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Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions
How are your services different from the regular run-of-the-mill detailer?
    I am not a regular detailer.  Each car I work on receives the highest level of care that I am capable of, based on many years of learning about paint and exterior care.
    Many detailers and most budget detailers use a high-speed rotary buffer which removes paint too aggressively and leaves tell-tale buffer marks.  To me, buffer marks are paint flaws which are to be removed, and are in fact a type of damage.
    Many detailers don't actually prepare your car properly for wax, or even wax your car at all, an important step to protect your paint and prolong its life.  For that matter, many detailers don't even wash your car before buffing; they just start cutting dirt and paint off of your car to save themselves time and trouble, sacrificing the finish on your car in the process.  It is possible for a "bargain" $199 detailer to do literally thousands of dollars worth of damage in a short time, especially on a fine, expensive car.  Many of you with exotic and collector cars are very aware of this already.  I don't use a high-speed rotary buffer.  And here is a fact for you:  A rotary buffer with a nine-inch pad at 3,000 RPM is spinning at just over eighty miles per hour.  Something spinning this fast should never be touched to your car for routine detailing purposes; this is, in my mind, strictly a paint shop tool.  I clean your car carefully, thoroughly and completely, whatever it takes, then I clay it, then I polish it, then I wax it.  I work on your car out of the sun, and with the paint cool to the touch.
    I focus on fine sports, prestige, exotic and collector cars.  You get top quality paint care for your car.  If you have a 'regular' car, you still get the same level of service as clients with higher-end cars.  When you come to me, you can expect the very best quality work.
My car is not a collector car, but can you detail it anyway?
    Yes, of course.  If you love your car, there is nothing wrong with having collector level paint care being performed on it.  In fact, if you want your car to look great for a long time, you're actually going to need high quality paint care of the kind that I offer.  Is it crazy to keep your daily driver in top shape and appearance?  No, I don't think so.  Is it crazy to keep your car so nice that it could win a car show?  Maybe, but it sure is fun!
In which cities do you work?
    I serve the South San Francisco Bay Area, and nearby areas; specifically Santa Clara County and adjacent counties, and Monterey County.  Other areas may be possible by special arrangement; contact me for details.
    I also have a shop in Palo Alto, available by appointment.
What are the requirements for mobile service?
    I can go to where the car is, if you have a suitable work area.  If you have a space about the size of a two-car garage that you can park in the middle of, I can very likely detail your car at your location.  Your car's exterior needs to be cool to the touch and out of direct sun in order for it to be properly cleaned, polished and waxed.  I cannot in good conscience clean, polish and wax your car outdoors in a sunny parking lot.  At higher temperatures, paint starts to get softer, and applying detailing products to a hot painted surface can cause streaking, marring or other problems -- why do that?  By allowing anyone to work on your car's finish in the sun, you are risking damage to your finish, or an ineffectual detailing job, and more than likely both.
    Some of my services require the use of a lift.  If you do not have a lift, my shop in Palo Alto has a lift I use to facilitate cleaning and polishing of Borrani wire wheels and similar wheels, and which I use to do engine, driveline, suspension and undercarriage cleaning and detailing. Certain wheels, like Borrani wire wheels, which require intensive polishing of bare or uncoated metal surfaces, require the use of a lift to be cleaned, polished and waxed properly.  [link to Borrani wire wheel photos here]
    I am currently (November, 2010) arranging an additional shop location in San Jose, where a detailing lift may soon be ready (2011).
Why shouldn't I just go to a car wash?
    I have never seen an automatic car wash that I was satisfied with.  I have used a hand car wash that I was not only not satisfied with, but that also didn't actually clean all of my car.
    An automatic car wash very often uses those big spinning nylon brushes, although these specific types are less common these days than they once were.  The nylon brushes leave marks which are actually scratches in the paint that are quite distinctive.  After you learn to recognize these characteristic marks, you will be able to see them on a car that has gone through one of these car washes even just once.  These types of car washes should never be used, even for a car you don't even like!  These nylon brush scratches are actually just damage to your car's finish.  Better to drive right past a place like this, rather than damage your car.  It takes quite a bit of polishing to remove these scratches, and for no good reason.
    A more recent development in automatic car washes is the use of rotating brushes that use large foam material "bristles", that while quite a bit gentler than the hard nylon bristles, are still not something you want touching the paint of your treasured car.  Not to mention, that a car is often "finished off" by people with scratchy cotton cloths or towels, sometimes even dragging dirt from the still-dirty lower panels of your car and transferring it right up to the roof or hood and scratching up your paint.  Cotton dry towels are not cool.
