Thursday, May 1, 2014

Polishing Your Car

 I have spent several decades now lovingly maintaining the outside of my cars.  This has been a labor of love and has taught me many lessons.  This post will document what I've learned so it can be used to maintain many more cars out there well into the future.  In case I get hit by a truck tomorrow. :-)

To start with, always park your car in a garage every night if you can.  Not only does this minimize what will land on your cars paint, but it also keeps dew from gathering on your car overnight.  Repeated cycles of moisture and drying definitely takes a toll.
 Washing your car.  How often should you wash your car?  That depends on many factors.  When my cars were parked outside,  I found I had to wash them every 1-2 weeks.  If I park the car in the garage, I can usually go 3-4 weeks.  It also depends on whether your region is windy, dusty, rainy, or snowy.

When it is time to wash, always ALWAYS wash your car in the shade, not in direct sunlight.  Usually this means washing it early in the morning or late in the day.  This keeps the paint from being hot which gives you more time to wash and dry the car without the water drying on the paint, leaving water spots.

Step 1 - Initial Rinse.  Spray the entire car with a hose with a nozzle on the end.  Wash off all loose dirt/dust that will fall to the ground simply by being pushed off with the force of the water.  Hit the wheels with a very firm spray of water to wash off the brake dust.  Don't forget to go in between the wheel spokes to get the interior of the wheel.  Finally, wash out the wheel wells.

Step 2 - Wash Above Beltline.  I recommend a sponge like this.  It is wrapped in a soft cloth and is very gentle on the paint.  Get a plastic bucket,  put in a nice car wash product like Meguair's for clear coat paint, and fill it with water.  Dip the sponge in and you are ready to go!

Start at the top of the car.  The roof and windows.  Then the hood and trunk lid.  Rinse the roof, windows, hood and trunk lid.

Now go around the sides BEING CAREFUL NEVER TO GO BELOW THE BELTLINE.  Most cars have a well delineated crease in the side which I call the beltline.  The picture below shows such a beltline on a Mustang.

Rinse the car after sponging the sides above the beltline.

Rinse the sponge.  Put the sponge away.

 Step 3 - Wash below beltline.  Use an entirely different sponge for this.  I recommend just a simple kitchen sponge.  Since it looks different than the above beltline sponge, I never mix the two up when I wash the cars next time.

Sponge below the beltline, rinse the sponge, and put it away.
 Step 4 - Wash the wheels.  I recommend a different color sponge for the wheels, again so it will not be mixed up.  In this case, I was transitioning my below beltline sponge to become the wheel sponge.  I would use a new below beltline sponge for the next wash.

Get in between the spokes and reach as far back in the interior of the wheel as you can.  Wash the tires and the lip of the body that wraps into the wheel wells.

Rinse the wheels.  Rinse the sponge.  Put the sponge away.
 Step 5 - Clay Bar.  This step does not need to be done with each wash.  In most cases, you will only need to do this yearly or every other year.  Once a year run your hand over your hood after you've washed it and it is still wet.  Does it feel silky smooth, or can you feel contaminants still stuck to the paint?  If you can feel contaminants, it is time for the clay bar!  I use Zaino clay bars but I'm sure there are other fine clay bars out there.
 After you've washed the car,  leave the paint wet.  Take out a new unused clay bar and knead it.  Flatten it out and let it glide over the paint as you hit the same spot with the hose.  This ensures there is enough moisture to not scratch the paint.  Once you have done this a few years you can get a feel for when the paint is wet enough not to need a simultaeous hose running...but wait a few times to try it.  Better too much water than too little.

Do NOT apply pressure to the clay.  Let it glide over the paint with your hand just directing it.
 Every once in awhile, look at the bottom of the clay.  Is it dirty?  If so you are getting contaminants off the paint!  Knead the clay some so that you put clean clay on the paint when you lay it back down.  Repeat this over the entire car, focusing mostly on the roof, hood, and trunklid as most contaminants reside of horizontal surfaces.

When the clay looks clean as is shown in this photo,  you know you're done.
 Step 6 - Drying.  Towels should be fairly big and fairly fluffy.  They should have no stitching or embroidery that can potentially scratch the paint.  Obviously they should absorb water well (you would be surprised at how many towels don't!)

Use a different towel for above the beltline and below the beltline.  Start with the windows,  then roof/hood/trunk,  then the sides.
 With a towel that has been moistened from drying the rest of the car,  dry the door jams and inside the trunk lid.   This is one of those little details that really makes a car pop.
 Don't forget the crevices specific to your particular car.  For example, most trucks have this little hidden area below the tailgate.  Cleaning that will really pay off in appearance.
 Step 7 - Polish.  I used to use carnuba wax to polish my cars, but that is very very labor intensive and time consuming.  I discovered the Zaino polish over a decade ago and have used it ever since.  It is easier to apply, to take off, and smells very nice as well!

I order it online and when I receive it, I mark the date on the bottle so that if I have some left over, I know when it is too old and should be tossed.  (If it is over a year old, I toss it).  ALWAYS polish your car in the shade, preferably in a garage where contaminants can't blow onto the paint.  I also recommend the temperature to be in the high 70s to high 80s.   If it is in the 60s the Zaino will dry too slow and take all weekend,  if it is in the 90s you'll still be okay but drying times are too fast to be optimal.

How often should you Zaino?  It depends on if you garage your car, if it sits in the sun all day,  and how dirty you get it overall.  At a minimum,  Zaino your car yearly if it is garaged and treated lightly.  If your car goes through more severe conditions, I would recommend every 6 months.

 Zaino will send you an applicator with your order, use that to apply the Zaino.  In my case I had leftover Zaino and had already discarded the applicator, so I used a cloth baby's diaper.   If you do this, make sure to fold it so that no seams or stitching touches the paint.

Put a small amount of Zaino on the roof and spread it around with the applicator.  Make sure there is Zaino on every little bit of paint.  Apply it very thinly as all that really matters is what is touching the paint - if you apply it thickly you are just wasting polish AND it will take much longer to dry!

Repeat this for the hood, trunk lid, and sides above the beltline.  Use a separate applicator and do the same below the beltline.

Step 8 - Remove Polish. Let the Zaino dry.  You'll know it is dry when you run a finger through it and it comes off in sort of a powdery fashion onto your finger.  If your finger just smudges the Zaino around and it feels wet, it is not dry yet.   It will take 1-2 hours to dry if the temp is in the 80s, longer if it is cooler outside.

Zaino offers blonde towels to remove the polish and I highly recommend them.  They are extremely efficient at getting the Zaino off and will make your life sooo much easier!

Once the Zaino is off, apply another coat.  If this is the first time the car is being Zainoed, I recommend 3 to 4 coats.  (I can get 3 coats out of 1 bottle of Zaino).  If the car has just been clay barred,  I recommend 3 to 4 coats.   If you are just touching up and existing Zaino polish job, 2 coats will suffice.

 Step 9 - Spray Seal. Once you've put on all the Zaino coats necessary,  use a clean cloth and go over the car with Zaino Grand Finale!  This will remove any excess polish you missed and give the car an excellent shine.

Note that it is not usually to discover polish that you missed as the week progresses.  If the car is relatively dust-free still, you can hit it will a cloth to remove.  If the car is already dusty, I recommend waiting until the next wash to get the excess polish off.
This is the end result!  It is one wash past waxing (so I could get excess polish off) and ready for the world!

Enjoy your car.  And treat her right!

No comments: