by Paul Cartagena
in a garage tightly latched
was a Jensen whose looks were unmatched.
But its owner found waxing to be ever so taxing,
taking shortcuts his paint was soon scratched.
OK, so I'm not much of a poet. The JHPS isn't for sweet talk anyway.
It's for car talk. I'll probably never know what makes a verse sound
sweet but I do know that good looking paint makes for a sweeter drive.
So just what makes paint look good? A paint job, like a person, is born,
lives its life and then dies. Just as heredity and lifestyle influence
a person's looks, a paint jobs looks are come from its chemistry
and application (heredity and birth) and by its maintenance (lifestyle).
For most of us our paints application is already a done deal (original
paint or an existing re-spray) so for now well concentrate on
Want to get an idea of just what kind of life most paint jobs have?
Just stand at the edge of a parking lot full of cars on a nice sunny
day. Some will look nice and new others tired. Then take a walk down
the isle and look closely at each one. Look at them from a few different
angles. Ill bet 90% look like crud up close. Even the new ones
will mostly appear hazy and swirled. Many seemingly pampered cars have
paint thats living a hard life, destined for an early and ignominious
end. How can we treat our paint to a better life? Its not that
hard really, we just need to get to know our paint a little better and
treat it with some respect.
Let's look at the life of one hypothetical "enthusiast's"
car. Mr. Owner is proud of his car. He always parks it right in front
of his house so he can gaze lovingly at its flowing lines and bright
chrome as he walks out in the morning to hop in and drive to work. (His
two-car garage holds the family mini van on the left and a ceiling high
stack of boxes on the right.) He happily drives it back and forth to
work every day. Every week he dutifully gives it a bath. Saturday morning
he'll park it in the driveway, squirt a little Dawn dishwashing liquid
into a bucket and pour in water. He grabs a sponge soaks it in the foamy
bucket and gives his car a good sudsing then rinses it. With all the
bubbles rinsed off he'll grab some clean rags and wipe it dry. About
once a month he'll pull out a can of wax and rub it over the whole car.
Then he'll take some more rags and buff off the wax residue, leaving
his pride and joy glistening in the sun.
Sounds familiar, right? Sounds OK doesn't it? Maybe to some, but to
his paint it's torture. Almost everything he did was some form of paint
abuse. Let's look a little closer.
Living on the street may be unavoidable for some but it is bad for all,
paint and people alike. Intense sunshine, acid rain, smog, industrial
fallout, tree sap, bird poop and all manner of gunk find a home on your
paint and eat away at it. Driving is the whole point to having a car
but it too exposes paint to more danger like road salts, diesel exhaust,
flying grit, asphalt tar and bug splatter. So, washing all that off
is good isn't it? Of course it is, but you still need to be careful
to do it right or you'll make things worse. Our Mr. Owner made it worse.
First, he used dish soap. Don't ever, ever, ever wash you car with dish
soap! Dish soap is a powerful chemical stripping agent, formulated to
cut through bacon grease and dislodge tuna casserole from ceramics.
It will strip off what little wax may be protecting your paint and then
attack it, pulling out oils and plasticizers, leaving it etched, dull
and lifeless. Then, with the wax gone, the environment will finish off
the job. In addition to his chemical attack, our Mr. Owner didn't rinse
off the big chunks of dirt before sudsing. In effect he manually ground
a bunch of rocks into the car, plowing deep furrows and permanently
embedding them in the paint. Then, adding insult to injury, he used
common rags to dry it off. Many common fabrics, especially synthetics
and blends absorb little water and are actually tougher than the paint
surface. When they're dragged across the paint guess, which one gives?
Yup, the paint gives, leaving visible scratches. Now, Mr. Owner tries
to protect his helpless finish by waxing. Good idea, bad attempt. Mr.
Owner waxed his car in the bright sunlight. The wax's chemical process
is designed to take place in a controlled manner. If it's exposed to
too much light and heat the chemical reaction is too aggressive further
damaging the paint and not depositing the protective coating correctly.
Also, by waxing the whole car at one time, he allowed the wax residue
to dry hard and crusty. Now he has to rub extra vigorously to remove
it and using those same scratchy rags no less. Mr. Owner's well intentioned
but misguided efforts have reduced his finish to a gritty, swirling,
hazy mess. Our Jensen Healeys deserve better than this!