    Some car washes use cleaning pads which are dragged across your car.  Not as bad as spinning nylon brushes, but still not a good way to treat a car, since there is still the chance of introducing new scratches into the paint.
    The truth is, repeatedly using automatic car washes eventually scratch up the finish on your car, either quickly or slowly.  If you insist on using a car wash, as for a daily driver, find one that is truly "touchless" and that doesn't have twirling brushes and such.  For an unmanned automatic car wash (such as at a gas station), select the lowest option level of washing or cleaning, that is with the least amount of time for "cleaning" chemicals to sit on your paint, and without that silly foaming wax -- and if it has nylon brushes, forget it.  Go somewhere else with a less damaging car wash.
What about a "Touchless" Car Wash?
    Even with a so-called touchless car wash, you can still have your paint impacted by the harsh cleaning chemicals that these types of car washes can use to get your car clean; the pH can be so bad that you would likely need to use gloves to avoid chemical burns if you got these cleaners on your hands.  So why put these harsh chemicals on your paint?  I have actually had the experience of coughing from strong fumes coming into my car from the harsh cleaning chemicals being used at a "touchless" car wash.  Repeated use can actually damage your paint, and even just one time can cause streaking in your finish, especially on older paint.
    Not long ago I went to a touchless car wash (just to see what's out there) to see their process.  The wash line was in fact touchless, no twirling brushes or pads of any kind touching the paint.  However, after the car came out of the wash section, people with cotton towels then touched the car all over in order to dry it.  Is this truly touchless?  I don't really think so, since cotton scratches, and they are touching your car.
Can't one of those detailers at a car wash take care of my car?
    Many, if not most car wash detailers don't really offer proper claying, polishing and waxing, which are all part of precision detailing.  For that matter, many car washes don't actually even fully wash your car; maybe you have had this happen to you.  Do you really want them to do any sort of comprehensive detailing?
    Some offer claying; there are clays out there that can scratch your paint; some clays are very abrasive for aggressive, fast cleaning and are actually intended for use in paint shops - for sanding paint.  These inferior or inappropriate clays should not be used on your car for quality detailing.
    Some car washes offer waxing of your car, which is often done when the car likely still has bonded contaminants on it.  Waxing over even minute crud particles left on your paint is bad for your paint, because these contaminants are reacting with your paint, quickly or slowly, and will eventually eat into and etch your finish.  In my mind, these particles have got to come off completely before any polishing or waxing is done.  This is not only to make your car look its best, but it is also to preserve and prolong the life of the paint.  I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that car wash operations don't have the skill, the products or the patience to properly take care of your fine car.  Some of these places can actually do quite a bit of harm.  And you probably already know this.
    If you love your car, you should really be washing it by hand, not running it through a car wash.  If you have a daily driver that you want to be able to quickly clean out of convenience, it is best to have it cleaned, polished and waxed first, to protect it from the car wash, however ironic that sounds.  A polished and waxed car cleans up more easily, thus requiring less effort on the part of the car wash staff, thus reducing the chances of introducing new scratches.  In fact, car wash staff, after washing your already fully clayed, polished and waxed vehicle in the car wash might just want a nice tip for doing such a brilliant job washing your car -- and you should pay it to them! 
Do you hand wash cars?
    Yes, I do.  For those cars that are to be washed, I use a gentle yet effective car wash product mixed to a specific ratio, and a large wash bucket with a grille on the bottom to prevent picking up grit from the bottom and dragging it across the paint and scratching it.  I do not use wash mitts, because of the slight possibilty of dragging a bit of grit or even a hard leaf or other debris across the finish and introducing a scratch.  Rather, I use boar's hair brushes with long, very soft, fine bristles that quicky and gently and safely remove dirt and grime from your paint and from gaps, crevices, vents and voids in the bodywork in a way that wash mitts -- even very good wash mitts -- just can't really do.  I can't in good conscience use anything but a quality boar's hair brush when washing a car.  And I wash your car until it's clean, changing the water as many times as necessary.
    If needed or if applicable, I specifically wash and clean the wheel wells, using a different type of cleaning tool.  I wash and clean the wheels and tires with yet different types of cleaners and cleaning tools especially for that purpose, among them boar's hair brushes designed specifically for cleaning wheels.  I also have a brush used specifically and only for cleaning tires.
