A Little Background
My father was a Car Guy. He fixed and rebuilt them inside and out. He was a master mechanic who repaired heavy machinery by day but that didn’t keep him from tuning the occasional engine or performing some needed body work. I believe he envisioned opening a full-service auto body shop somewhere but when I was a child, he only worked out of our garage. Nevertheless, he was a serial entrepreneur, owning a restaurant/bar and a diner/dime-store back in the day. And we all remember the time he told us he was going to sell “western style clothes” on the side of the road. Huh? Always dreaming and scheming. God rest his soul.
I came by my car background honestly, seeing as we were forced into auto body work [read: child labor] when we were younger. I learned how to pound out a dent, fill it with putty and sand to paint-smooth finish – all by the time I was 7. I couldn’t wait for the primer, paint and clear coat. Truth be told, I loved those times with my Dad. He would explain everything and show me techniques to get the best results. He would fuss too but it was still time spent with him. My oldest brother would try to get out of the labor by putting on his “good clothes” thinking there was no way my Dad would send him out to get dirty in the garage. Pops wasn’t going for it. He would send my brother inside and tell my mother to hook him up with a pair of his jeans. Just roll ’em up!
Fast forward to July 2013 when my car was totaled in a no-fault collision. I was rear-ended by a distracted driver. After three weeks of shuckin’ and jivin’ with an auto broker and driving a rental, I had to go car shopping. I knew the exact car I wanted. I chose the Cadillac CTS Performance sedan with Black Raven Exterior/Carbon Interior trim long before I set foot on the lot. As a matter of fact, I blew up a salesman who tried to show me the CTS station wagon. He may as well have said minivan. I was offended. Do I LOOK like I would drive a station wagon? Huh Phil? I don’t have children, a dog, nor do I cart large amounts of stuff around. I didn’t like the coupe either because the door is like, six feet long, and crazy heavy. Plus, in a coupe, you typically sit further back in the vehicle which means if you get rear-ended, there’s more of a chance you’ll be injured. So we moved on. The third and final dealership was the winner. My salesman was awesome, my car was on the lot waiting for me and I got a certified GM extended warranty.
Unfortunately, I didn’t inspect the paint as closely as I should have, although I probably would have bought it anyway. Why? Because in the midst of this process, there was divine order. My salesman’s name was Samuel and he was a pastor. He blessed the car before I asked. The VIN number for the car ended in numbers that have always meant something to me and get this, the previous owner purchased the car new on my birthday. The car was perfect for me but the paint? Not so perfect. When I started to hand-wash the car, I noticed the hood had tiny flecks of white or gray in it. It was barely noticeable but I saw it. Oy. It wasn’t until a trip to an auto spa a year or so later that an expert diagnosed the source as building paint. He said that when they spray buildings at a construction site, the spray can get caught in the wind and it gets embedded in the paint. Made sense to me but it also meant there was no fix other than having the hood repainted. Booo.
What I Tried
Before I knew the specks I was seeing were building paint, I tried several products to remove them. It didn’t work but I got some serious shine and protection on my paint in the process. As an amateur detailer, I own a rotary buffer but I typically apply products manually and use microfiber towels to remove them. My favorite microfiber towels are Meguiar’s Super Shine. I’m aware there are a ton of other products, some professional grade, but I can’t justify the expense. I’m also not sure I need them. I haven’t graduated to professional machine buffers because I’m afraid I’ll “burn” my paint. Here’s what I tried:
My sweetie at the time, who is a straight-up car guy, frowned when I told him I had a clay bar. Do you even know what to do with that, Valerie?? *In my Morris Day “introduce you to a headache” voice* YES and I hope you like clay because you gonna eat a clay bar sammich if you keep talking to me like I don’t know nothin. YouTube, man. YouTube. I rebuilt an entire engine using YouTube videos. Okay. No I didn’t. Actually, I had done quite a bit of research and ended up with Mothers California Gold Clay Bar System.
Even though it didn’t remove the building paint, it removed impurities and made the paint super smooth. The smoother the paint, the better the shine. *ding*
My tips: The Mothers system comes with detailer but if you only have clay bars, you can use my favorite detailer Meguiar’s Gold Class to keep the clay moving smoothly over the surface of your paint. And yes, you must use detailer. Water is not advised. Keep turning the clay because as you pick up particles, you don’t want to drag them back across the paint. Work in small sections as it keeps the detailer from drying out so quickly. I usually rub an area, rinse with water and run my hand over it to check the smoothness. When it feels like glass, you’re good.
I went with Turtle Wax Rubbing Compound after researching all kind of brands. It’s relatively inexpensive and a little goes a long way. It’s also not like the old school paste compound that is hard to work with and remove. Once you apply, you buff it out but please keep in mind: compounding is process that makes micro-fine scratches in your paint to diminish larger scratches or swirls. It can dull the paint, which is why you follow with polish and finally, wax.
My tips: Use a soft applicator and take care to protect your paint. Elbow grease is good but you can leave swirl marks if you rub too hard.
After working out the compound and giving the paint a good rinse, it’s time to polish. The polish will smooth all those little scratches you just made and help to camouflage any larger marks you may have. I stuck with Turtle Wax and used Turtle Wax Polishing Compound because the formula is the consistency of lotion which helps it go on and come off easily. Apply and buff out and you’ll start to see the gloss emerging. There’s only one more step to seal in that shine: protect it with a good coat of wax.
My tips: Shake well because it tends to separate. You may be tempted to stop after polishing because it will look decent but don’t skip the waxing.
Final step – or single step after a good wash if you don’t need the extra steps. Clay/compound and polish is a once-a-year thing for me – or as needed. It depends on what I’m looking to accomplish. My favorite wax is Mothers California Gold Brazilian Carnauba Cleaner Liquid Wax. I only wax twice a year and find it still beads after months of wear. Mother’s is a liquid formula that even *I* can get off. I was chastised for leaving wax on the car by the aforementioned Car Guy Boyfriend. He was lucky I am too much of a lady to bust him up in front of his car guy friends. Totally kidding. I would not fight him. Mostly because I can’t beat him up but also because I love him. Anyway, once you wipe off the wax, your paint should glisten. #glossy
Taking care of the paint and keeping it glossy is definitely doable with a little TLC and the right products. My car is now seven years old and I’m still struck by how shiny it looks. It’s also my understanding that Cadillac clear coats the hell out of their vehicles, which is why even when I know the paint has imperfections, it still looks good. In between washes I use spray detailer, Meguiar’s usually, and after a basic wash I like Turtle Wax Express Shine Spray Wax or Meguiar’s Quik Detailer Mist & Wipe. I can take my car from random spots or dust to gleaming knock-yo-eyes-out shine in about 25 minutes. I hate smears and streaks and have found the best way to avoid these is to make sure you’re working with a clean surface, an equally clean towel (devoid of other products) and of course, patience. I don’t get every little bit of product off the paint but I double-check areas I’m prone to leave product on. Checking from different angles helps too. I pay special attention to the rear of my car because… that’s all you will see when I’m on the highway!
*Accelerates to 90 mph and throws a peace sign out of the panoramic roof.*