Keeping your paint in excellent condition needn't take extreme amounts
of time or money. High quality materials are never cheap, but we're
talking car wax here, they aren't terribly expensive. Even if you use
the most expensive materials around you won't be using much. Jensens
are small cars.
Before we dive too deep into the how-to we need to mention terminology.
The activity of improving and maintaining the appearance of a vehicle's
surfaces is commonly called detailing. You can detail interiors, undercarriages,
engine bays and exteriors, but we'll stick to exterior paint surfaces
for now. There are lots of companies that make detailing products. By
and large all company's products do the same things but no two companies
use the exact same words exactly the same way to describe the same kinds
of products or activities. Even within a single company's product offerings
descriptions can vary. This can lead to a lot of confusion when comparing
I will try to keep as consistent as possible in my terms. I generally
like the terminology used by the Meguiar's company and I'll try to stick
close to it. They make a wide range of products and their wording tends
to be pretty consistent. Just remember that different manufacturers
word things differently. Read labels carefully when buying products
to make sure they are actually meant to do what you're looking for.
The steps in paint care can be broken into 5 general groups, washing,
surface preparation, polishing, protecting and maintaining.
Washing removes dirt and contaminants that are resting on the surface
of the paint. This basically means rinsing and washing with a mild soap
and water. All companies make some kind of wash that won't strip wax
or attack paint. High performance car washes also provide high lubricity
to minimize scratching when wiping the car with suds.
Surface preparation processes remove contaminants that are bonded to
the paint and leave a smooth clean surface. Paint cleaners chemically
dislodge and dissolve embedded contaminants and light paint oxidation.
Compounds are abrasives used to grind away surface imperfections. Compounds
come in many different levels of aggressiveness to address different
sizes of problems. Very small scratches, often called swirls and moderate
oxidation can be removed with very lightly aggressive abrasives. Deep
scratches and paint runs may require very heavily aggressive abrasives.
Be extremely careful with any compounds because you can easily grind
your way completely through you paint! You'll also see the words "cut"
or "cutting" used quite a bit. They're just more terms for
abrasive grinding compounds. Bug and tar removers are paint-safe solvents
for dissolving goo. Clay products are used to dislodge stubborn contaminants
by making them stick in the clay and release from the finish.
Polishing sort of has two meanings. (I told you this was confusing)
A pure polish is a chemical that conditions and rejuvenates the paint.
Think of it like putting lemon oil on wood furniture or glove oil on
a catcher's mitt. Paints are plastics and contain oils and plasticizers
that are lost over time. A pure polish replenishes them. "To polish"
is to rub polish into the paint. The act of mechanically applying the
polish using friction can have the added effect of wearing down surface
imperfections. It's sort of like compounding without abrasives. The
words polish and polishing are probably the most used and abused words
in the industry. Manufacturers mean so many different things when they
say them that they are almost universally useless terms. Get to know
what a specific manufacture means when you use their products. Swirl
removers are usually polishes with very mild or no abrasives.
Protecting simply means waxing. Whether you're using a natural wax or
a polymer "sealent" you're more or less doing the same thing.
You're putting a protective coating on the surface of the paint that
helps seal out contaminants, seal in nutrients and smooth out the surface
for a better shine.
Maintaining is what you do to keep all that other stuff you did intact
until you do it again. It's like light "touch up" washing,
prepping, polishing and waxing in between the real thing. It's important
to do spot touch up because very serious paint damage is often caused
by localized events such as bird droppings and bug splats. If not cleaned
off immediately and protected by fresh wax your paint may be permanently
Although anything you do to maintain your finish can be described in
terms of the five basic steps it's actually very unusual to perform
all the steps separately. Not all cars need heavy applications of every
step every time. Also, most products on the market perform multiple
steps. Combining cleaners with compounds, polishes with cleaners or
waxes with polishes can reduce the workload significantly while still
producing excellent results. Just be aware that this can be taken too
far. Some products that say "POLISH" in big print on the bottle
are actually cleaner, polish and wax with some compound thrown in. They're
often "one size fits all" products that fit all equally poorly.
