixing instructions on the bottle. Work your way down – shampoo the dashboard, seats, console, door panels, carpets, mats and even the trunk. I even trained my crews to scrub the spare tire. Once again, the interior is blown out with compressed air to remove any remaining moisture and shampoo. Be particularly careful not to get moisture or blow air into switches or the clear panels over the gauges. Water can be forced into these areas and leave visible marks behind the gauges and cause failure of electrical components. This goes for the cars’ radio and touch screens too. I have had to buy a few radios in my day. Clean the windows and vacuum one more time.

Clean the Leather

Leather seats are now cleaned and conditioned using silicone-free products. To clean leather lightly spray the seats with water. Next, spray some mild soap on a damp cotton towel and rub the leather. You will need to re-spray the leather with a little water and dry it off with another clean towel. By doing this you are removing the last bit of soap residue. Note; if the seats are really dirty you need to do the first cleaning step with a soft scrub brush – just be sure to scrub very lightly. You don’t want any of the leather dye to come off. It’s always a good idea to clean a small test spot to make sure no color is removed.

Leather Conditioner

Now you can apply your leather conditioner – and make that car smell new! There are a lot of products on the market to treat and condition leather. Pick products without silicone. When it comes to this stuff I prefer Connolly Hide Food. It’s a little hard to find but it’s worth the effort. Using this product will make the leather feel soft and help it last longer. Apply a little leather conditioner to a clean towel and work it into the seat. Let it sit and soak in for a few minutes, then wipe off all the excess. As a word of caution on perforated leather – use very little conditioner so you do not clog up the holes. Next, use your tooth brush to clean out any residue from seams or piping.You know how a fine leather coat feels. It’s the same with the car’s seats. Keeping the leather conditioned will help prevent cracking over time. Who wants beat-up looking leather seats – they are not cheap so lets’ keep them looking new.

Clean Windows Perfectly

Who wants to look through filthy windows? It’s like wearing a pair of dirty eyeglasses. I like to start by misting the windows with glass cleaner. Wait a minute or two for the product to soak in. Take a cotton or paper towel and wet it down with glass cleaner. Rub the glass, leaving it wet. Dry the glass with towels, using side to side overlapping strokes. This way any streaks that are left will be easy to spot from the outside of the vehicle. One last word on glass cleaning – I have found my best results using products that do not contain ammonia (which always seems to leave streaks). Also, some aftermarket window tinting film can be damaged by the ammonia. Read the label on your glass cleaner.

Wrapping up a Full Auto Detail

Give your car a full inspection. Has all the wax been removed? Have the door, hood, trunk and gas cap jambs been wiped clean? Is there any dust and lint left? Have the windows been cleaned to perfection?

Just Say No to Engine Cleaning

One note, I have not mentioned engine cleaning in my auto detailing process. This has become rather risky with today’s cars. There are a huge number of electrical and computer components under the hood. A good many of them do not react well with water. Get the wrong thing wet and the car won’t run. Also, engine cleaning can’t be done in your driveway. The greasy mess will get into the storm drain and pollute our waters. I suggest skipping it. Just keep the hood closed when you are showing off your freshly detailed baby. Regular auto detailing has saved me a ton of money on cars – if it’s clean I can keep it longer. I am a car fanatic to the core.

2 comments on “Full Auto Detailing

  1. Bradley,
    We have a 2006 Kia Optima with leather seats, and the interior side panels are a fake leather. The material on and around the arm rest is getting worn and the fabric under the fake leather is showing through. Is there a good way to treat this?

    • Hi Nick. I don’t have the best news here. From what you have described your faux leather panels are suffering from wear and tear. This happens whether the material has been conditioned or not. It is just friction over time. The only solution is to replace the panels. I am afraid this is not cheap. A lot depends on how old the car is and how much you want to invest in it. In terms of the value of the car, being that it is a 2006 you would expect some wear over that period of time. I wouldn’t think this would seriously decrease the market value of the car. The choice is yours, Bradley.

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