When buying a used car from a dealership, discovering its history can be difficult. This was definitely the case with our Project A3. On paper, it looked great and we got a good deal because the six-speed manual had been sitting on the lot for too long, but the downside was its very poor paintwork.
Our best guess was that the previous owner lived in the desert and did high-speed freeway runs to work. The paint was peppered with chips and felt rough like it was sandblasted. It had also been repainted at some time but there seemed to be no sign of major damage.
We’d been contemplating another respray to rejuvenate the paint before we got talking to some people from Meguiar’s Car Care Products. Without ever seeing the car, they were confident the paint could be salvaged using their well-known off-the-shelf inventory.
That confidence took a dive when we arrived at the company’s HQ in Irvine, CA. “This is one of the worst examples we’ve seen,” admitted Michael Pennington, director of training and consumer relation, but he proceeded to roll up his sleeves and got to work.
Back to School
If you’re anything like me, you wash your car as little as possible with scant regard for the products you use and no understanding of how it affects the paint. Boy, was I in for an education!
With online videos and instructions, bimonthly class and mobile exhibitions, the Meguiar’s outreach is comprehensive. And while they use their own products, the information is designed to make you understand what to do, what to use and to appreciate what’s available.
The information was presented so concisely that we’re going to attempt to give you a basic car care education in these few pages. Hold on, this could get bumpy!
It starts with the five basics of paint care: washing, cleaning, polishing, protecting and maintenance.
Frequent washing removes contaminants that otherwise start to damage your paint, such as bird droppings, acid rain, salt, etc.
Meguiar’s recommend you do this once a week with a good liquid (60% of people use dishwashing detergent that strips away protective wax), using a two-bucket method and a microfiber wash mitt that itself is cleaned after each wash. The first buckets hold suds, while the second has clean water to rinse off the dirt you’re removing. That way, the dirt from your car isn’t scratching the paint. Alternatively, you can drop a grit guard into the bucket to allows the dirt to sink below the suds and out of reach.
Never wash, clean or wax your car in direct sunlight or on hot metal – do it in the morning or evening if you don’t have a garage. The temperature of your water has little effect on anything but your hands, although waxes don’t apply well below 55˚F.
If you can’t wash your own car for any reason, check out the local car washes to see how they treat your car – do they drop cloths and re-use them, for example?
When washing your own car, Meguiar’s suggests cotton towels only for wiping down the engine, cleaning inside the wheels, etc. For cleaning windows and wiping off paint, they recommend a good microfiber towel (not cheap multi bags) because they’re more thorough, allowing you to work quicker and with less streaking.
Wash the towels after each session but don’t put cotton in with the microfiber because it attracts all the lint. Avoid bleach or fabric softener, don’t throw them in with the laundry, and dry on low heat.
This is about cleaning the paint itself and is done with either clay or a liquid compound, depending on your needs. In fact, if your paint looks and feels smooth, you can skip this stage and move on to protective waxes…
If you paint feels rough, a clay bar will remove contaminants above the surface of the paint. However, it won’t remove the swirls, stains and light scratches in the clearcoat. For this you need a rubbing compound that gets into the paint by removing a very small amount of the topcoat.
While this sounds dangerous, it should be done sparing either by hand or with a Dual Action (DA) Polisher, which won’t let you push too hard, unlike a rotary buffer that’s best left to the pros.
The compounds are like toothpaste, containing light abrasives designed for modern clearcoats, so avoid using older compounds that are too harsh and will quickly damage the paint.
Our A3 had swirls and scratches, etching from water stains and bird poop as well as chemical stains and oxidization. There were also a number of deep scratches that can’t be removed as well as pitting from dirt and rocks.
Our first task was to use a clay bar to remove the surface contaminants. When doing this, always use clean clay by folding it into itself as you go. And lube the paintwork with water or spray detailer so it slides easily.
Using short wrist movements, you’ll feel the clay slide more easily as it removes the clag, transferring dirt to the clay. The entire process is fast, so finishing the car didn’t take long.
With the surface feeling smoother, we needed to address the multitude of swirls and light scratches. For this we used Meguiar’s new Dual Action polisher and specialized liquid compound designed specifically for the device.
The DA was introduced at SEMA to allow the DIY hobbyist to approach the level of a professional rotary finish without the risks. It allows people to work faster and get a little deeper than doing it by hand, but without damaging the paint.
