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What is Detailing? and what does it involve?

Firstly, the term detailing hails from America and ivloves numerous processes to basically prepare it to the highest of standards paying attention to every 'detail' in every way. A lot of people assume that its the same as valeting, due to some of the processes involved - ie cleaning. However the difference lies within the different stages of each process and ultimately the finished result. We are talking real perfectionist attention to detail.

Most people are happy with a regular wash with sponge, dry with the chamois and a quick wax with a product available in most outlets and that’s fine. However I’ve never really been satisfied with the results that are achieved through this format, and continued to seek better products, different tools and gain greater understanding of what can and can't be done. There are quite a few of us out there that are obsessive about the cars appearance. I for one was always annoyed when the sun caught my car and that lovely finish was showing up all the swirls and marks and had no idea how they got there. Or when parked under harsh lighting, say at a petrol station forecourt and the defects and swirls and marring stood out.

Anyway, I'm rambling on - back to the nitty gritty, swirling is imparted on paintwork through a variety of means, usually through poor washing/drying and polishing using abrasive sponges, cloths and terry towels. Scratches, well they can come from anywhere really.

Looking at one aspect of detailing in isolation - paint correction, this is a slow and skilled process and the steps involved in providing an outstanding finish are many.

Following a correct wash and dry of the car bodywork; the inspection process can begin (the wash stage is a separate process in itself) The first step is to asses the surface of the paintwork and prepare it ready for polishing. If needed following testing I will use a detailing clay (available in many forms and abrasiveness) and lubricant to remove all the embedded particles and elements that can be invisible to the naked eye, but play their role in compromising visual impact and touch. Following this process the paint surface is left with a glass like touch.

This picture shows the clay after working on a small section of a washed car, note the dirt removed from a just washed car!!

Following the clay process the car is ready for visual inspection under artificial harsh lighting to force light to reflect off the uneven (swirled) surface.

This picture is a badly swirled car. Note the poor clarity of reflection of the lamp and the obvious swirling, dulling and general marring.

The next stage is to determine the paint quality, and asses and determine the extent of the re-levelling process. The paint thickness is measured in microns with a Paint thickness gauge (PTG) there are two types, one for metal substrates and one for composite substrates such as carbon fibre, grp etc.

PTG reading picture

This tells me I can safely polish in the measured area without any detriment to the integrity of the CC as re-levelling removes an average of 1-2 microns. The average paint thickness is 130 microns.

The next stage in polishing is determined by the detailers experience of paint type (lotus paint can be as hard as nails) defect severity and availability of his product. The key is to polish with the least abrasive and most gentle combination of polish, pad and tool.

There are numerous effective swirl removing tools - the Porter Cable random orbital polisher which provides and eccentric rotation and a Rotary polisher - purely rotational action. The PC is gentle and pretty safe, however very slow, noisy and in some circumstances with deep marring, useless on certain paints. the rotary is the most effective and also the hardest to use correctly and safely - this is where the detailers skill is brought into light.

heres a picture of the Lotus elise tail end - an area prone to scratches. As the colour of this car is black, when the light is shone across the surface the full extent of the swirling and marring become visible

Here is a picture of a 50:50 shot of the above tailgate where I have polished half and masked the other for a demonstration, note the polished half is not finished and will improve further.

The above picture shows the staggering possibilities that can be realised by a good detailer.

Following polishing the whole car, the paint is cleansed to remove any remaining polishing oils etc in readiness for final finishing

There are a variety of finishing products available - acrylic based sealants and glazes, mid range waxes (solvent based) and higher end glazes and waxes containing high percentages of carnauba wax for the ultimate gloss and protection.

A few outside shots:

this shot is a roof section reflecting perfectly the image of the tree. this highlights the benefits of a fully prepared and detailed car

A few prestige motors, fully detailed:

Hope this helps everyone with a little insight of what is involved and why it takes so long to get the best results for your car.