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Paint Pampering

How the experts go about buffing and polishing your car...

By Michael Knowling

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Polishing the car is something that most of us take the time to do ourselves. But - chances are - you'll end up with a much more attractive paint finish if you entrust your pride and joy to a professional detailing company. To highlight this, we went along to Adelaide's Spotless Professional Automotive Detailers to watch how the pros do it...

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First of all, you'll find that most car detailing premises are about as dark as a dungeon. Keeping direct sunlight off vehicle paintwork and maintaining the lowest possible ambient temperature both serve to avoid problems with water bubbles quickly drying on the paint surface and leaving perimeter marks.

Before polishing can be performed, the subject car needs to be thoroughly cleaned - this is to ensure that the buffing pad won't grind any surface fallout (such as dust, bird droppings or tree sap) deep into the paint. Spotless Detailing commence car cleaning with a high-pressure water gun (to blast off any surface fallout) and then spray the body with a caustic detergent cleaner. Following this is a low-pressure water rinse and - where necessary - a hand rub to remove any residual detergent and water.

Only now comes the polishing bit.

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An experienced car detailer will be able to recognise the paint quality of any given vehicle. Spotless prepare many late-model vehicles for caryards, with these cars - generally - having good paint not requiring any special attention. Many older vehicles (around five years or more), however, pose more of a challenge. Due to normal aging, a vehicle's paint can oxidise (giving a rough matte finish), discolour (due to airborne particles such as brake dust) and, of course, there are always a few scratches. Depending on the severity of these problems, the detailer may use a higher-cut polishing compound than normal; note that all polishing compounds cut back paint thickness, only the amount of the cut changes.

Spotless Detailers polish the aforementioned good condition late-model cars with just a Norton Swirl Mark Remover (light cut), while a vehicle that hasn't been polished for a while might need Norton Micro Finish Liquid Compound (medium cut). In extreme cases (where, perhaps, the vehicle has been exposed to a harsh coastal environment) an extra heavy cut polish may be employed.

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Once the correct compound has been chosen, the detailer applies a predetermined amount onto an individual body area and then spreads it around evenly using a clean, soft cloth. Once this is done, the polishing compound can be rubbed into the paint - Spotless, like most professional detailers, use an electric buff equipped with a high-quality wool pad. The buff is handled in a circular motion and buffing speed is kept to around 1500-2000 rpm to avoid paint burning.

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During buffing its important to consider how thick the vehicle paint is - something that may vary from panel to panel if the car has been crash repaired. The aim is to keep the buff in one area only long enough to remove the minimal amount of paint to achieve the desired surface finish. Keeping the buff working away in one area can - depending on paint thickness and the chosen polish compound - cut back to the base coat; and that's the last thing you want to see!

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The vast majority of shallow scratches (such as swirl marks caused by routine car cleaning) are removed in the polishing process, but - quite often - considerably deeper scratches can also be polished out. Small accident scratches (such as those when you scrape a bush reversing out of the driveway) can usually be removed by 'working' the polish and buff in that area. This is a delicate process, because - as mentioned - over-working an area can often lead to 'polish-through'. Spotless tell us that pretty well any scratch can be polished out - so long as it hasn't already penetrated through to the base coat.

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Once the entire car has been evenly polished to achieve the desired surface finish, it must again be thoroughly washed to remove any residual compound or buff marks. Spotless follow this by applying a Teflon glaze to give the paint a 'protective seal'. Some of the best names in this area are Meguiars, AutoGlym and AutoSmart Platinum.

Depending on the size of the vehicle and its paint condition, this type of polishing process typically takes between 2 and 3 hours to complete. Again, depending on the job specifics, the cost is typically around $110 - which is pretty good considering the cost of the high quality products and the amount of time spent on the process.

Spotless tell us that a polish as described should maintain a good surface finish for around 12 months. As always, though, it's important to make sure that the newly polished paint is properly maintained. A high quality wax should be applied every two months (depending on conditions), the car should be washed weekly and any airborne contaminants (such as bird droppings or tree sap) must be removed as soon as possible. This is very important to remember, as otherwise these may etch into the paintwork.

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So there you go - there's the run-down on a professional polish. It's a great way of getting out of some hard work and - at the same - ensuring you get the best possible paint finish.

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