Because of the poor condition on our A3, Michael recommended we use microfiber pads on the DA rather than gentler foam pads. These would give the compound more bite but are only needed in extreme circumstances.
The Meguiar’s DA has multiple speeds, with #4 being suitable for compounds. Fortunately, the head will stop spinning if you apply too much pressure in order to protect the paint.
When using a DA, ensure the head is flat to the surface and apply moderate pressure on long strokes with a 50% overlap in both vertical and horizontal planes. It’s easier than rubbing by hand and ensures a consistent result once you’ve got the technique down.
Again, because our paint was so bad we used both a DA compound and DA finishing wax to make a difference. When completed, the paint felt like glass. Running your fingers across it was so smooth compared to the rough texture beforehand. We could both feel and see a huge difference.
When the microfiber pads become clogged with compound, use a wire brush to restore the texture. Although, Meguiar’s recommends foam pads in most cases.
Polish is designed to create a high gloss in your paint. It won’t remove dirt or imperfections, nor will it protect the paint, but it does give a deep shine. As such, it’s best used on darker paint rather than white or yellow…
Polishing is completely optional. It can be used to enhance the finish or simply skipped in favor of protective wax.
Following any cleaning (clay or compound), you must wax your car to restore its protective coating – it’s basically sunscreen for your paint, protecting it against the elements.
In general, Meguiar’s recommends waxing three or four times a year simply because rainfall in the US has an average ph of about 4.8, making it acidic and damaging to paint. However, they suggest you account for factors such as whether it’s a daily driver, if it’s garaged, local climate, etc to determine how often you do it. They do warn against excessive waxing, though. Apparently, wax isn’t good at sticking to itself, so after three coats it won’t get any deeper, with two coats suggested for maximum coverage.
One of the problems with waxes is the myriad choices and associated myths. The old school approach is to use carnuba wax. However, carnuba is naturally opaque in its raw form. So in extreme cases, the more you apply, the less your car will shine. On the other hand, modern polymers can give a better shine and have greater durability. Yet both approaches will protect your car, so Meguiar’s offers both Gold Class Canuba Plus as well as Ultimate Liquid Wax with synthetic polymers to cover each preference.
There’s also the option of polishing waxes that contain oils to darken the paint and protect it. Apparently, this is a good option if you regularly skip the polish stage or your paint feels dry.
Although we used a finishing wax earlier, we added another coat of Ultimate Liquid Wax to our Audi to get the best protection. Again it was applied with the DA using foam pads and faster strokes. Covering the car took about 5min and was simply wiped off with clean microfiber towels.
This refers to maintenance in between washing. It generally involves dusters and spray detailers to remove daily blemishes, although they caution against using either a duster to clean the car or a detailer to wash it.
As they say at Meguiar’s, “Frequent car care is easy car care,” because tackling the small jobs avoids the big ones!
Therefore, spray detailers should be used to remove bugs and poop from the car as soon as possible. Spray wax can also give some protection but won’t last as long as waxing. The spray will simply allow you to maintain the shine on a daily basis but it’s all about buying the right products and knowing how to use them correctly.
You should wash your car weekly, clean it as required, polish it if desired, wax the car after cleaning or 3-4 times a year, and maintain the finish whenever necessary.
We went to get a car wash and came away educated! We learnt so much in a few hours and while our Audi was as bad as anybody had seen, even Meguiar’s employees were surprised at how it had been transformed. And we were delighted because it looks as if we can avoid a costly respray for now!
Next month, we hope to finally install performance parts to our 2.0T.
If you want to understand how to clean your car, Meguiar’s can help. The easiest way is to log on to meguiars.com and participate in the online community. This includes forums with helpful discussion boards. There are tips sections and loads of videos (also see youtube.com/meguiarsusa) that show you the best techniques and what product will do the job from cleaning wheels, to glass, buffing headlights, interiors and paintwork. There are also FAQs and a newsletter, but if none of that helps, every Meguiar’s bottle has the number for a free customer helpline where you can discuss specific problems with an expert, six days a week.
Finally, there are free weekend classes that take place twice each month and accommodate up to 35 people. Unfortunately, they only take place at the Irvine, CA location but most of the information is contained in online videos.
The website also has Meguiar’s products for sale, where you’ll find everything we’ve talked about including washes, cleaners, polishes, waxes, mitts, microfiber cloths, dirt traps, DA, etc.
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