Have you ever seen a beautiful older car and wondered how the owner keeps it shining like new? Sure some older cars have been repainted, but the truth is that following a few simple steps can keep even an older car that's driven every day gleaming like new, year after year. It doesn't come free, but the difference has a lot more to do with technique than time and effort- and that's what this article is all about! Restoring a brand new shine means first getting the paint clean, then polishing to remove small scratches and finally waxing to fill in micro-scratches and protect the finish.
Sadly, the first step- washing- is where most people do the most damage! Spraying a hard jet of water, pushing hard on the wash mitt and trying to clean too big an area at once can all result in scratches that can be avoided with the right technique.
Start by sprinkling the car to get it wet. Use car wash (not dishwashing soap that can remove wax) in a big, deep bucket, and a wash mitt of 100% cotton or, even better, microfiber. Wash only a small area about the size of a door, or half the roof, at a time. Even moderate pressure can cause scratches, so avoid pressing down. Instead, rinse your mitt and return to stubborn spots, gently agitating while letting the car wash do most of the work.
The right rinse technique will reduce water spotting and save drying time and effort. The correct method is to run water directly from the hose, not using a nozzle, with the flow adjusted to where a smooth stream of water flows out of the hose without splashing and forms a sheet that flows across the cars surface. Start high and move the hose so that the water flows right off the car in an unbroken sheet. Don't be surprised if this doesn't work the first time! It takes a little practice, and really only works well after you have clayed, polished and waxed your cars paint back to perfection.
After washing the paint is clean, yet still has lots of contaminants that have become bonded to the paint over time. The best way to remove these is with a good automotive paint cleaning clay. Paint cleaning clay is a special clay that glides over the surface on a thin film, picking up contaminants along the way. If you have never tried paint cleaning clay, do not skip this step! This is easily the most amazing thing you can do for your cars finish!
Spray a small area with water or a car detailer spray. Wet your hands, mold the clay into a pad, and gently glide the pad of clay over the area using a circular motion. You may feel some drag at first. This depends on the condition of the paint. Just go over the wetted area a time or two, wipe dry with your 100% cotton or microfiber towel, and move on to the next area. Dirt and contaminants will build up as a dark ring around the edge of your clay pad. Wadding the clay up and flattening it out again will restore a clean edge for best results.
After claying the car is ready to be polished. Which polish is best depends on the condition of your cars paint. In general, use the least aggressive polish and avoid "cleaner polish" or anything promising one-step shine. Polishing can be done by hand, but goes much better and faster with a foam pad mounted on a random orbital. As always, avoid using too much pressure and let the compound do the work. Polish only a small area at a time, remove the polish with your 100% cotton or microfiber towel, and examine your results.
Polishing is a compromise between removing enough paint to remove scratches without removing too much paint. On older cars there is also the problem of oxidation. The combination of sunlight and acid rain can over time result in a haze and even color fading. Both situations- scratching and oxidation- require judgment. Because, while it may be possible to remove all the scratches and haze and get down to the good paint, this may not leave very much good paint! The best course is to polish each area, check your work, and polish again if necessary until the desired results are achieved.
After following all these steps your car should be looking better than ever. The last step, waxing, will not only provide that last little bit of gleam, but will go a lot smoother for your having properly prepared the paint with clay and polish.
Wax by hand or with your random orbital. Wax only a small area at a time, and use only just enough wax to cover the area. Remove wax with a clean cotton or microfiber towel. I prefer to use microfiber after first removing most of the wax with a soft cotton towel. Either way, make sure the towel is folded not wadded, and turn and refold frequently to keep using a clean surface. This saves time and effort as otherwise you are just pushing the wax around and not really removing it.
With weekly washing and following these steps once or twice a year to restore the gleam you should be able to keep your car looking great for many, many years.