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:: Auto Detailing ::

Auto Detailing, although already a popular pastime in the US, has yet to catch on fully in the UK. Those of you who visit us regularly will have noticed that we recently sold Project G60 on eBay and we're proud to announce there's a new car in the Matey-Matey stable. Dan's now the proud owner of a storming Honda S2000 in Monte Carlo Blue. We won't spoil the surprise too much as there's a full article on the way, suffice to say it's an absolute beast - 9000rpm - 150 mph - 50:50 weight distribution... the list goes on.

The car is only just 4 years old but it's spent most of that time in London and from what we can tell, a chunk of that has been parked on the street. 


The paint looked great from a distance, but on close inspection it was covered in light swirling, surface oxidation and a coating of tree-sap and diesel. The good news was that the Honda paint was tough as old boots. This was also the bad news :-) 

For years we've been 'polishing' our cars in the time-honored British fashion with Autoglym, plenty of elbow-grease and lots of cotton toweling. Most of our cars have been well-loved by previous owners or being classic VWs have not had modern rock-hard clear coats and so it had been relatively easy to get rid of defects with simple old-fashioned effort.

We took this approach with the S2000 and it made almost NO difference - the shine was there and it passed the Girlfriend long-distance test with flying colours but the fine scratches, swirling and roughness just wouldn't budge. The Honda 'Clearcoat' (the shiny lacquer sprayed on top of the matte sparkly 'Basecoat') was just too damn tough for the products we were using!

To cut a very long story short - we did a LOT of research on professional auto detailing, ordered a lot of Meguiar's products via mail order - eventually bought the best 240v random-orbit buffer that money can buy and set about 'detailing' the car...

We decided the best way of documenting this detailing process was using lots of pictures, which were taken using Dan's mobile (cell) phone. They're pretty amazing considering it's a phone but some of them are in low-light and are a touch grainy, for which we apologise.

Step ONE - Washing

It is essential that you loosen ALL the dirt on the car with a VERY thorough rinsing programme before you go any further. Start at the top of the car and rinse the dirt with a 'moderate stream' of water from top to bottom.

You are aiming to 'float off' or stream off all the grit from the paint. Use gravity to help take the particles away from the car and safely to the ground.

Resist the urge to blast the dirt with a mega jet-washer as this will 'bead blast' the grit against the paint and can even remove the paint if- you're not careful.

Fill a bucket with a good quality car-shampoo mixed to the recommended concentration and steer well-clear of domestic washing up liquid.

Once more, start at the top and using a good quality wash mitt (or a NEW sponge if you have nothing else - though take care) gently lather the paintwork panel-by panel from top to bottom.

We usually wash the roof first, followed by the boot-lid (trunk), tops of the wings and the bonnet (hood). We will usually replace the water and then do the door tops down to the swage lines (or rubbing strips) as well as the front and rear light cluster areas. Typically we'll replace the water a third time to do the bottoms of the doors,  bumpers / fenders and the "low and grimy parts". This ensures we never risk using gritty water on the top bits where you'll really notice it.



  • START at the TOP

  • FINISH at the BOTTOM

  • NEVER use more than very gentle pressure.

  • ALWAYS rinse the mitt / sponge frequently 

  • ASSUME you DO have grit trapped between the mitt and the paint -That will encourage you to rinse that bit more and press that bit less!

The damage to the paint on the Honda was undoubtedly caused by an appalling washing technique. It probably was done by someone starting at the bottoms of the un-rinsed doors and gradually sanding the car's dirt with a gritty sponge up and across every panel!

Step TWO - Claying

Claying is a modern phenomena and important part of Auto Detailing that just won't make sense 'til you've tried it. This made the biggest single difference to the Honda of any of the products. The paint was rough to the touch even after polishing and was covered in tiny dots of tree sap which were in turn coated in diesel fumes. 

Claying the car involves using a bar of clay which you break into half or 1/3rd, knead into a useful shape and float over the car, panel-by-panel on a sprayed layer of 'detailer'.

TIP: You can make the detailer go a little further by not totally drying the car before you start - some detailing professionals make their own detail mixtures up - just be sure the surface is well-lubricated

You are aiming to use very light pressure - just a little more than the weight of the clay. Float the clay in gentle circles and continue 'til it picks up speed. As it grabs less and less particles or 'contaminants' its drag coefficient will reduce and it will start to 'glide' rather than 'drag' across the paint. This is how you will be able to tell it's now clean.

Be sure to remind yourself why you are doing this by looking at the clay regularly and folding to a clean patch when it becomes dirty - the sheer quantity of particles it will pick up from even a superficially shiny car will astonish you.

This dirt was from just one panel -  The clay when fresh should be almost white!


Step THREE : Cleaning the paint.

