Ok, I was asked if I would contribute to the community by putting in some tips and tricks and just overall what detaling is about. Of course I am happy to try to help people out with what I know.
While I am not a professional... one whom considers himself so is many times one who refuses to accept or even attempt other methods of doing things. In detail work, there are few hard and fast rules... other things are simply how you choose to do them.
Firstly, I have written the other sticky about washing, drying, how to do things my way, and that way does seem to work well for me, but others do things differently. This section will be more about the overall way to detail based on the way I have learned it. There are MANY great detailers out there however that could completely teach me all over again though.
So what are those rules? The basic rules that I have seen include some of the following.. you will make more or your own as you go along.
Price means NOTHING! Some of the most expensive products out there don't work any better than your off the shelf autozone or walmart product.
Paint will burn! Actually the paint burning thing comes from using rotary polishers which are for more advanced detailers... and some don't like them at all such as myself. Many times it's not the paint getting so hot it "burns" it's more that it's been cut through by the polish.
WAXES will go over sealants, sealants will NOT go over waxes.
WATCH FOR EDGES!! The edges of any body panel is where the paint will be the most thin, do what you need to do to get the finish where you want it and then get away from it, keeping your pad as flat as possible will help you out a lot with this issue!
ALWAYS KEEP YOUR BUFFER MOVING!
FORGET ABOUT MOST RULES! That's right... like any other hobby or profession, new trends come out all the time. Ever go to your local autoparts store and just think.. "i'd like to try that wax" or "I wonder if that carwash works better than mine"? Bottles are made to look attractive so you'll buy them lol, most of them aren't worth the plastic it cost to make their container.
Anyway here we go.
1. What is detailing? It's pretty self explanatory, but for me it means... if you can see it, it needs to be clean. Detailing goes far, far beyond simple washing and waxing. For some of us it's a hobby, for some of us, it's a job, perhaps it's both or maybe even an obsession.
2. Ok, i've got my car all washed and dried and I want to give this a shot, how do I go about it?
Detailing work and products are like anything else... do you like Xbox or Playstation? Do you like Grey Goose or Smirnoff? Most will argue about which is better, others simply want what gets the job done. Through asking and trail and error we find out what works for us.
Let's go through a list of your basic steps of detailing a car.
A. Washing (wheel wells, tires and wheels after presoak all first is ideal)
B. Drying and/or claying (before or after is your choice)
D. Polishing (1,2 or even 3 steps all depend on paint condition and you)
E. Thorough inspection with some sort of appropriate lighting
F. Applying (LSP) last step product. (IPA wipedown will depend on preference or if you are applying a permenant coating)
3. Claying and types of clay: Megs or Clay Magic? Griots? which one is best? Well the answer is that all of them are correct, it only depends on your application. Do you have a lot of imbedded particles? Live in an area known for bad acid rain, smog, etc? Then a Clay magic or the like would probably be better. The softer the clay, the most the clay will pick up. Living in a basic rural area? A harder clay might be all you need to get those imbedded particles out. For the record, I have never felt that those expensive 20.00 or more clay bars were any better than clay magic.
4. Towels: Washing towels, drying towels, polishing towels, which one? When I had my 370z Adam's car care products was one of their MAJOR sponsors... on a few occasions I questioned how good some of their products really were. I then did a write up on how to detail will cheaper products and was banned about 3 days after that from the detailing section. Obviously showing I was right lol. The truth is that there are a lot of great products out there. Are the plush microfiber towels better? Well maybe, some people don't think so. Me? I pick up a pack of cheap MF towels at walmart in the pack of 20 or so and keep them washed with simple green. If they are extremely dirty, or they fall on the ground they are thrown away. Many people like the PakShak brand towels, some like Cobra, the biggest thing to watch for is picking up dirt that sticks to the surface and then that dirt marring your paint. The idea behind the plush thick towels is that the dirt gets trapped deep in the nap, making marring less likely to occur.
