Some typical Car Detailing/Care Care myths...

Discussion in 'Technical Q&A' started by Todd Helme, May 26, 2009.

  1. Todd Helme

    Todd Helme Formula Junior

    Apr 2, 2007
    Oviedo Florida
    Full Name:
    Todd Helme
    Common Detailing Myths

    1)Waxing your car too much is bad for it...

    For the most part this is not true. This myth likely can trace it's routes to the an older age of automotive painting. Back 'in the day' cars where painted with a single stage paint jobs, which while looked great, tended to oxidize very quickly. Waxes from back 'in the day' had to not only provide protection, but also had to remove any oxidation to ensure the paint shined. These older waxes often used abrasives similar to a compound or polish, so when they where applied, they removed trace amounts of paint. Frequent application over time would thin the paint.

    The second myth, regarding frequent wax application is that you can apply too many coats of wax, reducing the gloss or clouding the finish. Because carnauba wax is not clear, there is some truth to the fact that if enough product bonded to the paint, the surface could loose some clarity. However, carnauba wax is so hard in it's natural state, that it must be 'cut' with solvents. When an additional layers of wax are applied on top of a previous layer of wax, the solvents act on the sub micron thick layer of previous wax. Additional layers of wax chemically remove previous layers of wax, to some degree. The 'thicker' the wax build up becomes, the more the solvents will remove, so there is a theoretical limit to how much wax the paint will truly hold.

    Additional coats of wax may still improve gloss by improving the amount of coverage the wax has or restoring the shine to the previous layer. You cannot harm your paint by adding additional layers of wax, unless your application method itself is damaging the paint.

    2)Car soap is bad for the paint/car/rubber/wax etc...

    Again this is simply not true. Modern car soaps are close to pH neutral, and use surfactants to reduce water surface tension, allowing the solution to encapsulate particulate, and remove it from the surface with out scratching or marring the paint.

    High alkaline soaps, such as those used in 'touch less car washs' or in dish washing detergents may dry out paint, plastic, rubber, or vinyl over time, this is simply not the case with modern car soaps.

    Driving your car down the road once or even leaving it outside will cause dirt and grime to accumulate on the surface. Static charge will attract a certain amount of dust and dirt to the car, even as it sits in the garage. The problem is that this dust, grit, or dirt is that if it is not carefully removed from the paint, it will scratch it. These scratches over time will increase in appearance and soon you will have swirl marks and reduced gloss.

    Modern soaps also tend to feature conditioners, waxes, or polymer sealants that can provide protection and increase the durability the current wax or sealant. Again, high alkaline soaps and detergents and weaken the existing wax layer, but this is often not the case.

    3)Machine polishing is bad for the paint...

    A proper way to phrase this myth is that 'improper' machine polishing, as practiced by the majority of body shops, detail shops, and detailers is bad for the paint. Improper would the hinge word.

    Most of the surface marring and scratches are caused by improper washing and grinding particulate into the surface. These scratches act to diffuse or refract light, vs. reflect light evenly, which reduces the gloss or the paint's luster. Removing swirl marks and microscopic marring means that the paint has to be leveled, or all the paint above the deepest part of the scratch has to be removed, like turning a mountain range into a plain. The clear coat, or top layer of paint on most cars is between 1.5 and 2.0 mils thick, or 38 to 51 microns. This is .00006 to .00008 of an inch thick, about the same thickness as a sheet of notebook paper! The good news is that most scratches and swirl marks penetrate about 1/100th or less of the total thickness of the clear coat, truly microscopic.

    Correct polishing of the paint will remove just enough paint to ensure that it is even, then burnish the existing surface so that is completely level and reflects a maximum amount of light. This is type of correct, measured polishing, can be repeated over and over again with little fear of damaging the paint. In fact to keep your car looking it's best, it is necessary to polish the paint with some regularity.

