i thought i'd share my personal preferences and experiences with detailing my GT. especially as i received a few new products in the mail. for those in australia, a free plug to David at www.waxit.com.au
. he provides an excellent range of products, is very prompt with despatch, and prices are very fair considering the convenience of ordering online (i don't know if he mails overseas, but there are likely to be local online sellers in the UK and elsewhere).
the purpose of this write-up is to provide an overview of the common approach to detailing. hopefully it clarifies a few aspects so people with little-to-no knowledge develop an idea of what is possible and where to begin, even if it's to discuss with a professional what is required. it's nice to understand what they are talking about!
i know there's a few of us who find detailing a rewarding hobby, and will be familiar with many of these products and practises. the products i use are probably not THE best around (certainly not the wax for example, where you could
spend a few THOUSAND $$$), but they seem to suit the car very well, and i am extremely happy with the results. worth discussing with the seller what might suit your needs, cos it depends on the condition of your paint, and partly on colour. older alfa's have softer paint, whereas the latest 159/brera/spider have harder paint. there's a huge range of brands and items, and different products can achieve the same results, so there probably isn't one 'best' regimen.
the internet has some excellent info/tips. good resources include the waxit website and www.detailingworld.co.uk
where i obtained most of my knowledge. note, i am not a professional, i am a hobbyist!
so i also apologise for any inaccuracies in this information, and am happy to be corrected.
washing and preparing the paint
paint preparation is crucial to optimise paint condition before polishing; and it's easy. you can achieve perfectly fine results at the local DIY carwash (don't use the brush!), which is a good idea where water restrictions apply (they do in most of australia!). however, i prefer to use a bucket of water (roughly room temperature or slightly warm) and car wash shampoo; if the car is particularly filthy, i'll use the 2-bucket technique where you use shampoo in one to dip your wash cloth/mitt, but rinse it in the other bucket. the rationale is to prevent rinsing the dirt and grime from the cloth into the clean shampoo water. there are dedicated 'waffle weave' microfibre clothes for washing, and also mitts, but i prefer to use a quality chamois. you can also use a microfibre cloth or chamois to dry the car; fanatics will 'dab' the paint dry (!) but you can just gently wipe it.
i use Meguiar's Gold Class car wash shampoo. i don't believe it's any better than many other brands, but i am happy with it. i also clean my microfibres and polish applicator pads in the washing machine at 50 degress celcius using Pinnacle Micro Rejuvinator.
you want your paint to be perfectly smooth. sap from trees and 'industrial fallout' can leave tiny specs of grime that make the paint rough; run the back of your hand over the paint after washing the car. if it feels a bit rough, then claying the paint may be helpful. you may be able to see spots of sap and grime in good light if you look closely, at the right angle. such spots are not removed by washing the car.
'detailing clay' is usually synthetic, with the consistency of pottery clay. it comes in various grades of roughness, but you would typically use 'fine grade' (smoothest). rougher grades might be used at a bodyshop to remove overspray. you first need to wet/lubricate the paint with a clay lubricant. i prefer to use Meguiar's Quik Detailer, which is suitable for the job, and sold in a package with Meguiar's clay.
if your paint has not been clayed before, you may be surprised at how much crap is removed during this process. refer to the waxit FAQ for further details on good technique.
paint correction - polishing
virtually all cars over time develop swirls. these are very fine, superficial scratches in the clearcoat. light coloured and metallic cars (eg: silver) 'hide' swirls far better than dark and solid colours (eg: black). sometimes you need to view the car under bright (fluorescent) lighting, say at a petrol station at night, or in bright sunlight. from certain angles, you will notice the scratches.
this photo of a 147 is an example of swirls in sunlight:
given my paintwork was in very good condition to start with (not loaded with swirls, no oxidation, and what most people would see as 'very shiny'). yet there were
a few swirls in the panels and the 'gloss' (shine) could have been better. for this, i was recommended a Menzerna product called PO106FF, which most detailers simply refer to as FF or Final Finish. this product possesses a small amount of 'cut' to remove a tiny amount of clearcoat, taking it back to perfectly smooth and ridding the swirls, whilst also possessing a high level of gloss. it was enough to remove virtually all swirls and marks in my paint.
