haven't seen one of these stickied yet, but a lot of questions about them. i will cover washes, waxes, deep cleaning, and reviving old paint. this is something that we are all undoubtedly concerned with as proud car and truck owners, but something that can sometimes get overlooked or neglected. i will go through some ways that you can take care of your car's finish without having to constantly wipe every drop of rain off.
i will preface this by saying that high pressure car washes are one of the worst things for your finish. they tend to drive pollutants further into the paint as much as they rinse them off. a touch-free wash is the perfect example of this. automatic washes are not the best, but often good in a pinch. an automatic wash when you are on the run is better than being too busy to hand wash.
this is the best place to start since this is what gets done to your car the most often. even if you only wash once every two weeks or once a month, you will still do this as often or more than waxing and polishing. it is important to use a decent wash and not just dish detergent. while dish detergent is gentle and safe, it isn't harsh enough to remove pollutants and has wetting agents that can stick to the paint. if you were to wash your car in 120 degree water, this wouldn't be a bad idea, but most of us don't. for those of us who wash our cars out of the water hose, you need to get something that will clean and polish, but wash away smooth without leaving a residue. personally, i use zip-wax car wash by turtle wax, but anything similar is just as good. i have had good luck with this on finishes with and without clear coat and i haven't really looked for anything else. personal experience is the best teacher with this kind of thing. you will just have to try some of them and see what works for you.
this is one of those things that some people never do for one reason or another. a lot of people will say that waxing is bad for your finish because it can bond to the clear coat and actually dull the finish over time. this was the case 20 years, but waxes have come a long way. most of them are synthetic now and are more polishes and less waxes. nonetheless, if they are advertised as wax, they are wax and apply here. waxing is the most weather-sensitive thing that you can do to your car. you need the perfect weather for wax to come out just right. the best case scenario for waxes is high humidity, low temperature, and shady areas. if you feel forced to wax in direct sun, i recommend just going inside and hitting yourself in the head with a tack hammer. that would give you less of a headache than trying this. washing and clay barring the finish first will help the wax to look best.
there are a lot of opinions on what products are best, but you will have to form your own opinion on what to use. just for reference, here are a few; zaino, p21s, meguiars, turtle wax, etc. i haven't used wax in a long time, but i would use zaino if i did. other than that, i would just recommend something synthetic.
with deep cleaning, all that i can say is clay bar. you will be amazed at how much different your car looks after a clay bar system and how much is stuck to the clay afterwards. all of them are pretty much the same, but the difference is the prep work before you start. you need to clean the car very thoroughly, clay bar it, then wash it again. i clay bar my rx7 and it still has the original paint from 1987 that still keeps a really nice shine. i always get compliments on the paint before anything else. this is one of the things that you can do to your car and just hose it off and dry it between washes. i recommend a clay bar system once a month and washes once a week in between. you can also clay bar glass to get pollutants out, but it is a lot of work and there are much easier things to do.
reviving old paint
this is where maintenance crosses body work a little bit. the best way to do this is to wet sand the paint and buff it out. this is really tedious work that is easy to mess up if you aren't patient. i will walk you through the steps, but assume no liability in botched work. keep in mind that this takes practice and isn't the easiest thing to do at all. i used to do paper-thin finishes on high-end pianos, so i have a hand for it now. that's not to say that i didn't burn through a few $50k finishes before i learned, that just means that i know how to do it now. the best way to practice is to section off your hood into 2' x 2' squares and practice on there. if you mess up the hood, you can have it painted in a couple of days at the local maaco for pretty cheap.
here is the process;
start with some wet/dry sandpaper. the grit that i prefer to start with is 1200g 3m tri-m-ite wet or dry paper. if you look closely at this paper, you can see grain in it. you want to sand with the direction of the grain since it is designed to clean out the paper. the best sanding block that you can use is a home-made one. take a 1" x 4" board and sand it (with regular sand paper, not this paper) until the middle has a high spot and it rounds out to the edges. the middle shouldn't be incredibly high, just a little bit higher than the rest. the important thing is that you don't have square edges on the block. with that block, you can be sure that you won't dig holes in your paint. anyways, back to the paper. cut or tear the paper into squares, i usually just tear it into four quarters, and soak it in water with a little dash of hand soap or dish detergent. i let it soak for a couple of hours before i use it. i start it with 1200 grit since it is still gritty enough to smooth out the paint, but not so gritty that it leaves tracks. sand the finish in long strokes back and forth until you can see fine lines in the finish with a flashlight. you should also not see any gloss left in the finish. after that, you need to finish up with a microgrit pad, i like 2000 or 2400 grit. the microgrit also needs to be soaked for a couple of hours before you use it. the microgrit, you will use without a block and sand in a circular motion, but don't stay in one spot for too long. you only want to sand with this grit until the straight lines are gone and the surface feels even.
you then want to start with the buffing. this is where the work gets deep and you can really mess up if you aren't paying attention. you need two different grades of pads, a buffer that is high speed, a buffer that is low speed, and a few different grades of polish. if you have a variable speed buffer, that is fine instead of two buffers. you don't want to do this all at one speed, though. on to the polishes now. i usually use all 3m products here since they are usually the best quality and have the most variation in grits. you want to start with a higher grit polish and a large cloth pad that has the threads spread out a little. this is the point where high speed comes in. you need to apply the polish directly to the part and smooth it out a little by hand. after it is even, you want to lean the buffer where one side of the buffer pad is on the part and the other is off. use high speeds in quick motions and overlapping strokes until you have the whole area evenly buffed. wipe it clean and check for areas that are still far out of polish. you aren't looking to buff completely here, just to knock the sanding marks and make it mostly even. you can go over it a couple of times a little more slowly until you get the hang of it, but when you are comfortable, you will be able to give it a really quick once over without burning it. you then need a foam buffing pad and some fine grit finishing polish. i prefer silicone polish for this step, but you can try what you want. the foam pad, you will use at a lower speed and you will use it pressed all of the way against the surface of the part. this, you will use slowly and you will be trying to get a complete polish out of the finish now. if you did everything right, this is where you will be able to tell. polish the piece out with some hand glaze polish and see the results.
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