My Meguiar's Detail Clinic Article was Printed!
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    My Meguiar's Detail Clinic Article was Printed!

    Hey all,

    Last July I hosted a Meguiar's detail clinic in the SF Bay Area for the local chapter of the BMW CCA. I had met the local Meguiar's area rep at an event some time back and asked if he would do this event. We had about 80 people show up and it lasted for hours! These guys are PASSIONATE and dedicated. I wrote up the article below for our national club magazine, Roundel and it was printed in the November issue. I'm sorry I don't have a scan to show how nice the layout looks but at Jeff's insistance, I'm posting it here. It's mostly for newbies, or a general audience. Our magazine is distributed to nearly 80,000 people.

    I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know if you have any comments or constructive cristicism. Note, it's VERY long...
    The Devil is in the Detail
    By Jeff Cowan

    BMW CCA Oktoberfest has come and gone and along with it, all those beeyuteeful clean cars that competed in concours. If you ask me, concours competitors are insane. I mean really, if it takes days or weeks to clean the car and includes removal of interior and exterior components, I will pass, thank you very much. But that does not preclude those of us with daily driven BMWs to keep them in top shape and cleaner than just about anything on the block. As with anything of value, it will be worth more if taken care of, not to mention the certain pride-in-ownership that comes along with that level of detail. I guess I like spending my weekends sudsing the curves of my autobahn cruiser as much as driving it. So I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way to make the job as efficient as possible. However it occurred to me that I’m nothing more than a hack! As in, what the hack did I know about properly cleaning a car? Sure, I’ve poked around the Internet in search of sites dedicated to the ultimate washing machine. And there are several, but you can’t beat a proper hands-on education.

    Then along came an opportunity to learn from the pros, the people who have been in the detailing business as long as anyone, and a company whose products I’ll bet we all have in our garages. As a member of California’s Golden Gate Chapter, I organized a Meguiar’s detail clinic for our members, lead by Meguiar’s Jeff Brown, a charismatic, car-loving lunatic. And an extremely knowledgeable detailatician. To our motley group of 80 people who attended the event, Brown and his able team spent several hours explaining the do’s and don’ts to proper car cleaning, followed with demonstration and hands-on techniques that we practiced ourselves on a few member cars, including clay techniques on an M1 and machine buffing on a Z8. We don’t mess around in the Golden Gate Chapter!

    Regardless of your insanity level when it comes to your car’s cleanliness, you may find some of the following detailing techniques more than helpful in your pursuit of the perfect shine. The good news is that many of the new detailing products and tools available in the market today can help you get the look you want safely, and with less effort than you might have thought possible. The following information focuses on exterior detailing, as that was the focus of our clinic.

    Goals and Time
    The first step in approaching a detailing project is to determine your goals. For example, a more intense show car appearance will take more time and maintenance than a good, long-lasting protection coat. It’s a good idea to think about how much time you have or are willing to commit. A car that hasn’t been detailed in a long time could require a full day or more, depending on condition, color, and whether you are going about it by hand or with a dual-action orbital buffer. (See sidebar, Man vs. Machine)

    Brown and team suggest you get a level-set on your paint condition. Wash your car and take a close look at your paint condition. Seriously. Grab a magnifying glass and take a really good look! Look for scratches, stains or other blemishes. The pros use a special hand held light that mimics the color temperature of the sun and they can shine it right on the surface for maximum exposure. It looks a little like a timing light if anyone remembers what those are. But you can achieve similar results with a bright reflective light such as a fluorescent.

    Next, feel your paint with the back of your hand. Does your hand glide along a glass-like surface? If so you can stop right now and marvel at your car’s magnificence. For most of us however, that surface will feel rough or have a lot of friction. That’s generally a sign of neglect.

    If all this has your heart sinking, fear not. There are many products available to deal with it and we’ll get to that a little later. Brown and his team showed us many tips, tricks, and tools that all help in making the sometimes arduous process of detailing fun and efficient.


    Everyone knows the first step to detailing a car is to give it a good wash. Brown recommends washing your wheels first. They are the dirtiest part of the car usually and brake dust is some dangerous stuff as far as your paint is concerned. There are many products on the market for dissolving the brake dust. Choose one that is safe for all wheel surfaces and does not contain harmful chemicals. Consider waxing your wheels some afternoon. Brakes dust will then wash off with ease!