i also just added to my armery, Menzerna PO85RD3.01, also known as IP or Intensive Polish. this possesses a much higher degree of 'cut' (albeit still moderate and there are products with more cut), and less gloss. i will reserve this for deeper scratches and other cars with harder paint.
both of these products should be applied by an electric polisher, a technique refered to as 'machine polishing'. the 2 types of machines usually used are an RO (random orbital) or rotary polisher; they are often marketed as sanders. the RO, as its name suggests, not only spins the pad in a circular motion, but also oscillates to create a movement pattern like this:
a rotary polisher is typically used by professional detailers and/or the experienced. it simply spins a buffing pad in a circular motion at highspeed. this focuses the polishing power on a single point, which means the operator must have good technique and move the rotary at an even sweep across the panel. if too much pressure is applied or the rotary stalls in the one spot, this patch can be 'burnt' and the paint damaged. this results in cutting right through the clearcoat, and at the extreme, will cut through the paint into the undercoat! too little or too much polish can also lead to the rotary 'hopping' across the paint and marring the finish. the main benefit of a rotary is the speed at which you can complete a car; it generates more heat and pressure, so the job is done faster.
unfortunately, this GT bonnet is the subject of poor rotary application:
the RO has the benefit of spreading its polishing power over a broader area. the process is slower and gentler, and less risky, so suits the amateur better. you may find multiple 'runs' over the same panel are required to achieve the final results, subject to the polish, pad, and pad speed. i use an RO, which is a Metabo SXE-425.
polishing pads to attach to the machine come in various grades. depending upon the type of foam used, they can be harder or softer, smoother or coarser. as such, you must choose the appropriate pad for the job. for polishing, you will want a pad with some 'cutting' property, which usually means a pad that is firmer. i personally use Lake Country CCS series pads, which come in 6 grades. for polishing the alfa, i used the 'white' polishing pad which has 'very light' cutting power. i now also have an 'orange' polishing pad which has 'light' cutting power (and is firmer) for removing deeper scratches and working on harder paints.
pictured is my Metabo, 3 pads ('orange', 'white' which is no longer very white, and 'grey' which is a finishing pad to apply other liquid products (has no cutting power)), a couple round foam applicator pads (for applying wax by hand), and microfibre cloths and a mitt.
with 2 different polishes and 2 different pads, i theoretically have 4 combinations to tailor to the job.
the actual process involves applying a small amount of polish to the pad, then dabbing this across the panel. roughly work in 2'x2' patches at a time; the bonnet of my GT would be divided into at least 4 sections. the RO is variable speed, so i start with the lowest, then step up incrementally towards the 3rd speed. work the polish until it starts to dry, at which time it loses opacity and become more transparent. then buff with a microfibre, and study the results. strong, harsh lighting (eg: bright fluorescent lights or halogen worklights) is recommended for scrutinising the paint. redo any areas where swirls remain. a good guide is available on the waxit website. you should also use masking tape around the edges of the paintwork to prevent polish staining these areas (eg: black plastic can take on a white stain).
Menzerna, and other professional grade products, can really ONLY be used with machine polishing. it is not possible to break down the polishes by-hand. attempting to remove swirls by hand isn't very successful, and takes a LOT of time and effort.
however, there are hand products available for the job, and most people recommend Autoglym SRP (Super Resin Polish), followed by EGP (Extra Gloss Protection). you are unlikely to correct paint to the standard of machine polishing, and your arms will be sore! products like Meguiar's ScratchX reportedly don't do a good job, or are suited to only very small patches of paintwork.
LSP (last stage product) - wax and sealants
after paint correction, you need to protect the resultant surface with a wax or synthetic polymer sealant. these provide the final 'gloss' (shine), and vary in longevity, ease of application, and quality of finish, which is usually reflected in their price. they are typically applied by hand, though liquid sealants can be applied by machine using a suitable soft finishing pad.
purists prefer waxes. that is, a product that contains carnauba wax. carnauba is touted as the most durable natural product available for the job, and is extracted from the leaves of the carnauba palm. different quality waxes contain different grades and amounts of carnauba. lower grades have a slight yellow tinge, whereas higher grades are more transparent. waxes allegedly provide a higher gloss, and can take on a real 'glow'. however, they are less durable than sealants, and should be reapplied every 1~3 months for ongoing protection.