    If you have very hard water, I use a portable water softener, to reduce the chance of water spots.
What do you use to dry a car?
    I use high quality, soft, waffle-weave micro fiber drying towels that are made specifically for drying fine cars.  I don't like to use a chamois, leather or synthetic, since they can trap particles of grit and scratch your paint.  I do not ever use cotton towels to dry your car because cotton towels can scratch the finish. Some may say that these are very fine scratches, which would just polish out easily later.  To which I say, is it not better to not put scratches in the paint in the first place, no matter how fine?  Micro fiber has fibers that are about one hundredth the size of a cotton fiber -- think what that means for gentle cleaning-and-wiping-without-scratching ability.  A micro fiber drying towel picks up dirt left over from the washing process much more safely than a cotton towel ever will.  I also like to use a high-velocity air blower to dry water from all the gaps and so forth which would otherwise continue to drip and hamper progress.
Are all cars OK to be washed?
    I say no, not all cars should be washed.  Some cars, such as twelve-cylinder Ferrari models, hand made until recent times, basically have areas not fully painted or protected underneath such that if you saw them you would not want water on them either.  And many handmade cars, especially older ones, just aren't engineered for good drainage from the bodywork, let's just say.  You don't want to drive these cars through a puddle, let alone turn a hose on them to wash them!
    There are those among you that would never drive your car in the rain; these cars I clean without washing.  For cars that are very fine or just are kept very, very clean, washing can actually make a mess of things.  If your car is not to be washed, it can still be safely cleaned and made ready for claying.
How do you safely clean a car without washing it and without scratching it?
    First, I carefully, and with a very light touch, and with multiple passes, dust your car off with a special micro fiber duster that is washable.  Not all micro fiber dusters are washable.  Why a washable micro fiber duster?  Well, since it's washable micro fiber,  it's able to be kept clean, unlike those cotton dusters with paraffin oil you've likely seen that just get dirtier and dirtier and can't be washed and should be thrown away but usually aren't.  A dirty duster can scratch your car.  I've even had Ferrari clients with an old scratchy duster that I've confiscated.  And I can't begin to tell you what I've seen at car shows and especially at car auctions with untrained staff grinding filthy dusters into the paint; maybe you've seen this yourself.
    After dusting, I carefully clean your car with a high-lubricity gentle cleaner that is very mild but effective at breaking up grime and dirt, and plush micro fiber cloths -- as many cloths as are needed to properly wipe down and dry off the car.  The entire car is cleaned, including door jambs and rocker panels and the inner lip under the wheel arch openings.  Canvas, fabric or leather tops, boots, upholstery and other areas not to be gotten wet are dusted and/or carefully vacuumed or even lint-rolled as appropriate.  For those cars which have the wheels removed for cleaning, the wheel wells can be cleaned, and any painted wheel well areas are cleaned and prepared for claying as well.  All painted areas which are accessible are cleaned, and for those clients who wish it, includes the painted underside of hood, engine cover, and deck lid panels; any upholstery or other liners or panels in these areas are of course handled accordingly.
    Additionally, for those who wish it, while the wheels are off, the brakes and accessible suspension parts can be cleaned.  I also offer cleaning of the engine from top to bottom, transmission or transaxle and other drive line components, chassis underside -- all carefully done by hand without using a pressure washer that can ruin or remove stickers and other important markings, and can inject water into places and things where water should never be.  Is it crazy to clean, polish and wax shock absorbers?  No, I don't think so, and neither will you when you see the result.  [link to GTC/4 photos here]  
What are Bonded Contaminants?
    After your car is cleaned of loose dirt, abrasive grit and oily grime, there may still be dirt and crud particles stuck onto your car's finish that just won't come off.  Very often this is in the form of small specks on your paint.  Especially common are tiny sap droplets from trees and such.  Sometimes there are tiny -- or not so tiny -- splatters of tar from driving on fresh asphalt pavement.  Droplets and splatters from all kinds of things can get on your car and be difficult to wash off.  These little specks and other particles are generally called bonded contaminants, and you can feel them when you run your fingertips over the paint, even if you often can't see them except with a magnifying lens or paint microscope.  Bonded contaminants include any kind of stuff that gets on your paint that doesn't come off with washing or cleaning the car.