5. Polisher: DA or Rotary? This can be quite an indepth subject, so i'll try to make it simple. 99% of you here will want a DA (dual action) polisher. A rotary as I said earlier is more advanced, but without much experience, burning a hole right through your paint is a real possibility. A Rotary is just that.. it rotates, the DA polisher has osolations per minute. It still rotates, but much slower than a DA and also vibrates at the same time, which makes it less prone to some of the issues you can run into with a rotary polisher. I actually know quite a few detailers who use a DA over their work after polishing a car with the rotary.
DA polishers range in price new from about 130.00 or so to about 300.00. The Porter Cable is 7424XP is a nice little polisher and is a newer version of the less powerful model they had out before. Meguiars, Griots, Flex all make these polishers. The Flex used to be and I believe still is, the most powerfull of the DA's in terms off osolations per minute and torque. I use this polisher and also have the older PC which I use mostly to apply sealants.
6. Pad choice: What color pad do I use? There are so many! The majority of companies use a universal color system (Meguiars does not) which is your yellow, orange, white, black, blue, red and I may be forgetting some. However. To make things simple, the orange pad is a safe choice for most paints, yellow is more aggressive and isn't really needed much on today's paints, as they are so much softer. For instance We'll take the orange pad with some Menzerna SIP (Super intensive polish) as example. SIP is know to remove 1500 grit and above sanding marks, while their IP (Intensive polish) is a bit more mild removing 2000 grit. Your orange pad is going to be sort of like your go to pad. Many times you can even stop after doing a one step correction. If you do choose to go further then a blue pad with FP (Finish polish) would be a very good choice. Note: These are all Menzerna polishes I am writing about because they are what I use on a regular basis. The white pad is the one I use with a cleaner wax or sealant, but it has other uses as well. The black pad is great for applying waxes, sealants, glazes, etc.
6. Pad sizes: Your pad size is very important based on the polisher that your choose, most DA pads will range in size from 4" to I believe 7.5". The less powerful your polishers is, the smaller pad you will need to get some real cutting power. For instance, with my Flex polisher, a 6.5" pad works very well, but for my PC being a weaker motor, a 4" pad would be better. If your particular polisher is ok in the power department then a 5.5 or 6.5 would be fine.
7. The art of putting it all together: Polishing can be extremely technical, but basically what you are doing is cutting down very small amounts of clearcoat, which levels the microscopic peaks and valleys that almost every paint job has so that the light refracts more evenly. When you use your orange pad and SIP combo for instance.. you are leveling the paint, and also removing any marring that may exist as well, so the finer that the polishing combos get... the more level the paint and therefore the better light refraction resulting in that mirror shine that we all love to see out of our finishes. Polishing does not have to be complicated... in fact, it's really not at all, but like anything else... much patience is needed as well as experience.
8. Your first polishing lesson: Ok, get your orange pad and SIP (or whatever polish you may have chosen) out and put about a quarter sized amount on your pad. You will be working with about a 2x2' area. Rub the pad back and forth in the area so your polisher doesn't sling your polish all over the place, turn on the polisher and work the polish in, first going back and forth in overlapping motions and then up and down. The polish will begin to break down. What this means is that the abrasives that are in the polish will sort of melt away as they are used. This doesn't have a specific amount of time, but 2 minutes or so of this will yield results. After this time, turn off the polisher, wipe away the excess and with proper lighting, look at the finish from all angles. If you see some marring, continue doing the same area again until you are satisfied with the look that you want. Remember to ALWAYS keep the buffer moving to avoid heat built up and low spots. You will not need as much polish after you do the first section, so a nickel sized amount after that should be sufficient. Menzerna polishes especially go a long way. After moving to the next section, always slightly overlap each previous section so that you don't end up with lines where you didn't polish... basically play connect the squares. It is important to remember that sometimes the less is more theory is very helpful doing this. You don't need to turn the buffer up to the highest speed to get results.... in fact, MANY times you will get better results with a slower speed, the faster speeds have their place... sometimes correction of very damaged paint isn't it.