Professional Car Detailing Explained & Why You Should Try It
The term “car detailing” has been widely used in America for some years but is still not often understood in the UK. To confuse matters, an ever increasing number of companies are using the term simply because they sometimes polish (mop) a car or offer valeting.
Car detailing really isn’t defined by one single process but is instead a term that covers a wide variety of techniques and products which, to get the best results, need a professional and require considerable skill to apply.
Having recently purchased my new car, the bodywork was looking quite tired and the once glossy black paint appeared dull and almost grey.
After a bit of research and looking at many different detailers’ works, I found Attention To Detail www.atten2detail.co.uk . Expert detailer Mark arrived first thing Saturday morning after checking the weather forecast a couple of days before and reconfirming. His portfolio, prices and range of services are impressive.
Over to Mark now for his full explanation of the products and processes.
New to the client, the name of the game was to re-invigorate the condition of the BMW Z4’s metallic black paintwork.
Sadly it became quickly apparent that someone had already had an attempt at polishing the Z4 (likely guess being the supplying car dealer), and caused some significant defects, ranging from huge differences in paint depths, right unto fully burning through the paint!! A Gloss Enhancement was settled upon to lightly restore the paintwork, improving the overall gloss and condition. By the end of the detail, the BMW Z4 was looking much much sharper and ready to be fully enjoyed by its new owner.
(The cabriolet roof was not touched during the following detail due to a planned replacement soon to be fitted).
Please enjoy the following pictures and commentary.
Car on arrival:
Arriving bright and early (7am), I was greeted by the first of many signs from the ‘previous guy’.
Some of the usual dirt and bug splatter typical for the time of year.
The BMW’s alloys looked in good shape aside from some engrained brake dust in some of the crevices but the exhaust tips looked very sorry for themselves. Nothing a little Attention To Detail loving couldn’t fix.
First up was to tackle the Z4’s alloys. A liberal coating of a dedicated PH neutral wheel cleaner via a foaming pump dispenser provided a perfect blend of delicate cleaning power and dwell time. Due to the intricate nature of the alloy wheel face, the majority of the work was done by a specific wheel detailing brush, removing the dirt and dust from all the tight spaces.
Of course the fun didn’t stop there as a trusty (non scratch) spoke brush was used to reach all the way to the backs, and a dooka wheel mitt from the +Maintain range was used to clean the backs of the spokes. Tyres also received a gentle clean with a dedicated brush and APC to leave a perfectly clean wheel and tyre.
Having pre-soaked the plastic arches in APC it was time to show them some love using a specialised detailing brush before pressure washing clean to remove the loose dirt and debris.
With the alloys now visibly clean, it was time to decontaminate them from any pitted iron deposits that may corrode the surface and lead to an unnecessary refurbishment.
The gel type product is allowed to dwell for around 10 minutes, giving it sufficient time to convert the iron deposits into a water soluble by product that is just rinsed away. The reaction is indicated by the red/purple colour change.
The amount of contamination detected and removed is impressive considering how the wheels appeared to be visibly clean.
With the iron deposits safely removed, the next job was to break down the numerous black dots of tar covering the front and backs of the wheel. The dedicated paint safe solvent was allowed to dwell for around 30 minutes, slowly turning the hard blobs of tar into a soft mushy globule that is easily wiped away without damage to the surface.
With the tar remover working its magic attention was turned to the main body work. Having pre-applied a citrus wash to breakdown the initial bug splatter, it was time to soak the bodywork in a thick rich snow foam.
The snow foam is designed to breakdown the initial bond held by the road grime and slowly carry away any larger loose debris without requiring physical contact. This is a far safer way to remove this type of general dirt, ensuring an overall reduction in any swirling or damage caused.
With the foam ‘hanging around’ the opportunity to attend to the finer details was taken. Super duper soft detailing brushes in varying sizes were used to tease out the dirt from the awkward to reach places.
Panel gaps, door shuts, badges, grilles, window rubbers and filler caps all got a thorough going over.
With the sun creeping round and me finishing up the brush work, I caught a brief glimpse of what awaited me, just look at those swirls and holograms!!!
With the snow foam now all washed away, it was time to finally start ‘touching’ the BMW in that soft n gentle sort of way that only a detailer knows how! Using extra deep buckets complete with grit guards, a premium PH neutral shampoo free from cheap gloss enhancers and of course the famous dooka wash mitt (all included in the +Maintain kit), it was time to get to work.
With its perfect pile, the plush dooka pad made light work of the wash stage while being perfectly gentle, greatly reducing the risk of inflicting swirls & scratches, no 99p jumbo sponges here!
Before you ask, yes that is my own hand, I do all of my own stunts.
With the body work now clean, it was time to inspect the alloys for their tar removal. showing off a quick before, during and after. The level of giant blobs of tar on the front alloys actually required a second hit, but more on that later.
Time for the decontamination of the bodywork, starting off by applying another iron deposit removal product, allowing it to also dwell for around 10 minutes.