    Honey bees for some reason leave yellowish -- about the color of yellow mustard as it dries out -- messy dots and specks on things, including cars.  It's bee poop, and it can leave quite a yellow stain on the paint even after it's washed or cleaned off.  Bee poop is yellow, apparently from the pollen bees eat; pollen has a lot of protein and therefore makes for quite a pernicious stain sometimes.  If left on your paint for too long, it can mar the finish -- no kidding.
    Another common thing to get on your paint is bug splatter, as from bugs that get squashed onto your car as you're driving.  This can get pretty bad, and on cars that have bug splatter left on the paint for a long time, it seems it can affect the paint and leave marks in it as from some chemical reaction, seemingly more of the protein thing.  Another reason to not leave bug splatter on your paint is that someone other than you may try to clean it off, and use something too harsh and fog or scratch your paint.  Believe me, this situation can get very bad.  Bug splatter and bee poop both seem to be examples of stuff that benefits from pre-soaking when washing a car.  This also applies to bird poop.
    Bird poop can be very surprising: beyond the obvious mess, some birds leave rather acidic droppings, which can attack your finish in very short order, sometimes within an hour I would say, depending on various factors.  If your paint is hot from being out in the sun, any chemical reaction with your paint would tend to be accelerated, if you remember your high school chemistry.  As if that wasn't bad enough, many birds actually eat grit or small rocks to help them digest their food, and this ends up mixed in with the poop on your car.  Chance of bird poop alone is enough to consider having good cleaning supplies in your car -- especially if you're on an extended tour or trip -- so that you can immediately clean off the bird-sourced acidic/abrasive double whammy off of your paint, and off of your glass, and if you're so unlucky, off of your upholstery.
    Another common contaminant is iron particles, usually called rail dust, since this is formed by trains rolling down tracks, and is kicked up into the air and can settle quite some distance from any railroad track.  If you've ever parked a car near busy train tracks for extended periods, you may have seen quite a bit of tiny rust particles literally rusted onto your paint.  Also, iron-containing particles can come from any number of sources having nothing to do with trains, such as auto repair shops, and especially auto body and paint shops, where it is possible to have your freshly painted car delivered to you with fresh steel particles all over it from another car being worked on nearby, say from a grinder being used on bare steel on a car right next to yours.  Paint shops can be a very messy -- even dangerous -- environment for your paint indeed.
    This is one of the main reasons that you want to park your treasured cars in a closed garage overnight.  Once the sun goes down, you very often get dew, sometimes quite wet, on your car, especially on the horizontal surfaces, which is where rail dust and other particles have come to rest.  The moisture from the dew reacts with the particles, some quite large, and start to bond to your paint, even when the dew dries completely the next day.  In the case of rail dust, these particles can be well bonded in just one night.  Now, imagine just how stuck onto your paint iron particles can get if left on your finish continuing to rust for days, weeks and months: even if you've washed your car often, even the next day after leaving your car out overnight.  Many of these particles are just not going to come off with washing.
    Now, some bonded contaminants bond as soon as they land on your car, without reacting with moisture from dew or rain.  A good example of this is overspray.  If you get paint overspray on your paint that is the same color as your paint -- which can happen when you are getting part of your car repainted in a careless paint shop -- it can be very hard to see, but you can sure feel it with your fingertips.  Some of the worst paint overspray from a different source I've encountered is what I believe was the yellow paint used for yellow lines painted on the road.  This stuff can be very, very hard to get off of your paint.  Another paint problem: running over spilled paint on the road and getting it on your bodywork -- not good.  [link to pant splatter photos here]
    Another situation which can be very tricky is getting cement splatters on your car.  It happens more often than you might think.  Even if caught right away, cement splatter has a very high potential to scratch; as extremely abrasive particles are loosened from the exterior by cleaning, they must be very carefully removed to avoid nasty scratches.
    Some bonded contaminants, such as paint overspray, may not really do anything bad to your paint besides just stick to it.  Other contaminants, such as rail dust, industrial fallout, pollution, fertilizer and pesticide sprays, and all kinds of other chemically active stuff, can start to eat down into your paint, getting worse the longer they are left on the paint.  You can have a situation where once you get rid of the speck on your paint, you now have an etched spot or speck where the paint is eaten down into a little pit.  Often this is microscopic, and not really visible to the naked eye.  But if you get enough of even microscopic etching and pitting it begins to affect the shine of the paint.  Simply waxing over these contaminants is not a good idea, because the contaminants are still impacting your paint, some more quickly than others, depending on pH and chemistry and so on.  This stuff has got to come off, and gotten off without scratching your paint.  The solution is Paint Cleaning Clay.
