Making a car truly shine and look a mile deep when you gaze into the finish is a combination of steps.
The main one is the protective finish applied at the end but that will largely depend on the prep work prior to that point.
This article will focus on the basics necessary to get that show car quality shine on your vehicle.
The steps we’ll be covering are wash, dry, clay, and protect. We will not be covering inspecting and paint correction since that is much more advanced.
We want to focus on the most important and easiest to perform steps to get you as quickly as possible to the point that your car will almost glow it’s so shiny.
Again, while the protection step is the step that really gives your car that shine, not paying attention to properly cleaning the surface of your paint first will limit your results.
You may be inclined to skip the clay step, feeling that it may be overkill but you would be mistaken. If you’ve never clayed a car before you’ll likely be surprised at the amount of buildup that gets impregnated into the clear coat of your car.
Obviously we need to begin by giving the car a proper bath but we need to pay attention to how we do this so that we don’t cause problems that will have to be resolved later.
It’s very easy to create scratches and swirls in your clear coat if you’re not careful so we need to ensure that we get the road grime off the car and off your wash mitt so that it doesn’t get scrubbed around on your paint surface causing scratches.
We also want to ensure that we don’t leave water spots that we need to clean off. To achieve these 2 goals we’ll want to use a method for washing a car called the 2 bucket method.
One bucket is reserved for soap and the other is reserved for rinsing your wash mitt. In the bottom of each bucket you’ll want to place a grit guard which is designed to prevent you from pulling grit back up and onto your wash mitt.
Last, to ensure that we don’t leave water spots you’ll want to use a ph neutral automotive shampoo. Ph neutral shampoos are gentle on your paint and leave no spots but are tough enough to remove dirt and debris.
What you’ll need to wash your vehicle:
Place grit guards in the bottom of each bucket.
Add the ph neutral shampoo to one bucket and fill it with water, foaming up the shampoo well in the process. Fill the other with just water.
Rinse your car thoroughly trying to get as much road grime off as possible before needing to physically touch the car.
Saturate your wash mitt well and soap it up. Gently wash and rinse your car or truck as you go. Start at the top and work your way down. Frequently rinse your mitt in the water only bucket and soap it back up in the shampoo bucket.
Try to get all of the grit out of your mitt before placing it back on your car or truck or you run the risk of creating swirls and scratches in the clear coat.
When you’re done inspect the car thoroughly to ensure you’ve covered it well and rinse it one last time.
In an effort to minimize touching the surface of your vehicle and preventing opportunities to create scratches and swirls, you can blow dry your car with a leaf blower or a dedicated car air dryer.
It’s also common for people to simply use a large microfiber towel to wipe down the car thoroughly.
Microfiber towels are excellent at absorbing water and are very delicate on the surface of your car or truck.
What you’ll need to dry your vehicle:
Claying is the process of using a literal piece of clay and rubbing it across the surface of your paint.
The clay will pull out all sorts of road grime that has adhered so firmly to your vehicles clear coat that simply washing won’t remove it.
For the clay to glide across your paint you need to use a dedicated lubricant.
There are a few products that are recommended for use as a clay lubricant but you won’t want to get creative here or you can potentially create a real problem.
Once you’ve thoroughly clayed the entire surface of your paint you’ll want to give it one more quick wash and dry. Be sure and follow the same process as above.
What you’ll need to clay your vehicle:
There are 3 main types of products used to protect the finish on your car: Wax, Sealant, and Ceramic Coating.
Waxing provides the best shine but the shortest protection. Typically only a couple months.
Paint sealants have gotten very good and coming close to the shine of wax but provide typically around 6 months of protection.
Ceramic coatings also can provide good shine but improve upon durability by as much as 2 years for the consumer grade ceramic coatings you can buy as a non-professional.
Wax is easiest to apply. Sealants aren’t generally much more difficult. Ceramics can be a little more tricky and require a lot of prep to ensure the surface is decontaminated prior to application.
What we recommend for the best durability as well as shine is a quality sealant such as Wolfgang Deep Gloss Paint Sealant followed by a quality wax like Collinite 845. This combination should give you amazing durability and amazing glass-like shine.
You’ll need to apply the Wolfgang DGPS first following the instructions and allow it to cure for 12 hours. Once it’s cured you can come back and apply a coat of Collinite 845 overtop following the instructions. You’ll be blown away by the end result.
To be honest, Collinite 845 is not strictly necessary but will add an extra depth to the shine as well as increased longevity due to the fact that the wax is a synthetic formulation and more robust than a straight carnauba wax.
For full transparency, I personally only use Wolfgang Deep Gloss Paint Sealant and skip the top coat of Collinite 845.
What you’ll need to protect your vehicle:
The key to getting that show car glass-like shine is not just the protectant you apply to the paint, but the prep work that comes prior to doing so.
If you’re clear coat is in particularly rough shape you may want to spend some time on paint correction. This step wouldn’t be for the average beginner to detailing but you can find a good detailer local to you that could get the job done. It won’t be cheap and honestly, if they’re going to be doing paint correction you might as well have them apply protection while they’re at it.
Properly wash, dry, clay, and protect your car or truck and you’ll end up with a stunning finish. The products you choose for protecting your vehicle you should know are proven and know that they complement each other well if you’re using more than one like we are suggesting here. In this case Wolfgang Deep Gloss Paint Sealant and Collinite 845 wax.