    A better question is what is worse, improper washing techniques or correct machine polishing? One improper wash, where dirt, grit, and grime is ground into the paint causing swirl marks and damage can take 15 to 20 hours to fix by machine polishing. It takes 20 hours to undo the damage, or remove all the paint left behind (from the peaks and valleys of the newly formed scratches) as one bad wash does in 15 minutes. Frequent and improper washing will thin the clear coat faster then work required to fix the damage.

    4)My wax features 50%-75% white carnauba wax, it is the best in the world!

    The truth is that waxes and sealants do very little for the overall appearance of the paint, their primary function is provide a sacrificial layer on top of the paint to protect it. The second truth is that scientifically, when measured in true 'wet volume' it is really impossible to make any wax with greater then 35% of carnauba wax work, it becomes to hard. The third truth is that, to my knowledge, all automotive waxes use carnauba wax, and that there is no such thing as a natural white carnauba.

    Carnauba wax, in it's most natural state is yellowish-brownish in color, and extremely hard. It has to be chipped or beat of the fawns of the Carnauba Palm. For automotive use, only the highest grade, #1 Yellow, is used. To make the wax applicable, it has to be softened with various solvents and oils. Modern VOC regulations have limited the type and strength of the solvents used in the wax, making it impossible to obtain a large percentage of carnauba.

    The good news is that you wouldn't want a huge percentage of carnauba wax anyways. By itself, carnauba wax is opaque and not very shiny, it has be blended with quality oils, solvents, and silicones to get that very deep, high gloss shine. This is far more important to the aesthetic characteristics then the carnauba itself. Carnauba wax also melts at about 170 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that 50-70% of the product would melt on a hot sunny day, when the surface temperature of the paint can exceed that number.

    To get the best gloss and highest shine requires starting with great paint, such as paint that is not swirled or marred up. The prep work accounts for about 90-95% of the final gloss by most accounts. To achieve that mind blowing gloss, it is better to spend $1000.00 having your car polished by an artist, vs. spending it on a wax.

    5)Armor all can ruin your dash and cause it to crack.

    This rumor, at one point, was likely true. Certain vinyl dash boards, particularly from car's in the 1980's tended to dry out and crack frequently. However it was likely more a factor of poor manufacturing and low quality materials then it was a factor of a bad product. That said, Armor All, while I don't use it and really have never recommended it, uses safe and high quality chemicals in their newest products.

    6)Leather needs to be feed...

    Well I guess we could argue about the terminology, but leather is dead, and it doesn't need to eat. When it comes to leather in automobiles, two different types of leather are generally used.

    Top Coated Leather- This is the most common. The color is sprayed on to the leather itself, and the leather is usually coated with urethane

    Aniline Leather- This is the more traditional, more 'real' leather. The hides are dyed through out the thickness and tanned. This is the type of leather used in Ferrari's, Maybachs, Rolls Royce, Bentley's, Porsche's, etc...

    With Aniline Leather you are treating the leather itself, with the more common Top Coated Leather you are treating the coating. In both cases keeping the leather clean, both from dirt and particulate that will abrade the leather, as well as from harmful body oils, is far more important then actually conditioning the leather itself. In the case of Top Coated Leather it may be impossible to even treat the leather.

    Keep leather clean and keep it protected from UV rays. Avoid using conditioners that are oily, as they will attract dust and dirt.

    7)My wax or sealant has Teflon, it will last for years...

    Teflon or PTFE is a very durable substance when it chemically adheres to a surface. Unfortunately it has to be baked on between 600-700 degrees Fahrenheit to chemically cure it and cause it bond. PTFE is have some benefits when used for waxes and sealants, particularly in aiding the delivery of the wax or sealant to the paint by increasing the internal slipperiness of the product. However, unless baked on, it offers little to no performance benefits.
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  3. Testarossa13

    Testarossa13 Formula Junior

    Dec 4, 2007
    Full Name:
    Tony Jr.
    Good info Todd
  4. rivee

    rivee F1 Rookie

    Jan 20, 2002
    Nowhere important, USA
    Full Name:
    What is an "inproper" way to wash your car?

    Is the product "Quick Wax", as sold by Maguier, OK to use?