How do you know which steps to perform and how aggressively to perform
any one of them? There are no easy answers, just carefully considered
choices and practical experience. You need to know the paint on your
car. What kind is it? What condition is it in? What products have you
already tried? Which ones worked? Which ones didn't? Know somebody whose
car looks really good? What do they use? If you were looking for a "one
size fits all", "guaranteed or your money back " silver
bullet I'm sorry to disappoint you. You can always have your credit
card ready for the next infommercial and pour burning lighter fluid
on your car. (If you haven't changed your fuel tee yet you can skip
the lighter fluid step.)Automotive paint is a sort of plastic skin stretched
over the surface of your car. There are numerous chemical formulas for
automotive paints but all paint jobs fall into one of two general types,
solid colors and clearcoated. Solid colors are a single layer, pigmented
all the way through. Clearcoated finishes start with a pigmented base
coat and are then covered over with a clear top coat. Clearcoats can
give a finish a perpetual "wet look". They also protect the
base coat from UV exposure, fading, oxidation and general crud. Clearcoat
finishes are standard on all new cars. The original paint applied to
your Jensen was one solid color. I would guess that the vast majority
of re-sprayed Jensens are also solid colored since clearcoats have only
been really wide spread in the re-spray world for the last few years.
If your car has a very recent paint job and especially if it's a metallic,
yours is probably clearcoated.
Which type of paint you have determines the way you'll car for it. With
a solid finish that is severely faded and oxidized it is sometimes possible
to make truly amazing improvements in appearance using cleaners and
compounds. These products strip off the crusty upper layer of the paint
and reveal undamaged paint. You can continue to do this until you run
out of paint. Clearcoated finishes are much less prone to fading. Unfortunately
once they're faded there's no way to bring them back. The clearcoats
are also thinner and softer than a pigmented layer. You can grind all
the way through the clear and into the base coat very quickly if you're
not careful. Clearcoats show swirls and scratches much more readily
than solid colors. That's why so many new cars look so bad so quickly.
If you do have a clearcoated finish you must only use products intended
for clearcoats and use them carefully, following their manufacturers'
It's easy to find abused clearcoats. Look for cars that have the appearance
of frosted edges. Their bodies look like the shores of a salt lake.
The protective coating that is supposed to be like Saran Wrap looks
more like a giant freezer burn.
If your car is freshly painted ask you painter for recommendations on
how and how soon to take care of it. New paint can take many weeks to
cure and may be harmed by applying chemicals too early. In the early
days of Dealer add-on SuperTerrificPolyAmazingGloatPaintProtectionSealers
many finishes were ruined and cars had to be re-sprayed because their
paint was sealed before it cured.
Now that we've gone on ad nauseam about what not to do, what to avoid
and how things sort of work we only have a couple of things left to
do before actually working on the car. You need to figure out what kind
of paint you have then you need to decide what you want to accomplish.
Is it a solid color (probably if you're doing your Jensen) or is it
clearcoated? Are you trying to bring back an abused finish or shine
up a healthy one?
Now we can actually get to work. We'll take it through each for now
but you can combine steps depending on your car's needs. Gather your
You can find OK stuff at Target or WalMart but you'll find a better
selection of better stuff at an auto parts supplier. If you're truly
serious go a real automotive detailing or paint supplier.
Some products may come with them. Foam types tend to be the most popular.
Your supplier will have something appropriate. Don't mix chemicals
on one applicator. Dedicate separate applicators to each product used.
3- a wash
mitt or sponge. Don't cheap out here. A good soft one that's intended
for paint, won't scratch, lasts a long time and only costs a little
more than a crummy one.
4- a bucket.
The seriously AR among us will use two, one for clean soapy water
and one to rinse the mitt.
5- a water
hose. Don't use a high velocity nozzle that blasts water at the car.
It may force dirt into the paint instead or rinsing it off. Nozzles
with soft rubber tips are available to reduce the risk of scratching
from bumping the car.
for drying off water and removing chemicals. Use only clean soft towels.
Fluffy, 100% cotton towels are often recommend. If you use bath towels
make sure to remove any labels that might scratch before use. If you
use a chamois for drying, natural or synthetic make sure it is clean
so you don't rub old dirt into your paint. Also, a chamois needs to
be thoroughly moistened to soften it before each use.