sealants are synthetic polymers that bond to the paint surface, and provide a protective barrier and gloss. they allegedly offer less gloss, but can be more transparent; though this can mean less 'glow'. their durability means they require reapplication only every 3~6 months, and sometimes 6~12 months. some sealants are a 2-stage product.
i prefer to use Pinnacle Souveran wax paste. this is applied by hand using a foam applicator. i also use a technique refered to as 'spit polishing'. this involves an initial layer of wax; cover several panels to allow time for the first to dry. follow by a light spray of detailer (eg: Meguiar's Quik Detailer) then immediately follow with another run of wax. i find you don't need to re-apply much more wax; the spray liquifies the original layer to create a smooth paste, and rubbing over the panels again with the applicator is enough. the rationale is to create a more even layer and i find it does make a difference.
paint preps and all-in-one products
this can be an inbetween step to the above, or an all-in-one application. depending upon the product, some contain microscopic 'fillers' which cover over swirls. they may also possess mild cutting properties, and a sealant for a highgloss finish. if you are not aiming for a show class finish, such a product can easily suffice and provide a very glossy finish, appealing to most people. however, if swirls are not removed by a polishing step, they will reappear as the filler wears away (with time and washing).
i have used Meguiar's Nxt Generation Tech Wax, and it's a good product. it contains filler, oils to 'nourish' the paint for a wet look, and a sealant for a nice gloss finish.
however, i have a new product as an inbetween step. a full polish/correction would only be performed every 6~12 months. i might use this product every month or so (followed by wax), and wax every 2~4 weeks. it is Pinnacle Paintwork Cleansing Lotion. this contains a filler and oils, so provides a nice lift to the paintwork (similar to the Meg's Tech Wax, but without a sealant).
wheels should not be neglected. they are exposed to brake dust, which over time, can become caked-on, and be very hard to remove. frequent cleaning of the wheels will keep them bright and looking fine. if caked-on dust is hard to remove, there are specific wheel cleaning product available; combine with a suitable bristle brush.
my wheels are relatively new, and already possess a quality clearcoat to the 'centre' piece. however, i have Poorboy's World Wheel Sealant for ongoing protection. like a paint sealant, this is applied by hand, and creates a layer to prevent brake dust and contaminants from bonding. it provides a nice gloss and makes removal of dust easier.
for the tyres, i use an aerosol tyre gloss: TurtleWax Wet'n Black Tyre Shine. i have also used Meguiar's Nxt Generation Tyre Spray, which is also good, but more expensive with no-better results. before each application, i use an old rag to rub the sidewalls clean, removing accumulated road grime and old tyre gloss. after spraying, i leave it to soak, and do not buff it; if you want a more matt or low-sheen finish, you would wipe off the excess.
black plastics and interior
black trims on the outside of the car can fade over time from exposure to UV light and the elements of the weather. these include the black plastic grills, window frames/edges, and the shroud around the windscreen wipers.
there are various products to revitalise the blackness, returning it to a nice dark lustre. they can be applied by hand, and also suit interior trims.
for exterior plastics, i favour Autoglym Bumper Care. it is slightly oily, but after application you can buff off the excess so it doesn't attract dust and dirt.
for interior plastics (eg: dashboard), i prefer PoorBoy's World Natural Look. this is water-based, non-oily, and smells like bubblegum! for the leather, i have Zaino Z9 Leather Cleaner. spray on, wipe the leather clean, and buff off.
for my carbra (!), which is black vinyl, i use 303 Aerospace Protectant.
keep the surfaces clean and looking good!
quick detailing and glass
for glass, i use Duragloss Water Spot Remover and a fine-weave microfibre cloth.
for quick detailing i rely on Meguiar's Quik Detailer (same stuff that lubricates claying) with a microfibre mitt, carefully wiping the panels clean. i would perform this after a routine wash or before waxing.
well, the products i use may not suit everyone's cars, but they certainly work on black alfa GT's! if you have swirls or poor paint, the most effective means of correction is by machine polishing. the products used should be tailored to the softness-hardness of the paint, and degree of damage.
most people are not interested in the time and costs involved to DIY. so employing a professional detailer can be the better option.
if you aren't after a show class finish, then an all-in-one product may be the answer. regardless, careful and regular washing, and frequent reapplication of wax/sealant is required to keep the paint in top condition.