What is Detailing?

How to look after your paintwork

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Detail Matt
Professional Detailer
Posts: 166
Joined: Mon Feb 05, 2007 7:37 pm
Location: Cheshire
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What is Detailing?

Post by Detail Matt » Tue Mar 27, 2007 8:07 am

Firstly, the term detailing hails from America and is basically taking a car and preparing it to the highest of standards paying attention to every 'detail' in every way. A lot of people assume that its the same as valeting, due to some of the processes involved - IE cleaning. However the difference lies within the different stages of each process and ultimately the finished result. We are talking real perfectionist attention to detail.

Most people are happy with a regular wash with sponge, dry with the chamois and a quick wax with a product available in most outlets and that’s fine. However I’ve never really been satisfied with the results that are achieved through this format, and continued to seek better products, different tools and gain greater understanding of what can and can't be done. There are quite a few of us out there that are obsessive about the cars appearance. I for one was always annoyed when the sun caught my car and that lovely finish was showing up all the swirls and marks and had no idea how they got there. Or when parked under harsh lighting, say at a petrol station forecourt and the defects and swirls and marring stood out.

Anyway, I'm rambling on - back to the nitty gritty, swirling is imparted on paintwork through a variety of means, usually through poor washing/drying and polishing using abrasive sponges, cloths and terry towels. Scratches, well they can come from anywhere really.

Looking at one aspect of detailing in isolation - paint correction, this is a slow and skilled process and the steps involved in providing an outstanding finish are many.

Following a correct wash and dry of the car bodywork; the process can begin (the wash stage is a separate process in itself) My first step is to asses the surface of the paintwork and prepare it ready for polishing. I will use a detailing clay (available in many forms and abrasiveness) and lubricant to remove all the embedded particles and elements that are invisible to the naked eye. Following this process the paint surface is left with a glass like touch.


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This picture shows the clay after working on a small section of a washed car, note the dirt removed from a just washed car!!

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Following the clay process the car is ready for visual inspection under artificial harsh lighting to force light to reflect off the uneven (swirled) surface.

This picture is a typical, lightly swirled car. Note the poor clarity of reflection of the lamp and the obvious light swirling

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The next stage is to determine the paint quality, and asses and determine the extent of the re-leveling process. The paint thickness is measured in microns with a Paint thickness gauge (PTG) there are two types, one for metal substrates and one for composite. I have both, the composite tester is a very expensive and very valuable item and I wouldn’t let anyone near my car without one. It can measure the thickness of three layers of coating, IE base, colour, and clear coat(CC)

PTG reading picture

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This tells me I can safely polish in the measured area without any detriment to the integrity of the CC as re-levelling removes an average of 1-2 microns. The average paint thickness is 130 microns. Imagine the scenario though, owner buys car and decides to use a detailer with no PTG and nobody knows if the CC has been polished by a dealer valeter or a paint shop - detailer ploughs into it and polishes through!!

The next stage in polishing is determined by the detailers experience of paint type (lotus paint is Hard as nails) defect severity and availability of his product. The key is to polish with the least abrasive and most gentle combination of polish, pad and tool.
There are 2 effective swirl removing tools - the Porter Cable random orbital polisher which provides and eccentric rotation and a Rotary - purely rotational action. The PC is gentle and pretty safe, however very slow, noisy and in some circumstances with deep marring, useless on certain paints. the rotary is the most effective and also the hardest to use correctly and safely - this is where the detailers skill is brought into light.

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Here is a picture of a 50:50 shot where I have polished half and masked the other for a demonstration, note the polished half is not finished and will improve further.

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Following polishing the whole car, the paint is cleansed ready for a sealant to lock to polished finish. There are a variety available and I will use whatever product depending on the last stage protection I will use (LSP) and the type of gloss or appearance that is desired.

Following the sealant I will then apply the LSP say a carnauba wax for example ( lots out there with varying quality and purity)

This particular is applied with my bare hands; its a high content carnauba wax. Carnauba in its natural form is as hard as concrete! There are many waxes that claim to be 'carnauba' waxes or contain carnauba - there is a catch however. The true value and performance of the wax depends on its percentage by volume. Many mainstream waxes claiming to have carnauba in actually contain very little - say 1 or 2%!! High end expensive waxes contain between 35% -73 % and can cost from £120 right up to £7500!! In this form they are not readily applied in the traditional manner and require the heat from your hands to soften and catalyze the carnauba.

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A few outside shots:

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A few prestige motors, fully detailed:

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As for products, well there are many:

They are generally split into Polishes, sealant, glaze and waxes

For polishes (used in the re-levelling process) there are many many types and I would choose a particular polish depending on defect severity, paint type and outside temperature. A current polish I use a lot is the Menzerna range.

After polishing the paint is in perfect condition and then we can decided the overall finish that the customer would like. So for example many of my client with daily drivers would have me finish with an acrylic sealant and top with a heavy duty was such as collinite 476s - a detergent proof wax for winter protection, then in summer have me remove the wax and apply a natural high grade carnauba wax for added depth and gloss - just in time for the show season.

Other customers just want the car to be finished and forgotten, then i would offer my 6 year product that basically does away with having to wax - just a simple top up wash every 6 weeks or so. My products are quite bespoke really and not the stuff that you can buy over the counter.

Hope this helps every one.

Matt

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