Park your car where you're going to wash it. They say not to wash your
car in direct sunlight. If you've got a car port or big awning to park
under that's great but how many of us really do? Someday I'd love to
have a garage that I can hose down a car in but for now, and I'm sure
for most of you, It's outside. You should at least try not to wash it
during the hottest part of the day. Try early morning or late afternoon,
maybe even at night.
If you plan on cleaning your wheels or dressing your tires and rubber
trim (a subject we'll save for later) do it before you wash and wax.
That way you'll wash off any dressing over-spray or wheel dust that
might get on the paint and wax residue will be easier to remove from
Put some wash concentrate into your bucket and fill it with water. Throw
your mitt in to soak.
There seems to be some disagreement on whether you should rinse and
wash the whole car at once or do sections at a time. Whichever you do
the idea is that the car should stay wet and free from water spots and
dried soap until you're ready to dry it off. Jensens are small. Unless
yours is dark or it's hot you're likely to be able to do it all at once.
If there's any chance it will dry before you're ready do smaller sections
at a time.
Rinse the car to get all of the loose dirt off and cool the surface.
Like we said before, don't try and blast it off. Let the water flow
gently over the surface. Be careful not to bump your hose nozzle against
the paint. Metal hose ends will gouge your paint.
Start on the top surfaces and work your way down to keep from flowing
dirt onto already clean areas. Apply plenty of suds to the surface with
the mitt. Wipe the suds on in a regular pattern to be sure you don't
miss any areas. Rinse the mitt and soak it in the suds often to release
dirt and keep from moving dirt from one part of the car to another.
Rinse the whole car well to remove any soap residue. Keep the surface
wet. Don't let water drops or soap dry on the paint.
Dry the car completely with soft towels or moistened chamois. If you
use bath towels or something similar make sure to remove any tags or
labels. They scratch.
If the car isn't already indoors, out of the sun move it there. Don't
have a garage? Find one. Relatives, friends, neighbors, whatever, beg
borrow or steal some shade. When your paint care chemicals' instructions
say they should not be used in direct sunlight they mean it. Hey, you're
in a Jensen Healey club. Call up one of your motoring mates and offer
him a few pints of Guinness to use his garage.
Your choice for surface prep products will vary wildly depending on
the condition of your car. Look at it closely from different angles
under different light. You want it to be pristine. Is it scratched?
Swirled? Faded? Hazey? Crusty? With the car and your hands washed and
dried run the tip of your finger lightly over the surface. How does
it feel? It should be smooth as glass. Is it rough? Pitted? Bumpy? Chalky?
There are no absolutes. You might have to experiment with several different
products to find the one(s) best suited for your paint's condition.
Different areas of your car might also have different needs. The horizontal
surfaces like the boot and bonnet (trunk and hood) tend to deteriorate
faster than the vertical surfaces of the doors and wings (fenders).
A surface that's hazey, rough, chalky or bumpy is probably to be oxidized.
Try a chemical cleaner to dissolve the oxides. If the surface is scratched
or pitted you might have to use an abrasive product like a compound
or combination cleaner/compound. Always start with the least aggressive
product you can and work your way up until you find the one that's effective.
Be extra careful around any edges, curves or bumps in the bodywork.
The paint is thinner and their unusual shape means you can wear your
way through it very quickly. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions
with any product.
Once the surface is silky smooth It's a good idea to "feed and
nourish" the paint with a pure polish to replenish oils and plasticizers.
Polish will also deepen the paint's color and luster and reduce the
visibility of swirling. Using polish isn't hard. Just choose a product
and apply per instructions.
Choosing wax or polymer sealant, liquid or paste to protect your paint
is largely a matter of taste and experience. Despite what the sales
pitch says nothing lasts forever. How long wax does last depends on
use, maintenance and environment. It's fairly typical for a car to lose
that smooth as glass, water beading quality in anywhere from a few weeks
to a few months. As always, apply any waxes per manufacturer's instructions
yada, yada, yada. Remove residue with clean, soft, fluffy cloth renewing
and replacing the cloth often.
Maintenance in between major care sessions is mostly washing off accumulations
of junk and dealing with major localized events. Washing with the same
wax safe washes and drying before any spotting occurs will leave the
car looking great until the next wax. Removing serious attacks like
bird poop and bug splats will probably take more powerful chemicals
and will strip the wax in the area. Apply fresh polish and wax locally.