What is this thing called Paint Cleaning Clay?
    Paint cleaning clay is used to remove bonded contaminants, usually quite easily, because this is what this clay was specifically developed for.  Some call it 'clay bar', but I don't, since that doesn't seem to describe it correctly.  Perhaps it could be called 'clay lump', but that doesn't sound right either.  Clay piece?  Clay wad?  Maybe clay blob.  Or perhaps, 'a certain measure of an amount of clay, suited to the task at hand'.  But I digress.  I'll just call it paint cleaning clay!
    I just wanted to mention: if someone is using 'clay bar' on your car, they might be using body shop clay which is quite abrasive -- which means it is not paint cleaning clay -- and they are scratching up your paint.  Or it might be like some clay I tried once which was very much a hard bar of clay, which lightly scratched or fogged my paint.  So that's why I don't call it 'clay bar'; I just want to clean the paint, so I use paint cleaning clay.
    I use an ultra fine textured clay, and it's sticky, and quite pliable, so it easily conforms to the shapes on your car.  In fact it is so sticky that I sometimes use special gloves when I'm using it by hand this way.  It is gently moved back and forth across the surface of your car on a lubricating film of a "mist & wipe type" product, until contaminants are removed and the surface is smooth; the wet surface is carefully wiped down and dried with quality micro fiber cloths.
    In my mind, a good clay does nothing to the paint except clean crud off of it.  This process may not make sense to you until you've actually tried it.  It's deceptively simple, if you use good clay, and it's such an effective way to clean bonded contaminants off of your car -- without scratching -- that it's mandatory.  This may sound a little unusual, but I actually use paint cleaning clay a half-pound at a time in a special foam applicator clay pad that I use on an orbital polisher.  This 8-ounce piece of clay lasts longer between kneadings, and allows me to clay more consistently, and more thoroughly, and more quickly, yet in a safe-for-your-paint way.  I also use it on your windows to remove calcium, water spots, and the slightly different kinds of contaminants that stick to your glass.  I use it on glass moon roofs and on bumpers too.  It's brilliant stuff; I have on hand 2 or 3 pounds of it.
    There are clays available that I don't use that are quite hard to the touch and hard to form, and therefore don't easily conform to the shape of the area being clayed.  I have actually lightly scratched the paint, or fogged it, with a clay like this on my test vehicle some years ago.  For this reason I do not use this clay or other clays from auto parts stores.
    The clay I like to use is a light color so I can easily see what I'm getting off of your car.  Some other clays which I haven't used are dark in color, which disguises the dirt it's taking off, which is something I never understood: How can you tell if dark clay is dirty?
What about Glass Cleaning Clay?
    Yes, I have some.  It's formulated specifically for glass, since it turns out that glass really is different from paint.  For those cases where paint cleaning clay is not quite doing it for cleaning glass, I use glass cleaning clay.  It's also a good step before polishing the glass, if it's needed.
Can you polish glass?
    Yes and no.  Well, you can always polish glass, but what are you accomplishing?  Sometimes, not much.  There can be a lot of lime or calcium on your glass, from water spots and such, and sometimes it is very difficult to remove it.  If left long enough, heavy calcium deposits on your glass can actually etch into the glass.  Maybe you've seen this on a car that gets hit by a sprinkler all the time; when the water dries, it actually dries in the same spots each time, so that new mineral deposits are laid down right on top of the old ones.  You might think it's no big deal, just water spots, but it can take a lot of effort to remove built-up deposits, and sometimes you will see a car where the deposits have been left for so long, it's no longer possible to make the glass look good; it's now etched, as in minute bits of glass missing and looking not so swell.
    So, I like to clean every trace of calcium and other deposits off of your glass.  If needed, I have glass polishes and glass polishing pads specifically for cleaning the deposits off of your glass when clay is not cleaning it up.  This first type of glass polishing is actually for cleaning contaminants and residue off of the glass.
    Another glass issue is scratches.  Sometimes this is a real bummer, especially if it's scratches made by windshield wipers right in your field of vision.  And sometimes, when luck is on your side, very light, I repeat very light scratches can be taken out of your windshield.  It may be worth the effort if your car has a rare, original or expensive windshield.  Contact me for more information on this.
Do you clean the wheels?