    Is it OK to use one of those dust brush's they sell for your car that removes dust?
  5. JMOrem

    JMOrem Formula Junior

    Jun 7, 2004
    Frisco, TX
    Full Name:
    Jared Orem

    Is there anything that will repair/remove damage from bird droppings?
  6. moorfan

    moorfan Formula Junior
    Silver Subscribed

    May 11, 2009
    Central Virginia
    Full Name:
    #5 moorfan, May 27, 2009
    Last edited: May 27, 2009
    Thanks for the very informative article. I've been searching the forums trying to find information about the average thickness of the Ferrari clear coats, particularly on the 360. The best information that I've been able to garner is that it is a non-ceramic, "conventional" clear coat that is on the softer side of hardness. Do you have any information on this subject? I've been toying with the idea of getting a paint thickness gauge and would love to hear your experience with the thickness of the clearcoated Ferrari paints.

    And for the person who asked about the "improper" way to wash, lets talk about what I usually view as "proper". Detailing is a bit of an art form, from what I understand, so no flaming please.
    The way I wash my "nice" cars is as follows:
    1. Fire up the power washer, and using the "soap" nozzle, gently wet the car from top to bottom to remove loose dirt.
    2. Fill the soap dispenser on the power washer and apply foamy soap using the soap nozzle from top to bottom. I let this sit for a few minutes while I go around and spray all 4 wheels with something like P21 Wheel gel.
    3. Power rinse the car with the "delicate" (white) nozzle, removing all soap and wheel gel.
    4. Reapply soap from the pressure washer canister to the entire vehicle, and then clean wheels by hand with auto soap, using a very gentle brush or microfiber. After this rinse the entire vehicle again with water.
    5. Now, you are ready to hand wash the paint. Use the "two bucket" method. One bucket with lots of high quality auto soap (Sonus, Ultima, AutoMagic, etc), and the other bucket with clean water.
    6. Use a microfiber mitt (such as a Sonus wash mitt), one panel at a time, top to bottom. Use plenty of liquid from the soap bucket and very little pressure on the paint. Allow the slickness of the soap to glide the mitt across the surface. Upon cleaning the first panel, dip the wash mitt in the clean water bucket to allow particulates from the paint to float away, and so that you do not contaminate your soap bucket with particulates.
    7. Proceed all around, leaving the front and rear bumpers and lower skirts of the car for last. Change the rinse water in the second bucket as needed.
    8. Remove all soap with the pressure washer.
    9. Disconnect your hose from the pressure washer and "sheet" the car with water right out of the hose with no nozzle from top to bottom. This will wash away any residual particulates.
    10. Gently dry the car with a high quality microfiber drying towel (such as a Sonus "der Wunder wash towel")

    At this point I will usually pull into the garage, open all doors and hood and trunk, and gently dry all the jambs. Let the car sit for a couple hours to dry, and then you are ready to begin paint preparation for eventual sealing (claying, scratch correction if needed, polish, and then sealant/wax).

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  8. Todd Helme

    Todd Helme Formula Junior

    Apr 2, 2007
    Oviedo Florida
    Full Name:
    Todd Helme
    #6 Todd Helme, May 28, 2009
    Last edited: May 28, 2009
    To define improper correctly I would guess you first have to define proper. If you asked a thousand detailers how to wash a car you would like get many 'proper' answers based on their experiences, preferences, and goals.

    My goal, or what I am 'known for' is creating truly flawless, swirl free technique. Because I spend so much time polishing the paint and perfecting it, I am very careful with how I wash the car's I care for. Imagine if I swirled up a car after spending 15 hours polishing it...

    So I am not saying my washing techniques are the best or the only 'proper' way to do it, but I do truly believe that by following my guidelines, that the risk of micro scratching or swirling the paint is greatly reduced and eliminated.

    Here is a very basic run down of how I do it....

    I always clean the wheels, tires, wheel arches, door jambs, and detail areas first. This is done because these are the most time consuming areas.