    Next, move on to washing the car. One of the most important tips from the day was to avoid using dishwashing detergent! In addition to removing any wax that may have been on the car (imagine having spent $500 or more on a professional detail job then the next week you wash the car with dish soap! Investment gone.) dish soaps can also chemically burn the surface and cause premature oxidization because they contain ammonia. Instead, use a mild liquid car wash gel, available from many auto parts stores, and use it in the recommended dilution, usually 1-2 ounces per gallon of water (suds are not an indication of a good soap). These car wash gels are pH balanced and sometimes formulated to assist in the sheeting action of water when rinsing, which means less water on the car, less water in your drying towel and ultimately less time invested…a very good thing for the busy weekend warrior!

    Technique: It is recommended to wash from the top down in order to keep your wash mitt as clean as possible. It’s a good idea to have a soap bucket and a rinse bucket. First, dunk the mitt in the soap and wash one part of the car. Then dunk it in the rinse bucket to remove contaminants. Dunk it again in the soap bucket and wash the next part of the car. Repeat that process until you’re done. When you rinse the car, don’t pressure wash it! Instead, use a nozzle that allows the water to flow gently, under its own pressure. This will help it sheet off quickly. One neat tool we were shown was a “grit guard” that fits into the bottom of your soap bucket. It provides a grate a few inches from the bottom so all the heavy particles will fall to the bottom and stay away from your wash mitt!

    Dry the car with a soft, microfiber drying towel. In case you haven’t been to the auto parts store recently, microfiber towels are the new trend for drying and waxing. Gone are the days of the soft terry cloth towels and leather chamois. I have used some terry towels that actually scratched the surface. Microfiber won’t allow that due to the uh…micro fibers. Companies such as Meguiar’s make a nice large microfiber towel just for drying. They hold a lot of water and perform far better than a really good chamois, and leave no residue. If you buy one, be careful to get one that does not have a rough edge or nylon stitching. It should be seamless or have a soft satin edge that won’t scratch.


    The next couple of steps are important to getting the surface ready for a polish, before the final wax or protection coat. Just like sanding wood smooth before you paint or varnish it, you have to get the crud off the finish of your car before you wax it. Tree sap, brake dust, pollution, or any other type of environmental contaminant can adhere to the surface of your car, including oxidization. Remember when you felt the surface with the back of your hand or inspected with the magnifying glass and saw those rough and bumpy bits? This is what needs to be removed.

    Above Surface Contaminants

    To clay or not to clay? If you can feel rough surface contaminants after you wash your car, clay is almost always necessary. Clay is essentially a special mud (usually Japanese) that is used as a cleaner, in that it has an inherent ability to pull all contaminants away from the surface without being abrasive like ‘old school’ paint compounds. It is the fastest way to get rough contaminants off the surface but it has to be used in conjunction with a lubricant in a spray bottle. It’s advised to use a lubricant designed for clay as it contains some slipping agents to aid in the process, unlike plain water. Clay, like liquid cleaners comes in varying degrees of abrasiveness. Usually consumer or store bought clays are very mild.

    Technique: A clay bar is surprisingly fast and easy to use if you do it correctly. Spray a small area with the lubricant, take your CLEAN clay bar and with very like pressure, rub the surface using 4 to 6-inch strokes. Dry with a microfiber towel. If the surface feels smooth, move on to other areas. You may only have to clay certain areas of the car, as needed. As you use the clay it will get dirty with the contaminants. Every so often, stretch it out and fold the dirt INWARD so you have a clean surface to work with. Continue folding it inward as you work your way around the car. The clay is used up when it noticeably changes color. This could happen after claying your car 4 times or more. Consumer clays will need faster replacement than professional clays but there is also a big difference in cost. Don’t forget you can clay your windshield! It’s a great way to remove hard deposits from glass. If you drop the clay, get as much of the dirt off and fold it inward, or you may have to replace it. If you do clay your entire car, you will need to wash it again before moving on to a liquid cleaner or wax.

    Below Surface Contaminants

    Now that the top layer is clean, you need to address the condition of your topcoat or clear coat if your car has it. To do this, you can use a liquid ‘cleaner’ or mild chemical, which sometimes features a ‘diminishing abrasive’ so that it starts with a gentle bite but relaxes as you work the product in. You can apply these products by hand or with a harmless dual-action orbital buffer. You can find one just about anywhere if you ask for them by name. Brown and team are confident that you cannot burn the paint with it. It doesn’t turn as fast a rotary buffer and therefore doesn’t generate the heat that can lead to burning (or paint removal). Always start with the mildest cleaner you can find and work your way into more aggressive products as needed. You’ll know if you’re getting good results by applying and removing the product then feel the paint with the back of your hand. Stay away from ‘old school’ rubbing compound. That’s like 100-grit sandpaper to your paint’s surface and it’s unnecessary. A modern cleaner will be in liquid form and should indicate if it’s appropriate for hand or orbital buffer.