    Yes, and also the tires.  Wheel cleaning is matched to the materials from which the wheels are made.  Modern alloy wheels are often actually painted, usually in silver, and coated with a durable clearcoat finish, sometimes more than one coat.  Some wheels are painted steel, with small or large hub caps.  Some are chromed steel or chromed alloy.  Some wheels are uncoated aluminum or magnesium alloy.  And some wheels are hand formed aluminum alloy with chromed steel spokes and chromed hubs.  I have also encountered wheels consisting of polished uncoated aluminum alloy outer rims riveted to painted steel hubs, topped with painted and chromed hub caps.  Those of you with these cars know what I mean.  These wheels and tires require seven different products to properly take care of them: Speed Shine (a mist & wipe product), Mag & Aluminum Polish, Chrome Polish, Paint Polish, Carnauba Wax, Paint Sealant, and Tire Dressing; this does not include the six types of cloths or wipes that are also used: Micro fiber cleaning cloth, cotton terry cloth polishing pads, cotton wipes, micro fiber polish removal cloths, detailing sponges, and cotton terry cloth towels.  Add to that, Rubber Cleaner and a scrub brush, or Rubber Prep and a cleaning sponge if the tires need extra attention before dressing.  This is a lot of steps and a lot of products, but it is the right way and therefore the only way to take of wheels & tires for this type of car, as far as I'm concerned.  [link to 300 SL Roadster wheels photos]
    Vintage style Borrani wire wheels are removed from the car for proper cleaning, hand polishing, chrome cleaning and waxing.  This generally requires a lift, and I do not use the lead hammer on the two-eared or three-eared center nuts, but rather a special wrench and adapter socket.  Borrani wire wheels are cleaned on the back of the wheel as well as on the front.  Wheel weights are generally removed if they are in the way, and the wheels are re-balanced as needed after completion.  This permits the aluminum surface to be fully cleaned, polished and waxed.  The tires can be left mounted if you desire, or removed; it can save a step if you're going to replace the tires and/or tubes.  Great care is taken to carefully polish the alloy rim yet leave the original factory manufacturing marks in the surface.  Then I wax the polished aluminum wheel with a long-lasting synthetic wax to slow the oxidation these wheels are known for.  I also wax all the spokes, the chromed hub, and the spinner.  It's a lot of work, but these wheels look really fantastic when they're cleaned, polished and waxed like that!
    The tires are cleaned as needed, and then dressed to look nice without looking overly shiny.  I think a slight satin look is best; too shiny tires don't look right in my opinion.  They way I dress them, they look the same for weeks.  If desired, paint splatters and light stains in the treads can be cleaned away also, especially important to preserve vintage or hard-to-get tires.  The rubber valve stems are cleaned and dressed also.  Is this going to far?  Maybe, but it sure looks nice when it's all done!
Do you really have a paint mcroscope?
    Yep, I do.  It's just 40 X with its own light, but I find it quite useful to figure out difficult paint flaws.  It helps me determine how to address a flaw in the paint I can't seem to identify or clean away.  In the course of going over a panel, I will attempt to remove or reduce each and every paint flaw or blemish.  It can be useful, for instance, to find out that a stubborn flaw cannot be removed because it's a chip or nick in the paint, and sometimes it's even a spot of wrong color paint in the paint; if I can't remove it, I can move along to the next thing.
    Also, a paint microscope is very cool for looking at squashed bugs and stuff!
How clean does the car really need to be, anyway?
    Well, I can tell you that the car looks best when it's completely clean.  So, I like to completely clean the car.   What can I say?  It's what you want too, even if you didn't know it.
    I automatically clean and clay the rocker panels, no matter how far they extend under the car -- if they're painted, they get cleaned, so they get preserved along with the rest of your paint.  Door jambs and all around the door opening, the door latch and strike mechanisms, and all edges of the door itself, hinges, rubber boots for wiring and such -- all get cleaned.  Engine compartment and trunk gutter edges, depending on configuration -- all get cleaned.  Wax and other residue that others before me have left behind, including polish splatters on rubber trim and window gaskets and such -- all get carefully cleaned, without scratching.
    Some time ago I noticed that an engine air cleaner had light overspray, so I clayed it, of course.  Then it was waxed.  What else would I do?  [link to SL600 air cleaner photos]
What's next after cleaning and claying?