    Then I use a 'foam gun' to spray atomized soap foam over the body of the car, and let it dwell for 3-5 minutes. This will allow the soap to cling to the paint, and allow the surfactants in the soap to encapsulate some of the dirt.

    Then the car is rinsed, thoroughly, to flood away as much dirt and grime (pretreated with the foam). I use a pressure washer at low blast, although one isn't necessary.

    Then I wash and rinse a section of the car at a time using the two-bucket method. The two-bucket method is using two separate buckets, a wash bucket filled with car soap/water and a rinse bucket, which is just water. Each bucket has grit guards, which are little grates that act to prevent dirt from swirling back into the wash solution, and I also use 5 gallon buckets...

    Why two buckets? When you wash the surface of the paint, the wash mitt (wash media) picks up a certain amount of dirt and grime. If you where to place that mitt back into the soapy water, the wash mitt would release the dirt into the bucket. By the time you are done washing the entire vehicle, the wash bucket would have a large amount of dirt, grit, and particulate floating around in it. It is the same as going to the beach and filling up your bucket with sand, before mixing in the soap and water. It sounds silly, right?

    By using a second rinse bucket, you submerge and rinse the wash mitt out before picking up more soapy water. This second bucket acts as a trap and prevents dirt from contaminating the wash solution. In fact if you two it correctly, the rinse bucket will be mirky and dirty, and soap bucket will remain clean.
    I use five gallon buckets with grit guards because the goal when you wash the car is safely remove the dirt without scouring the paint's surface. You want to flood the surface with soapy water before wiping it clean.

    I always wash in straight line motions, on the hood/trunk/roof I wash front to back. On the sides of the car, I wash up and down, which takes some getting used to. The reason? What if dirt or grit accidentally gets rubbed into the the surface. By washing in straight lines, the marring that could occur will be only visible from one angle. By washing up and down on the side panels, any accidental marring that could occur will not catch the sun light. If you wash the side panels side to side and mar the surface, you create book-shelf scratches that will be very visible.

    After washing and rinsing the car a section at a time, I will do a final rinse with a slow, steady stream of water. This is known as flooding the paint, and will remove 80 or 90 percent of the standing water. Once the water has run off, I will use a filtered air blow to remove the majority of the remaining water (as you can see, the goal is to avoid touching the paint as much as possible in order to prevent scratching). Also, drying the car is moderately more dangerous then washing it, because soap provides lubrication. When you dry the car you are removing the lubrication.

    I will do the final wiping with a microfiber towel known as a 'Waffle Weave' to ensure the paint is completely dry. When I towel the surface, I again use only straight lines, and I also use a quick detail spray. A light mist of a quick detailer, prior to wiping the remaining water off, will provide lubrication to the surface and help clean any light water spots that might have formed.

    Quick Wax is a spray wax designed to add protection to the paint's surface. I am not sure if it has enough lubrication to remove dirt and grime with out marring the paint. A lot of people use quick detail sprays (not spray waxes) to remove light dust, but my rule of thumb is that if you have driven it, you are better off washing it. I guess I just don't trust quick detail sprays too much, other then to help my dry the vehicle.

    I do not like California Duster's for the same reason. The fibers get covered in sharp grime, which just seems like a huge risk to rub against the paint.

    Here is a write up I did for a company on a Corvette forum that they sponsor. It should provide a better explanation.
  9. Todd Helme

    Todd Helme Formula Junior

    Apr 2, 2007
    Oviedo Florida
    Full Name:
    Todd Helme
    Usually the damage caused by bird droppings is an etching into the clear coat. The majority of bird dropping damage can be removed by 're-leveling' the paint around the damage, and removing the damaged thickness. The good news is that most bird bomb damage doesn't penerate very deep into the clear coat and it can be polished out fairly quickly although I have seen cases where the damage was so severe that it wouldn't have been safe to remove.
  10. rivee

    rivee F1 Rookie

    Jan 20, 2002
    Nowhere important, USA
    Full Name:
    Wow. Thank you Todd for the info.