And then a tar removal stage, using the same paint safe solvent used on the alloys. The gel like product clings in place perfectly while I go hunting the ugly little black dots down with a micro fibre cloth and a torch until I get every last one.
Back to the wheels, it was time to remove the last of the tar. Due to the heavy chunky nature of the tar on this Z4’s wheels, a good wipe was needed to get rid of the last traces. As the wheels were not to be removed and with my OCD kicking in, I took the time to pivot the wheels back n forth to reach every last bit of the wheel. If a jobs worth doing n all that…
A final snow foam was then undertaken to remove any remaining traces of the above decontamination products.
And then a very thorough rinse down.
With the BMW still dripping wet it was time to quickly seal the alloys. Spraying a silica based sealant onto the alloys, the sealant is then ‘shocked’ into action by rinsing with a pressure washer to reveal a super slick hydrophobic coating.
The sealant will help to repel water, dirt and brake dust that will ensure cleaning is very easy.
With the product being a sprayable liquid, it allows for access to areas not normally available, even with my nimble fingers.
The high contact angle of the beading shows off how well the product will repel water and help to keep the alloys cleaner for longer.
Moving onto the final stages of decontaminating both the paint and glass, a mixture of a polymerised rubber decon’ pad worked on a DA polisher and traditional clay bar was utilised to remove the last of any bonded contaminants, resulting in a finish as smooth as glass. In addition to revealing a squeaky clean finish, this stage ensures superior results from the machine polishing stages to follow.
Once happy that the paint was now thoroughly clean, it was time to assess the paint before embarking on the polishing stages. Paint depth readings were taken to check the levels of paint available to polish and alert me to any areas that have been excessively polished in the past or had non factory paint added. The wide range of paint readings suggested that this BMW Z4 may have had both, with some readings being around 100 microns apart on the same panel. Extreme caution was used throughout from here onwards.
In addition, the overall paint condition was checked. The level of swirls and marks in the paint had left it looking tired and almost grey, with plenty of unsightly holograms from a previous polishing attempt as seen in the sunlight.
The level of swirling was unreal in some areas.
And of course more signs of the ‘previous guys’ polishing attempts.
The two white marks in the left image are burn through marks on an accent line. This is a result of the clear layer of the paint being breached after the use of a machine polisher incorrectly. Many of the panel gaps also had hardened polish residue which was removed by an alcohol wipe designed to breakdown polish. The client was advised and the damaged areas masked off to avoid further damage.
After testing a few combinations of pad and polish, a course of action was chosen providing the below improvement. Here you can see the unpolished section on the left compared to the polished section on the right.
Preparing to settle in for the next few hours of polishing, I ensured some of the key basics were checked, including fully priming, and correctly centring the pad to ensure that the best results are achieved. In addition to that, pads were cleaned and condition after each and every set, removing any spent product and dead paint from the panels itself.
The polishing process in action, inspecting, polishing, wiping with an alcohol wipe, and re-inspecting the finish, revealing a clear improvement in gloss and clarity.
A quick close up comparison showing the hazy grey finish on the left vs the glossy rich finish on the right.
And yet another 50:50 comparison. This was achieved from a single stage polish, which is intended to remove oxidation, and hazing while improving gloss and clarity. For swirls and deeper defect removal, additional polishing would be required as available from a Silver or Gold Enhancement.
Definitely having the desired effect and bringing back the gloss.
Smaller panels were tackled with spot pads, reducing the chance of catching a panel edge where paint tends to be at its thinnest.
The offside headlight had also started to oxidise from UV degradation, becoming cloudy. The client had not requested a headlight restoration (normally requiring sanding away the affected layer before being polished to high gloss finish), but I just couldn’t leave it like this, so a few minutes with a specialised plastics polish revealed a nice improvement in clarity, reducing the impact of the damage.
With the polishing now completed, it was time to remove any remaining polishing oils allowing for thorough inspection of the finish with a dedicated cleaner. This also ensured the paint is clean and pure, providing the perfect conditions for the following paint sealant to bond and provide optimum results.
Of course a high quality sealant was applied complimentary with this Enhancement Detail locking in the finish and making future maintenance easy peasy!
While the sealant was allowed to cure, I got a little down n dirty with those exhaust tips, polishing them by hand to remove the tired look and reveal a clean and polished appearance that is protected. Showing off a before, 50:50, and after.
Next up was glass and plastics.
Lifting the bonnet to allow full access to the scuttle tray, I couldn’t resist giving the plastic engine covers a quick dressing too despite the client not requesting the engine bay to be dressed.
Finally it was time to cap the paint sealant with a good coating of perfection for that ‘oh my!!!!’ sort of finish, using premium and plush micro fibre towels.
Time to stand back and admire, enjoy.
Hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.
So there we have it. I’m so pleased with the results, it has given my car a new lease of life and given me a new level of care and respect for my car and I now always try to wash it correctly to avoid producing any more dreaded swirl marks!
You can see more of Mark’s work and contact him by visiting www.atten2detail.co.uk