    After the car is cleaned and clayed, the next step is to dress the rubber door and window seals and trunk seals and any other weatherstripping with a quality vinyl & rubber dressing, to gently clean and preserve them.  The dressing I like to use does nothing to the rubber and plastic parts, except clean and moisturize them and leave behind a subtle satin sheen.  This is the same product I use on vinyl interior upholstery and vinyl convertible tops.  (This product is unlike some protectants of old, which you may remember, that had a reputation for being too slick and shiny, leaving upholstered seats slippery enough to slide across in a turn, and for eventually hardening vinyl upholstery and dash pads.)
    For those clients who wish engine detailing, I can also treat rubber and plastic parts in the engine compartment, to clean them, preserve them, and to make them look their best.
When do you actually start to polish the paint?
    Now.  Once the paint is fully cleaned, bonded contaminants removed with paint cleaning clay, old wax, polish and crud from crevices removed, the glass (or plastic) windows cleaned, and rubber trim and seals dressed, it's OK to start polishing.  It is wrong to polish the paint before the paint is cleaned, with the proper fine texture paint cleaning clay, of all bonded contaminants.  To try to remove bonded contaminants by polishing causes excess paint to be removed and detracts from the looks of the paint, as well as shortening the life of your paint.  I never polish a car before it is fully clayed and cleaned.  All cars get clayed automatically.  This especially important on older cars where the paint may already have been excessively impacted by wear, oxidation, etching, excessive or aggressive buffing or even sanding.  I go to great lengths to maintain maximum paint thickness.  And trying to polish bonded contaminants off of the paint without claying first removes excess paint and is, in my mind, a great sin.  Burning through the paint is inexcusable, especially original paint.
    Imagine what happens when you try to polish a hard-to-remove speck off of your paint.  You may even have said to yourself, "that speck is coming off too slowly with the clay, I'll just get it with polish."  The polish, however mild, removes minute amounts of paint as you try remove the speck.  You polish and you polish in this one spot and you finally remove the last trace of the stubborn speck.  What's happened?  Paint has been removed from all around the speck, but the spot right under the speck is still original height or thickness.  You actually now have a tiny "mesa" of unpolished paint that was under the speck, surrounded by excessively polished paint which is lower in height, even if microscopically.  You might actually need to polish the area some more to smooth it.  Microscopically, you have made the paint surface uneven, and this can detract from the look of the finish.  The more difficult to remove the speck is, the more important it is to remove it with clay instead, since a good clay acts only upon the speck itself.
    So, I persist with the clay until such specks are gone.  When it comes time to polish, polishing goes more quickly, and the minimum amoumt of paint is removed, and the paint looks its best, and its life is maximized.  Very important on the finest cars, but performed on all cars that I do.  And especially important on vintage Ferrari, Lamborghini and other exotics.  [photos of Ferrari C/4 here][photos of Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada here]
    Dressing the rubber door and window seals and other body gaskets before polishing not only cleans and moisturizes them, but also protects them somewhat from staining by the polish.  If I get any polish smears on the seals, it's easier to clean off.  Unprotected rubber seals are more porous, and would absorb polish more readily, which is not good, especially on older rubber seals.  So I dress, or even mask, the rubber seals before polishing the paint on your car.
    I usually start with a medium fine polish, since very often this is enough to clean up your paint.  Patience is key here, as using too aggressive of a polish makes more work and removes too much paint, sacrifices too much paint thickness, and can even change the look of the paint so that it is not consistent with the rest of the car.  If and as needed I go to a more aggressive polish, one step at a time, to use the mildest polish that gets the job done.  I do not use rubbing compunds, as these are too harsh and can leave their own defects which then need to be cleaned up.  I go to great pains to evenly and consistenly polish your paint so that each area is polished the same amount as any other area, and hit the same number of times with the same number of passes.  I only use an orbital polisher, never a high-speed rotary buffer, as these are too aggressive.  There are detailers who use direct drive rotary buffers to "save time" and sacrifice paint thickness, but I am not one of them.  I believe your car deserves better treatment than that.
    I can clean up a car that is already in excellent condition, and I can clean up a car that has horrible paint problems.  I can't put paint back on your car if it's very bad, but I can clean up paint that is very worn and scuffed and oxidized by removing the minimum amount of paint by polishing carefully, even if it's so thin that you can see through to the primer.  On an original paint older car with terrible condition paint, I can still restore the shine and make what you have left look its best.  For many of you out there with "preservation class" cars, this the way to go.  Sometimes an old original paint car with very worn paint that is polished up nicely is more interesting than a similar car that has been repainted.
What about rubbing out deep scratches in my paint?