There are also specialized spray-on products that can be used to do
spot cleaning on paint the same way you clean kitchen counters. You
just spray them on and wipe them off.
Speaking of spraying on, most glass cleaners will strip wax and dry
out paint. Make sure to keep them off your finish when cleaning windows.
Better yet, use a glass cleaner that's specifically formulated not to
attack wax and paint.
There, now your car is beautiful. You feel better. Your Jensen feels
better. Everybody that sees you driving along envies you. Happy Motoring.
A couple of odds and ends:
One question that always comes up is "hand application or machine?"
The fact is that you can achieve very good results either way. There
are excellent products designed for hand application. There are excellent
products designed for machine application. There are some that can be
applied either way. You need to choose the right products for the way
you choose to work and apply them correctly.
There does appear to be a consensus among product manufacturers and
high-end detailers when is comes to extremes. They generally seem to
agree that when you're trying to revive a severely deteriorated finish
or when you're trying to achieve that best of show winning gloss a machine,
operated by a skilled craftsman, using the right products, gives the
best finish possible. They believe that machines provide superior consistency
and control. It is also universally agreed that when used carelessly
machines are the fastest and most efficient means of destroying your
As with any auto maintenance tasks different people will feel different
levels comfort with various detailing activities. Just as with align
boring an engine block, power buffing an oxidized finish requires equipment
and know-how that some would prefer to leave to professionals (although
both can be lots of fun once you get the hang of them). If your finish
is really deteriorated and you don't want the adventure of potentially
burning through it yourself you should consider having it detailed by
an experienced professional.
You can get excellent results at a reasonable cost by paying the pro
to do the extensive job initially and then doing the regular maintenance
yourself. As with any service professional choose one on the basis of
high quality work and customer service. Don't cheap out! Get referrals
if you can and personally inspect examples of his/her work. Find one
who actually listens to you and take the time to answer questions clearly.
Don't go to a high volume car wash for delicate detailing unless you
personally know and trust the quality of their individual handwork.
After all this babbling you may be either wondering what products I
use or why anyone would care what I have to say. First off I need to
point out that I'm not some great guru of paint care. I don't work for
anybody who details cars or sells detailing products. I'm a gearhead
like you learning a little bit at a time just like everybody else. The
preceding stuff is stolen from and common to numerous product manufacturers,
suppliers and detailers. It' sort of a conglomeration of stuff that
most professionals seem to agree on with a few individuals' suggestions
thrown in. Remember, if it's stolen from one source it's plagiarism,
if it's stolen from many it's research. Mostly I read the labels on
With that caveat in place I'll say that I really like the Meguiar's
company and their products. There are a lot of other excellent products
and manufacturers out there and I highly recommend trying any and all
of them. It's just that for me personally, Meguiar's has the best combination
of product and service. They have a huge and comprehensive range of
products for the enthusiast, professional detailer, show car fanatic,
automotive paint shop and auto manufacturer. Their stuff always does
what they say it will and always does it well. Their stuff is available
all over from a variety of sources. Best of all for a beginner like
me, if you're confused about what product to use when you can call them
on their dime at 1-800-545-3321 and talk to a real live human being
who will explain it to you. They're even local, out of Irvine, CA.
Where to get stuff:
Like I said, you can find OK stuff at department, grocery and drug stores
but you'll find a better selection of better stuff at an automotive
parts, detailing or paint supplier. That goes for hardware like brushes,
pads and power buffers as well as the chemicals. Check the phone book.
Unless you're way out in the boondocks you'll probably have several
professional sources near by.
If you want to try Meguiar's their website has a dealer locator. If
you're here in Orange County, Ca. check out Detailing Depot/Mar-Co Distribution
& Carnuba Store (don't ask me why they have two and a half names).
They're at 2146 Newport Blvd. Suite "B" in Costa Mesa, (949)
574-7676. They're a car nut's kind of place, a simple storefront with
a bunch of shelves loaded with professional detailing chemicals, supplies
and tools. You want bottles, jugs or drums of wax served to you on a
palette along with a few hundred sheets of #3000 sandpaper? You're in
the right place. They carry, Meguiar's, AutoGlym, Mark V, Lexol, Blue
Magic, 3M and more. Some sites of interest:
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