Top 7 Car Detailing Myths

Have you been to a large car show lately and visited the vendor area? If so, you probably saw at least one guy lighting a car hood on fire to prove to you his car wax protects the paint finish. I love this trick. It gets so many gullible people.

In honor of car show carnival barkers everywhere, I decided to create a top seven list of car detailing myths — and debunk them! So, here they are.

Detailing Myth #1: Dish washing detergent is the best car wash

Well, I guess this would be true if you want to wax and dress your tires and trim after every wash. You see, dish washing liquids, like Dawn dish detergent, are designed to remove oils, grease, food, etc., and they do a great job. They also do a good job removing waxes, polymers and silicone. That’s why this myth is debunked. For best results, always use a pH balanced car wash soap or shampoo with glossing conditioners.

Here are my favorites:

  • P21S Bodywork Shampoo
  • Meguiars Gold Class Shampoo

Detailing Myth 2: Detail clay is for professionals; you can ruin your paint

This is nonsense. You simply need to follow the instructions. Using paint cleaning clay is no more difficult than properly washing your car. In fact, you are more likely to scratch or swirl your car’s paint with bad drying towels or a dirty wash sponge. Detail clay is super easy to use.

You can’t go wrong with the top two brands:

  • Mothers California Gold Clay Bar
  • Meguiars Smooth Surface Clay Kit

Detailing Myth 3: If a car looks shiny, it does not need to be cleaned

First a lesson in terminology. Cleaning is not the same as washing. Paint cleaning is the process of removing oxidation and bonded contamination. Your car’s paint can look shiny and be very dirty. The best inspection is with your hands, not your eyes. So, after you wash and dry your car, feel the paint with your finger tips. Is it smooth like satin, or do your fingers drag on the rough, bumpy surface?

The roughness needs to come off. This is the purpose of detailing clay and pre-wax polishing. Detail clay removes all of the surface contamination without damaging the surface or thinning the clearcoat.

Detailing Myth 4: Waxing removes swirl marks

Don’t we all wish! No, unfortunately swirl marks are actually paint damage — scratches to be exact — and the only remedy is to polish them away. Here’s the real bummer: it’s very difficult to remove swirl marks by hand on clearcoat finishes, so a car polisher is essential. It used to be that you could wax your car with a good cleaner wax (remember Simoniz and Turtle Wax?), and the polishing abrasives in the wax would clean, polish and protect your car in a single step.

This type of treatment no longer works on clear coat finishes. In fact, some of the older cleaner wax products will scour a modern clearcoat finish. For best result, use two steps: polish to remove swirl marks and wax to protect. Here’s a foolproof system: Griots Garage Random Orbital Polish & Wax Kit. This is a perfect starter kit.

Detailing Myth 5: Machine polishers easily damage the paint finish

This is kind of like saying guns kill. No, people kill and sometimes they use guns. That’s kind of how it is with polishers. A dual-action car polisher is a very safe tool if you follow basic precautions. Use a polisher like an idiot and you will kill your car!

All kidding aside, even a novice can quickly master a dual action car polisher (also called an orbital) with zero risk of paint finish damage. For more information, I have created a complete Car Polisher Buyer’s Guide.

Detailing Myth 6: Diapers, old t-shirts and flannel cloths are best for detailing

Will this ever go away? I’ve been trying to debunk this myth for the better part of twenty years. Never use diapers, old t-shirts, old bath towels, etc., on your car. They may feel soft, but they are stitched with polyester thread. I promise you, the polyester will scratch and swirl your car’s clearcoat.

Use microfiber towels designed for car detailing, like Meguiars Supreme Shine Microfiber or Cobra Microfiber Detailing Cloths.

Detailing Myth 7: Wax protection can be guaranteed to last up to 5 years

Oh, boy, don’t get me started on this one. The fact of the matter is, car waxes and paint sealants are getting much better, but our environment is getting much worse. There is simply no way to guarantee the protective time of a car wax because every car, every car owner and every location is is different. The best advice is to wax your car every season with a quality paint sealant, like Meguiars NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0 (#1 selling car wax!).

While I’m debunking car wax myths, there’s also no truth in the myth that paste wax offers better protection than liquid wax. It all depends on the product. Some paste waxes shine like a son-of-a-gun, but won’t last a month.

Bonus Myths Debunked

I want to thank everyone who Tweeted or emailed me with their detailing myths. There were a couple themes, wax price and dealer packages topping the list.

Yes, it is a myth that the more a wax costs, the better it is. Frankly, paying some of the ridiculous prices being charged for boutique car wax products is beyond comprehension. However, if you enjoy the product, go ahead and pay the price.

Just do so knowing that the $100+ jar of car wax is not necessarily going to perform better than a product costing $30, or even $15. Ask before you buy. Don’t assume that an expensive car wax will give you the results you desire.

Now, about car dealer “protection packages”. You know, the ones the finance manager tries to sell you when they are putting together your new car deal? Those contracts are just that, a contract. They are, in essence, a warranty contract that says…

“If you come and have your car serviced regularly, the contract will cover the cost to repair any damage.” Most buyers ASSUME they are buying a 5-year protection plan (interior, exterior, or both). Guess what? It doesn’t exist!

If new car buyers ever took the time to read the fine print detail of the warranty contract, they’d realize they are supposed to bring their car in for periodic service (i.e., polish and wax). Since most folks are too stupid or lazy to read the contracts they sign, the agreement becomes null and void.