    I don't go after paint flaws aggressively, because an overly polished area can detract from the overall look of the car just as much as the flaw I'm trying to remove.  Deep scratches that can be felt with your fingernail cannot be safely completely removed, as this would sacrifice too much paint thickness.  This especially important on an older car, and can be really, really important on an original paint collector car.  And I certainly never use rubbing compound, which is too harsh.
    Light scratches will generally be able to be removed.  Swirl marks usually clean up completely, even if you car is covered with them.  "Medium" scratches can often be completely removed, but sometimes can't or shouldn't be.
    Deep scratches that can be felt with your fingernail, while too deep to be removed, can still be improved to a very marked degree.  A deep scratch can start off looking very bad, but polishing the scratch itself can smooth it so that it reflects light more like the surrounding good paint, and can look a lot less objectionable to the eye.  To me, polishing a deep scratch is better than sanding the area to remove enough paint to try to eliminate the scratch.  The sanded area, while it can be free of the scratch can still look odd because the paint may end up looking completely smooth and flat while the surrounding area has the original factory orange peel, however slight.  This, to me, usually looks worse and more noticeable than extensively polishing the scratch itself.  A bad scratch can be usually be made to look pretty good.
OK, It's all polished now.  Is it done?
    I think you know the answer to that: No!  Next comes the waxing, or protection step, which is what we've been working towards all this time, sort of!  In making the paint shiny and pleasing to the eye by carefully cleaning and polishing it, we've also incidentally been preparing it for waxing.  Isn't that cool?
    There are two main types of wax: Carnauba and Synthetic.  There is also a third type of wax, called cheap stuff, which is any wax that contains silicone, which is a cheap by-product of some other process, or which is inexpensive -- or expensive -- and doesn't last very long.  And wax with silicone can screw up any future repainting work you have done with "fisheyes" and such.  I don't know if they even make it that much any more.  If it's on your car, it's probably something that should be removed, or certainly not re-applied.  There is even at least one wax that has yellow carnauba, silicone, polymer, AND other waxes -- doesn't sound good to me.  In my world, there are really two types of wax, meaning there are two types of wax that I use:  Carnauba wax and Synthetic wax, also called paint sealant.
    Carnauba is a natural wax that is refined from trees that grow in tropical areas.  It's finicky, hard to put on, hard to buff off, doesn't last very long, and doesn't offer that much protection.  Oh, and it looks fantastic and wins at the Concours d'Elegance.  I have two versions, liquid and paste.  The liquid is for the very best appearance, and the paste is very similar but offers slightly more protection.  If you are a carnauba freak, I can help you.  And I would only agree that you are a carnauba freak if you understand that this needs to be re-applied every three months.  Ferrari models and other exotic makes should probably all have carnauba.  If you want, I can put this on your daily driver.
    Synthetic wax, also called paint sealant in the industry, doesn't really seal your paint, it's just what they call it.  The stuff I use is similar to the famous German acrylic paint sealant well-known since the 1980's, but it's updated and improved.  It's easy to work with, easy to put on, easy to buff off, lasts at least six months (more if you pamper your car), and offers good protection, and looks practically as good as carnauba.  If you actually drive your car around, paint sealant is the stuff to use.  I have two versions; one is pure paint sealant, the other is paint sealant that has polish added to it.  The one with polish added allows you to get the benefit of another pass with medium fine polish while I apply paint sealant.  Most cars benefit from this additional pass with polish.
    I apply the wax of your choice using an orbital polisher, since that's the best way to apply it; it's a consistent and thorough way to apply wax, better than by hand.  For hard-to-reach areas, a small waxing pad is used by hand.  If you wish, of course, I can apply the wax solely by hand.
    For those cars that are waxed with carnauba for which I have also polished Borrani wire wheels or similar wheels, I use the paint sealant on all metal surfaces of the wheels to preserve the polish job for as long as possible.  Paint sealant lasts longer on the wheels than carnauba ever can, and offers more protection.  Similarly, on older Ferrari models with an uncoated aluminum grille which I have metal polished, I use paint sealant on the polished aluminum grille assembly to preserve the polishing job and to slow oxidation.
[Edited 11-7-2010.  MORE TO FOLLOW]
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griotslogo.gifA Mobile Auto Polishing, Precision Detailing & Preservation Service
Eddie Da Rocha, "The Doctor of Polish"
phone: 408.786.8440    email: eddie@restorationpaintpolish.com