This is where detailing gets fun. There are seemingly lots of different names for the next bit. Some people call it 'polishing,' some call it 'cleaning'. Either way we are aiming to remove the build-up of bonded contaminants, strip all the old traces of polish, clean out the scratches and then to (hopefully) get rid of them by 'micro-abrading' (removing) an ultra-thin layer of paint. 

If you look at the picture below - you will see the problem. The paint is good quality, with no fading and plenty of clear coat. It is just that the clear coat is scratched, oxidized and in need of some TLC.

Initially we stated with the Meguiar's 3-Step paint restoration series as pictured above and applied it by hand with applicator pads. 

This worked well and made a difference but as you can see the scratches needed more of the 'hills that surrounded them' removed. In other words - we need to go a bit more abrasive!


We decided to bite the bullet, go mechanised and buy some professional products! - For the UK, one of the best 240v random orbit buffers you can get is the Dewalt Dw443 230 Volt Variable Speed Right Angle Buffer  

We bought ours from Amazon UK

This is the daddy of Buffers and has a totally 'random throw' which helps eliminate the chances of swirls

Alongside this we opted to try Meguiar's' 3 different types of buffing pads and 2 different types of polish / cleaner / glaze :-)

Each of the three has a different level of abrasiveness.

In hindsight, we would NOT recommend you bother with the Purple W7006 - (the harshest pad ) as it can actually put in scratches if you're not careful.

TIP: The aggressiveness is marked on a scale on the pack! Always go for the lowest you can and work up if that doesn't help.

TIP: You will notice that the hooks on the buffer's mounting face spill on to the foam of the buffing pad by about 5 mm. Tape the edge of your sander to prevent the hooks tearing at the foam and prematurely killing it.

TIP: Be sure that the pad is well-attached and the cord is over your shoulder.

TIP: Apply the product to the buffing pad, NOT the car. You are aiming to work on one panel at a time.

We started with the least-aggressive 'finishing pad' and the less aggressive Meguiar's #82 Swirl Free Polish. This leaves a great finish and removes some of the paint but was still not abrasive enough. 

...So we moved on to the Meguiar's #80 Speed Glaze which is 4/10 on the aggressiveness scale and applied it with the yellow pad.

TIP: Start with the speed set low and gradually build it up during the process. 

You are trying to 'mildly' dry out the the polish as you go and you will soon find that there is a sweet time when the abrasiveness is optimal and yet the polish is still 'moist'. Do NOT let it go dry or let the paint get hot. Keep the pad moving slowly across the paint and ALWAYS keep an eye out for contaminants trapped under the pad.

TIP:The consequences of getting a bit of grit trapped under the pad don't bear thinking about! Keep vigilant and only use light pressure. It is the sheer distance traveled backwards and forwards  by the moving pad that's doing the work - NOT how hard you're pressing

After a while you will get used to the way the 'polish' behaves - you are aiming to thoroughly breakdown all its abrasives into a smooth paste which you work back and forth in 25cm circles and then let it almost dry.

TIP: Use Microfibre Clothes to remove the polish / glaze, dividing them into 1/4s (pictured) being sure to turn the cloth regularly and folding to a clean bit for the 'final wipe'.

These 'Microfiber' Auto Detailing clothes are FAR superior to old-t-shirts etc and are machine washable (use LIQUID soap to reduce the chances of getting un-disolved grains of scratchy powder left and use a 40 degree wash with extra rinse).


Meguiar's Microfibre Clothes pick up a much higher 'volume of product' than normal cotton towelling and once you've tried them, you'll never turn back.


Waxing or sealing is the detailing process by which you lock in the new shine, feeding the paint's surface with oils and nutrients and protecting it from the elements. We have tried a number of different 'waxes' and have found that Meguiar's NXT Tech Wax is excellent, as is the Liquid Car Wax (pictured). The final Meguiar's Wax worthy of a try is their Meguiar's #16 Paste Wax.

You can apply all of these waxes by hand using applicator pads or using the orbital buffer to really distribute it thoroughly.

Let it dry thoroughly and once more carefully remove it using clean Microfibre clothes which you must shake out thoroughly at regular intervals. 

TIP: Assume, like the washing, that you DO have something trapped under the cloth and keep it shaken and turned at all times. If you are working outside, it is all too easy for a chunk of grit to get blown onto the paint and wedged under the cloth without you realising

TIP: Do be sure to remove the scratchy labels before you start!

Step FIVE - Get Hooked




As you can see from the After photos, the car looks fantastic - you can see vivid reflections in all the surfaces, the paint is now glass-smooth and the glaze and wax combination has deepened and enriched the shine. The process is not over yet and there are still a few minor scratches still remaining. 

Detailing is an process of diminishing returns and no one I know can even see the marks that I'm referring to when I say it's 'not finished yet' - that said, it's been a rewarding experience and we'll be sure to keep you informed on how we get on in stage two...

Dan at matey-matey .com


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