0. Car Detailing Tips
1. Recommended Car Detailing Products
2. Recommendations for time versus cost trade offs
3. How to wash a car
4. How to get an great shine
5. How to clean the interior of the car
6. How to maintain the shine
Recommended Product Sponsor Links
The awesome shine I've now learned really comes from claying and a base surface prep polymer with various additional attributes of the shine coming from different additional polymers applied on top. From what I can tell, claying is a critical and by all appearances tedious and time consuming step.
Now it's true you can get a very nice result with carnuba waxes instead of the polymers that I'm recommending. I like the polymers because they last a long time and are easier and faster to apply. Remember I'm not a car hobbiest, I'm just trying to enjoy a nicer looking car with while minimizing effort and cost.
Clay bars really work best on cars with clear coats. The time it takes to clay a car depends on how old it is and how long it has been since the last time it was clayed. A new car takes around an hour. The worst car takes around 3 hours. Cleaned bird droppings and bugs take the longest to clean. It's best to always wipe off bugs and bird droppings right away since they will actually pit the paint.
To clay the car, first be sure it's freshly washed. Pick your first panel and run your finger over the surface. You'll almost certainly feel little bumps. These are bits of grit that are tenatiously attached to your car's paint. You'll see they don't come off easily and rubbing will make little scratches. Little scratches make a haze and is a big reason your car may not shine. The solution for properly removing the grime is with a lubricant and a clay bar.
I should note that you should also clay the windows. This will remove the water spots. This never takes too long. It's also good to clay the various headlights, tail lights, and trim.
The lubricant is just a quick detail wax. You can use this to quickly wash the car without using any water. Just spray and wipe with a microfiber towel.
Buy a clay bar and lubricant from a reputable brand. Mother's clay bars seem to be better than Maguires. Break the clay bar into a smallish piece, perhaps 3 inches X 3 inches when flattened. You absolutely want to do this! If you drop the clay bar on the ground it's ruined. I'm not kidding. It'll pick up huge bits of grime from the floor and those will eventually scratch your car.
Work the car one panel at a time. Now spray the lubricant and very gently glide the clay over the surface. You may hear a faint sound as the clay takes up the grit. You'll know you're done when the slight grit is no longer there. Continue carefully cleaning the panel with plenty of lubricant until done. Periodically fold the clay to reveal a new clean grit free surface. Again, if you drop the clay, throw it out. The grit from the ground ruins it, no amount of folding will help.
I think it's now clear why I'm hiring someone to do this activity. You must truly love cars and detailing to do what it takes. And, yes, you have to do this, I can't really see a good way around it. The good news is that it's not very hard work, just tedious.
If your paint is damaged or oxidized, it needs to be polished. I'm not covering polishing since that seems too difficult and risky for an amateur. If you have one of those cars where the paint looks hideous, I suggest paying that one time fee for a professional to get it right. If you're not sure, try claying one panel and looking for scratches and oxidation.
It's best to now apply your vinyl conditioner to all the car's plastic surfaces. That will make it easy to wipe off any wax product that accidently gets on it. If you have a problem getting the wax off the plastic, try using rubbing alcohol applied with a toothbrush, goof-off, or Turtle Wax Tar and Bug remover.
Next the surface is prepared and it's relatively easy to put the initial coating on your car. In my case I use Jeff's Prime. Follow the instructions on the bottle for how this works. Use a microfiber or cotton pad applicator to apply and wipe it off with a dedicated microfiber towel. Some people find the microfiber applicators get matted, so they prefer the cotton applicator pads. This phase can be slow for Jeff's products, but if you are adventurous it can be made faster with a porter cable random orbital buffer. Products other than Jeff's are typically quicker and easier. In the case of Jeff's the slowness for this phase causes it to last longer.
Then the second layer can be applied. I use Jeffs Acrylic. Use a microfiber towel to buff the material. This wont take much effort.
Then for the final shine I'm using Jeff's Carnuba. I could stop with Jeff's Acrylic, but it'll look nicer with Jeff's Carnuba and that's what I'll use to maintain the shine going forward. Besides, this step is pretty quick and easy to complete.
The car now has a nice layer of various polymers on it that will strongly repel moisture and protect your paint. That means that the dirt tends to lift from the surface rather than grinding into it. Car washing just got a whole lot easier! You know it's time to wax again when the water no longer beads into thousands of little beads when wet.
Tire CleaningI don't like cleaning tires! It's really not that hard. Just get a good tire cleaning product like EagleOne Tire Gel Detailer or Mount Hood Wildcat cleaner. Mount Hood WildCat is probably the best and easiest product to use. For cleaning the wheels (the shiny part) I recommend using the Maguire's Wheel Face Brush for scrubbing and a Carrand lug nut brush. If your lug nuts are deeply set then use a clean paint brush to get into the crevices. To clean the rubber get a dedicated tire brush like a Carrand interior brush. It takes maybe 5 minutes per wheel following the above instructions.
It's really nice to also clean the back side of your wheels. Some people will take the wheels off, but you can also get your dedicated tire mitt between and behind the spokes and clean there. It will make your wheels extra shiny.
Expect this entire process to take 6 to 10 hours.