    Technique: If applying by hand, roll up a plush super terry towel and pore the product in a straight line directly across the towel. Super terry towels have wonderful burnishing characteristics that are great for applying product. Then use both hands to work the rolled towel and product into the surface. Use bumper-to-bumper motions, not circles, to avoid swirl marks. If using a dual-action (DA) orbital buffer, apply the cleaner to a soft buffing pad. The DA buffers are designed to have the product applied directly to the pad, which are washable. You’ll need a few of these pads, one for each product you apply so make sure you buy what you need in advance. Use a speed of 4 or 5 on the dial and also work bumper-to-bumper. For either method, apply the product one panel at a time then remove it immediately or as soon as the manufacturers directions allow. Remove by hand using a microfiber towel. Fold the towel and rotate as you go until the entire towel is full, then use another. It could take a few towels for this step alone, depending on the product your use and the size of your car. Don’t apply to the whole car at once. If you’ve ever tried this you’ll learn that these cleaners can dry rock-hard and you’ll need three times as much effort to get it off! Consider using non-residue painters tape around your door handles, rubber bits and all window trim so that you don’t get product where it isn’t supposed to be.


    Now your paint’s surface is ready to polish or glaze. These terms mean the same thing. A polish or glaze contains no abrasives, no cleaners, and no wax. Its job is to use oils to restore the luster of the paint. On clear coat cars, micro scratches cause the surface to look hazy or white and a polish will fill these imperfections and effectively restore the deep color. A note about clear coat: A clear coat is a very thin (1.5-2.0 mils thick) finish on top of your paint. It allows light to pass through and reflect back from the paint. As long as the clear coat is intact, the actual paint on the car remains protected. The drawback to a clear coat is that it tends to scratch ‘white’ or what also looks like a haze. As a result, it shows swirl marks caused by rotary polishers in the hands of lazy or unskilled operators. Polishes therefore are great for all cars, white, black or anything in between. For me, this is my favorite step because as those fine scratches are filled, the color really comes alive! And isn’t that the whole point of all of this?

    Technique: Same as cleaner above. Remember, paint cleaners and polishes must be applied one panel at a time and removed immediately after application.


    The polish by itself is not a protection layer. And if left alone it can fade away pretty fast, within hours. To truly ensure a long lasting shine, you need to apply a wax or protectant. A protection coat can be in the form of a wax, traditionally defined as carnauba, or the new synthetic ‘waxes’, which really don’t contain any wax at all. Meguiar’s professional product is called ‘synthetic sealant’ for this very reason. Products like Meguiar’s NXT Tech Wax and Zaino’s Z-2 are popular synthetic protectants whereas Zymol is a classic carnauba wax (Meguiar’s also has carnauba wax in their impressive product lineup). I’m not a chemist but I’m told the synthetics “contain polymers that bond with the surface.” They provide amazing results and are said to last several months longer than a traditional carnauba product. What I love about these synthetics is how easy they are to apply and remove. In the concours world, some prefer the look of a true carnauba to a synthetic. The product you use is largely based on your preferences. You might section off a body panel and try both types to see which look you prefer before committing to the whole car. Take your time and follow the manufacturers directions, as this is the most important step to ensure long lasting results.

    Technique: Same as cleaner and polish above, except when finished, use a fresh microfiber towel to buff the surface into a brilliant shine! Don’t forget to remove the painter’s tape if you used it.


    These are just a few of the techniques we were able to glean through hours of training and certainly there are a great many more. If you want more information, continue your education online in the Meguiar’s forums or request a detail clinic for your chapter by visiting One thing about this detailing business is that you can literally make a business from it—and few towns are without many detail and auto care shops. But for those of us willing to invest some time and sweat, the results can be simply rewarding. And truth be told, I think it’s fun and it gives me an excuse to enjoy my passion for BMW. As a result of my newly acquired detailing skills, I know I’ve got the best looking cars on the block and my neighbors admire my dedication, often asking if I’m for hire. Maybe, I say, but only if the car wears a distinct blue and white Roundel.


    [Sidebar 1:]


    Ultimately the question comes up at a detail clinic about which is better to apply wax, man or machine. With some experience, both methods can be very effective to produce a deep shine. However a machine will often take less effort and time and offer better coverage. There are two types of machines available. A harmless, low torque, dual-action orbital buffer is safe and easy to use. It applies polishes and waxes evenly and you can use the same polishes and waxes that are designed for application by hand. You can also use it to quickly remove polishes and waxes with a simple swap of the buffing pad, or swap on a polishing pad to get that deep shine as your final step.

