How To

Save Your Paint

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by Rick Jensen  More from Author

Easy paint cleaning and protection tips.

I must admit, I’ve spent way too little time taking care of my paint over the years. The excuses depended on the car: The Turbo Buick got a cheap insurance repaint in the mid-’90s that consisted of a single-stage enamel with a ton of orange peel, so there wasn’t much to be done there. And NYC cabbies have hit my late-model GM commuter car five times in the last two years. When the driver-side door is crunched in a foot or so, paint care is the last thing on my mind.

However, after purchasing a rare hardtop Camaro Z28 a few years ago, I was forced to pay more attention to my finish. The previous owner had re-painted it a darker shade than its original Navy Blue Metallic; both the color and the quality were outstanding. I kept it as clean as possible, but during its short life in NYC, it bore the brunt of the Northeast’s elements with–I’m ashamed to say–only the occasional waxing.

Once I got it down to Florida, the first thing I did was give it a nice, long bath. Immediately I saw several areas that needed more attention than a wash could give: small brown sap spots and large white bird doo remnants were the problem. I needed to act fast on these imperfections or they might become permanent, so I hit the auto supply store for some ammo. I’ve always had good luck with Mothers so that’s what I bought, and I only dropped around $50 for the product–including one very innovative invention–and all necessary towels and applicators.

Follow along and watch me wake up this Chevy’s paint.

To save your paint, you need to know what you’re up against. Go over every inch and note any trouble spots: deep scratches, embedded contaminants, swirls, chips–and if I know you guys, chunks of rubber stuck to the quarter panels.

I’ll be using the Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System: a clay bar, cleaner wax, and detail spray that are said to revitalize paint. It costs under $20.

Particularly nasty contaminants like bird doo, tree sap, and the like should be pre-treated with detailer spray or soapy water before washing to loosen it.

Although car washes will work, its preferable to break out dedicated car wash soap, a bucket, and a wool mitt and do it by hand in the shade. Use a hose with a wide, strong spray pattern to loosen dirt. Work from the top surfaces to the bottom panel by panel, leaving the dirtiest panels for last. And if you drop the mitt onto the ground while washing, it must be replaced as dirt is embedded and will wreak havoc on your finish.

Never let water dry while washing. Flood the surface with a hose to rinse it off, going top to bottom. This pulls more water off. Microfiber towels don’t scratch and should be used for drying; start with the windows and move on to the paint.

Any water spots that form before you dry the area can be removed with detailing spray.

Even though it looks clean, running your hands over the paint will reveal contaminants–they feel like little bumps on the surface.

A clay bar will remove those surface contaminants along with your old wax. Use one with a detailing spray to lubricate the stretched-out material as you move it across your paint. Knead it often to ensure a clean section of clay.

The difference in surface feel is significant after a bar is used–much smoother.

Though you may prefer to do it old school, an innovative product that makes waxing easy is the PowerBall series from Mothers. With one of these and a cordless drill set on the lowest speed, you can really make some time. Shown is the PowerBall Mini for wheel cleaning; the PowerBall 4Paint is a larger version for waxing.

The clay bar should always be followed with wax. If your paint is swirled, scratched, or chipped, a paint chip repair kit/scratch remover should be used, followed by cleaner, sealer, and then pure carnuba wax. If the paint is in great shape, a coat of cleaner carnuba wax should do the trick. 

Microfiber applicator pads are great, but foam ones can be used too. Apply the wax to the pad only. Most people apply wax way too thick; apply it so it only shows a haze–if it turns white, you applied too much. Apply wax on only a couple of panels at a time, working from top to bottom and applying only light pressure to the applicator.

Once it dries, microfiber or all-cotton cloths are great to remove the wax with. Rotate often and replace when necessary. If you want multiple coats, repeat the wax and wipe routine. Use caution along edges and near emblems; a detail brush comes in handy here.

With the Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System and a few hours of elbow grease, I was able to remove all of the bird droppings and tree sap, get rid of the paint’s surface roughness, and give this Camaro a protective coat of carnuba wax. Whether you are buying, selling, or keeping a vehicle, spending a little more time protecting your paint will always yield big rewards.  




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