Greetings detailing enthusiasts! First, I would like to introduce Brady Cleaveland, the newest member of our detailing team at SweetCars. A huge drift car and tuner enthusiast, Brady has been doing amazing work and recently became a certified installer of Ceramic Pro. We are proud to have him on our team.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended the 2017 SEMA Show, the world’s largest convention for everything automotive. Once a year, everyone in the industry gets together for four days to check out the latest products, network with each other, and, of course, enjoy some awesome cars. This year, I was asked by SONAX to join an elite group of detailers to do live demonstrations at the SEMA Show. It was great to get a chance to use the latest products before their release and talk with detailers from all over the world. But not everyone who came to the booths at SONAX or Ceramic Pro were detailers looking for the latest and greatest products. Many of them were car care enthusiasts looking for the best products to use on their vehicles. In this issue of Shift, I’m going to attempt to answer a question that was asked by an enthusiast who visited the SONAX booth: what is the best way to get my paint looking great?

At the SEMA Show, there are literally thousands of products on display, and I can see how someone could easily be overwhelmed or confused by what to use to get a shiny car at home. It’s a loaded question that most professionals get on occasion, so let’s break it down, shall we?

The first thing to consider is that, in terms of car care products, there’s not one product that can do everything magically. The products are just one part of the equation; there are several other factors to consider as well. Over the years, I’ve frequently discussed my “Four Ps of Detailing Success”:

Passion: Without passion for detailing, the work will only be a chore, and the results will show it.

Patience: Great work takes patience. If you rush through, it’s certainly going to look rushed.

Product: It’s difficult to achieve great results without a great product. The right product helps you achieve the quality results you are looking to get.

Performance: This is the technique, approach, and focus that helps get amazing results to be proud of.

Detailing isn’t simply using products to get a result. It requires intense mental and emotional focus. Once that is established, it’s on to the next step, which is to evaluate the paint you are working on. Ask yourself the following:

  1. How good is the paint? Is the condition so far gone that it requires repainting, or can it be polished? Keep in mind, not everything will succumb to the old saying, “that’ll buff out.”
  2. If the paint can be polished, what results are you looking to achieve? Can the paint support the level of polishing you are looking to pursue? Are you trying to get gloss, remove minor imperfections, or all-out restore the paint finish?

Next, it’s on to the question everyone wants to ask. What products do I use? Honestly, this is a topic that could easily be a course in itself. But here are a few important suggestions that should help you.

It’s important to know the difference between a compound and a polish. Compounds remove swirls, scratches, and other imperfections as the first step of a paint correction process. In our shop, we use SONAX CutMax to remove these types of imperfections. While doing demos at SEMA for SONAX, I explained that on a scale from 1 to 6, CutMax was on the high end of that cut scale at 6. The gloss is a 3 on SONAX CutMax, so for gloss we need a polish to achieve a high gloss. The second step of any correction process is the polishing or “jeweling” stage. This is where we achieve a high level of gloss without the need for a lot of cut. I recommend SONAX EX 04-06 polish, which gives a gloss of 6 with a cut of 4, hence the name 04-06. For those looking for a one-step correction, EX 04-06 is great when paired with a yellow foam pad for paint finishes that don’t require such intense correction. My recommendation for an easy setup for paint correction would be:

Dual Action Machine Polisher (such as the Rupes LHR15ES Mk2 or Griot’s DA Polisher)

Compounding Stage: SONAX CutMax, Meguiar’s Microfiber Cutting pad, polisher speed 4.5, medium pressure

Polishing Stage: SONAX EX 04-06, White or Black foam pad, polisher speed 4.5, light pressure

One-step Correction: SONAX EX 04-06 or SONAX Perfect Finish, Yellow foam pad, polisher speed 4.5, medium pressure.

Typically, professionals and enthusiasts are partial to a particular brand, but in my opinion there are great combinations that use different brands to work together for awesome results. In my experience, using a reputable brand is a good start, and then it’s a matter of doing a little research to find what combinations are the most popular. I prefer to try out new products as they become available and then continue to use those that I feel perform the best. Most new polishes and compounds are water-based, and this makes for less dusting and better results. Also, three to four drops on a pad are all that is needed to work a section, versus laying down a huge line of product on the surface. As professionals, this is usually the first sign that someone is old-school and not up-to-date on their products and technique.

Now that the paint is looking glossy, it’s ready for the last step, which is protection. What you use depends on how often you drive your car, where it’s stored, how it’s being maintained, and how long you plan to keep it. Waxes have been around since people started driving cars, so they have been a long-time favorite for protection on finishes. Sealants are another popular option, as they chemically bond to the paint and give about six to eight months of protection. Waxes tend to last up to 30 days for a high-grade wax and less for over-the-counter versions. Usually after four washes, they are pretty much done for. However, I think most professionals would agree with me that wax is no longer the best option. I would suggest using a spray-on coating, hyper-sealants, or a professionally installed glass coating system. They last years, not weeks, and give you superior gloss and protection. At least 95% of our clients get their vehicles protected with Ceramic Pro after any type of paint correction. Only a handful per year opt to get their vehicles waxed or sealed.

To get a paint finish looking great, it takes time, a little knowledge, and a lot of practice. Keep in mind the Four Ps, as they certainly have helped numerous detailers achieve great results. Don’t forget that a proper car wash and decontamination of the paint is key before starting any polishing. Most people are scared of using a machine polisher because they fear that they may burn through the paint. Dual action polishers can burn through a paint finish, but usually only if someone is trying to remove a deep scratch and continuously works the same spot for an extended amount of time. Keep the polisher moving, use a cross-hatch pattern, and only work a 2-foot by 2-foot section at a time. Hopefully these tips will help you achieve a great-looking finish. When I train on paint correction technique, these are some of the tips that I teach to help professional detailers and enthusiasts achieve some pretty awesome results. So until next time, take pride in your detailed ride!