    One ? tho. What is a grit guard?
  11. Todd Helme

    Todd Helme Formula Junior

    Apr 2, 2007
    Oviedo Florida
    Full Name:
    Todd Helme
    Hi Pete, regarding your process, it seems very solid to me. The only thing I would change is I would do the wheels separately and first, so that you can take your time on them, clean the barrels, behind the spokes, etc, with out fear of the soap or water drying on the paint. Then again it is just personal preference.

    The average TOTAL (including primer/base coat/clear coat) thickness on most 360's seems to range between 5 mils and 7.5 mils. I would 'guess' that they have an average 2.5 mils of clear coat and in some case more. In comparison to most brand new domestics, this is pretty thick. Most 360's seem to be the thickest on the corners of the trunk cover, near the windshield, for whatever reason.

    With F430, Ferrari switched to the PPG Cermaclear paint, which is also used on Mercedes Benz, Maybach, and others. The weird thing is that the Cermaclear paint on Ferrari's is much easier to work with then the Cermaclear paint on Mercedes.

    The 360 actually is a dream to work on, as far as paint polishing goes. On one end of the spectrum you have a paint system like a C5/C6 Corvette's. These paint's swirl up pretty easy, but are very difficult (hard paint) to polish out. The other end would be the Ferrari 360's paint. The paint is fairly resistant to swirls, but generally polish up very easily (softer paint).
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  13. Todd Helme

    Todd Helme Formula Junior

    Apr 2, 2007
    Oviedo Florida
    Full Name:
    Todd Helme
  14. MBFerrari

    MBFerrari F1 Veteran

    Jul 2, 2008
    Full Name:
    Matt B
    Awesome information man! The only thing I would add is that the paint on my 1993 348SS is single stage, and my car isn't that old compared to some of the Ferrari's people have on this site, so do you feel wax like P21S and the high end waxes are safe to use three to four times a year?
  15. 285ferrari

    285ferrari F1 World Champ

    Sep 11, 2004
    Southern Md
    Full Name:
    Todd---Great info!!!
  16. Todd Helme

    Todd Helme Formula Junior

    Apr 2, 2007
    Oviedo Florida
    Full Name:
    Todd Helme
    P21s is a non-abrasive wax, so it doesn't feature any products that 'clean' or remove paint. You are safe to use it as frequently as you want with out fear of any wax build up or damage to the paint. It is probably a good idea to use a pre-wax cleaner once a year to remove any old wax, polish the paint with oils, and prepare the paint for the next year's worth of waxes. PS21 makes a pretty good pre cleaner called 'Paint Work Cleansing Lotion' but my personal all time favorite, particularly on single stage red paint's is Meguiar's #7 Show Car Glaze. It is a little trickier to use, but man does it make red look amazing before waxing.
  17. FandLcars

    FandLcars F1 Rookie

    Aug 6, 2006
    Tempe, Az
    Full Name:
    Rick Schumm
    Thanks for again posting great info Todd! :)

    What tire dressing would you recommend? I'm mainly wondering if there is a dressing that would allow dust/dirt to most easily be sprayed or rinsed off. I'm thinking of dust, such as from a dirt drive, etc.

    Also, assuming an engine compartment is not oily or greasy, how would you clean normal dust and dirt from the engine and compartment? Any tips on these appreciated.
  18. Bullfighter

    Bullfighter Two Time F1 World Champ
    Lifetime Rossa Owner

    Jan 26, 2005
    Fullerton, California
    Full Name:
    Quick detailers are fine for the light dust that accumulates on an otherwise clean/properly waxed car after a short drive. It's not worth getting an old Ferrari soaking wet just to remove dust.

    Just use a very light touch, start from the top and use a lot of clean cloths (I like the Griot's cotton cloths, but micro would probably be fine.)

    For a full wash and detail, by all means use the bucket/soap approach that Todd describes.
  19. 50hdmc

    50hdmc Formula 3

    Oct 10, 2006
    Full Name:
    mark s
    GREAT post Todd. What is your opinion of washing using a soft hog hair brush?

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