    Another machine called a rotary buffer is a high speed, high torque device used by professionals. It can produce incredible results because of the heat it generates. Special polishes and waxes are used with this type of machine that have formulated slipping agents to allow them to work with the heat. This tool requires significant training because you can do a lot of damage in a quick second, such as taking the paint to the metal. Stick to the dual-action orbital and you’ll never hurt your paint.

    [Sidebar 2:]


    While I’ve tried to remain somewhat vendor agnostic I really do want to tell you about some Meguiar's products that I love to use. Your results may differ and I encourage you to be a smart consumer and research what is available from the multitude of manufacturers. Be sure to consider Meguiar’s products in your search because they have lots of great tools to get the job done. Check ‘em out at You can also chat with lots of enthusiasts and Meguiar’s consultants in their online forums.

    Tires and black trim: I love the look of a black tire, but I don’t like super shiny gels that give an unnatural gloss. If you leave a tire untreated, you’ll probably see a strange brown spotting or haze develop. The Meguiar’s #38 Tire and Trim Dressing Gel has a very natural look. I use it on my plastic B-pillars, windshield wipers, black trim, door handles, bumper trim, window trim, kidney grille, and even inside the engine bay. This is one simple way to make your car look new again. If you are consistent with this, it will soak in and look better over time. Even when I’m crunched for time and can only do a quick wash, I’ll take two minutes to hit the tires and trim with this before driving away. To do anything less would feel like an incomplete job! Meguiar’s also makes a fantastic

    Exterior Trim Detailer in a spray can that features an adjustable nozzle which is perfect for hitting that kidney grille and the hard to reach places in the engine bay (like the cooling fan!). Of course you can use it on any plastic or rubber bit but it is exceptional in the hard to reach places. Protection coat: In addition to the excellent synthetic NXT Tech Wax, a sister product is the NXT Spray Wax and I recommend them both. The slightly diluted version loaded in a spray bottle is how I maintain my finish over time. Once every month or every other month, I’ll wash the car and while it’s still wet, I’ll spray the wax all over it. Then I’ll quickly remove it and dry the car at the same time with my drying towel. Next I’ll follow with microfiber towels to get all the residue off, then another microfiber towel to buff to a luster. As long I don’t have major contaminants this takes a fraction of the time compared to a complete detail job.
    Metal polish: I like my stainless steel muffler tips and shiny metal bits to look their best. The NXT Metal polish is great and easy to work with. I use it every time I notice just a touch of tarnish. I haven’t used any other metal polish to compare results but I’m happy with this product.

    [Club member quotes from Detail clinic]

    Dear Jeff, My wife and I wanted to express our deep appreciation for your efforts in arranging the excellent program this past weekend with Meguiar's Detailing Products. The instructors, their information, the venue, and the enthusiasm of the fellow BMWCCA members was outstanding. My wife initially could not imagine how anyone would need three or four hours to discuss "washing a car." However, she found that the time passed so quickly and provided her with a newfound understanding and appreciation of the need to maintain anything of significant value. She found the "claying" and her opportunity to use a dual-action buffer on a BMW M1 to be most unique and rewarding opportunity. Additionally, the opportunity to find all the products in one location, and in "Costco" type pricing and size made it a complete experience. The fellow members who I met were all overjoyed to learn better means to keep their special cars in the excellent condition that Jeff was able to teach us. Thank you, very much.

    Sincerely, Wellman & Millie Tsang

    [2nd quote]

    Jeff, Thanks for organizing the clinic. That was awesome! The Meguiar's folks were really good and kept the flow going. They did an outstanding job, Jeff in particular. Whoever was brave enough to let amateurs practice clay technique on their M1 also needs a big thank you. I've seen and read about the M1, but to actually practice detail tips on one was beyond cool! I picked up a few tricks and put them in practice yesterday with my daily driver. It's five years, 67k, parked outside under oak trees, dog car, bike rack on top and all, but I wax it regularly. I put it through the three-step process and I could not believe how much stuff came off that car with the clay. The NXT wax did give it a good gloss and the glass NXT cleaner took care of haze and dog slobber in one pass. Amazing! The tips about doing the wheels first and routing the power cord behind the neck were great advice. Anyway - great job and great event. Keep them coming!

    Fred Bersot

  2. #2
    Registered Member Mike Phillips's Avatar
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    Jan 2004
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    Hi Jeff,

    Welcome to Meguiar's Online

    Thank you for writing such a detailed and informative article and sharing it with our online forum, also congratulations in that your writing skill has been rewarded with publication in the Roundel BMW Enthusiasts magazine!

    Roundel - November Issue

    And here's a screen shot with the title of your article...

    Again, thank you for your excellent article!
    Mike Phillips
    Office: 800-869-3011 x206
    "Find something you like and use it often"

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