People often ask me how I make and keep my cars looking like a show car. "What wax do you use?" is the question that comes up most often. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple.
If you want the perfect shine, you have to do a little work, and you have to work to keep it maintained. If your car's paint is relatively new and in excellent condition, show car detailing to get the perfect shine will be far less work than with a car that's five or more years old with heavy oxidation, paint scratches and other paint correction problems.
The process I'm about to explain came from years of experimenting with dozens of car polish and car wax products to discover what car detailing products produced the best results. As it happens, I stumbled on this process quite by accident.
Simply fooling around in the garage, I applied a carnauba wax over a paint sealant on my Guards Red Porsche 944 Turbo. When I pulled the car out of the garage into the bright sunlight, I could not believe my eyes. The finish was noticeably deeper, richer and more vibrant. The paint had taken on a new depth, like it had a clearcoat finish.
After a few years of trying the process on a few dozen cars, I concluded that it works on all car finishes that are in good condition, but has the most dramatic effect on dark colors. With the ability to achieve consistent results, I decided I would give the process a name, The Perfect Shine.
In all fairness, I was not the first to discover "layering" car wax products. Autoglym and Klasse both beat me to it with their two-step systems. However, I do believe I was the first to discover and document applying a pure carnauba wax over a sealant for the deepest, darkest shine possible.
SIX PERFECT SHINE REQUIREMENTS
The perfect shine comes when your car's paint finish is in good condition, free of surface contamination, polished, glazed, protected and waxed. Let's look at each of these requirements individually.
Good Paint Condition
For the first 12 to 18 months of a new car's life, the paint is relatively oxidation-free and in good condition. If you maintain your new car's paint with regular washing and protection, oxidation will remain minimal, and cleaning the paint will be a minor task. At a minimum, you should wash your car weekly. If you don't have time to wash weekly, try Quick Detailing.
As you drive your car, debris from the road (i.e., tar, oil, bugs, etc.) will lodge itself on your car's paint. The longer this debris is allowed to remain, the more difficult it is to remove. This is just one reason that regular washing is so important. While outside, your car will also collect other contamination. (Birds, bugs and neighborhood kids seem to have a natural attraction to beautiful cars.) These contaminants must be removed; you can't wax over them and expect to get a show car finish. The easy way to remove the contamination is clay bar detailing.
Polishing is necessary to remove minor blemishes, including surface scratches, swirl marks, pitted areas (minor road stone nicks) and scuffs. When polished, the paint finish will feel perfectly smooth. Your hand and polishing towel will literally glide over the surface. Feeling a perfectly polished car is a stimulating experience for most car nuts. There's nothing quite like the polished fenders of a curvaceous Porsche, Ferrari, Viper or Corvette.
Glaze is a term that's grossly misused in detailing products. Glazes are paint treatments used to fill small surface scratches and swirl marks. To a painter, glaze is the term used to describe the process of restoring full paint gloss. In The Perfect Shine, ultra-fine polishes are used to refine the paint finish to achieve or restore full gloss.
Paint is protected when it's sealed from the elements. Synthetic paint sealants offer the best protection. They are easily five to ten times more durable (longer lasting) than carnauba waxes. They offer extended protection from the elements and create a super-slick surface. In The Perfect Shine process, the synthetic protection is an acrylic sealant called Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze. In addition to providing excellent protection, Klasse Sealant Glaze also helps to hide or minimize the appearance of fine swirl marks. I have not found a polymer sealant that works in the Perfect Shine process. I will explain why later.
Waxing is the final step of The Perfect Shine. We're not talking just any wax here; we're talking about a pure, natural carnauba, like P21S Carnauba Wax. Pure carnauba waxes don't have cleaning properties or synthetic compounds added. They are made from a blend of carnauba waxes, beeswax and natural oils. A quality show car wax gives paint depth and warmth. I know, I know, it sounds like we're talking about a fine wine or something. Just don't underestimate the value of a great show car wax when it comes to the final results of your car's finish.
Now that you know the six requirements for The Perfect Shine, I'll share with you my personal tips that keep my cars turning heads. The first thing to know is that I treat my toys differently than my daily driver. It's very difficult to maintain a perfect shine on a daily driver, unless you only drive it a mile or two a day. Show cars (toys) are easier, because their job is to stay beautiful.
THE PERFECT SHINE
The Perfect Shine is a simple process that reliably achieves the best shine possible on any paint finish. Follow these steps and product recommendations:
Step 1: Wash & Dry
Wash your car twice with a high concentration of car wash solution. Use a quality car wash soap. Don't use a wash 'n wax type product. The goal is to get all of the dirt and wax off of the car. If your car is excessively dirty, you can use Dawn dish-washing liquid. If you do, be sure to rinse thoroughly.
NOTE: Don't use Dawn or another dish washing detergent as your regular car wash soap. It will strip your car wax protection. However, Dawn is perfectly safe to use for thorough cleaning before you wax your car.
Be sure to use a proper car wash mitt. People do more damage to their paint using household wash cloths and sponges than you can imagine. If you want helpful tips, see our complete Car Washing & Drying guide.
Dry your car thoroughly after washing. I recommend a satin-edged "waffle weave" microfiber towel. These things are fantastic, and they absolutely won't scratch. If you're still using old bath towel, you need to stop because they are scratching, swirling and causing your car's finish to be dull. Chamois are okay, but they are nowhere near as fast of streak-free as a microfiber drying towel.
Step 2: Clay Bar Detailing
After washing and drying, examine your car's paint with your hand. If the paint is not perfectly smooth, use a clay bar and clay lubricant to remove the surface contamination. It's very easy to use, fast and safe. For best care of your car's paint, use detailing clay three to four times a year before you apply car wax.
Once you learn how to use a clay bar properly in the garage, you will discover that you can also use it after washing and before drying. Simply mix a fresh bucket of car wash soap and use the soapy water as your lubricant. It's fast and easy, but hang on to the clay bar... it gets slippery!
Step 3: Repair Paint Damage
When the paint is clean and free of surface contamination, examine again for minor surface damage. If you find heavy scuffs or surface scratches, repair these flaws with a fine compound or scratch remover car polish. If your paint has swirl marks and other minor micro marring, use a swirl remover car polish.
NOTE: Since I originally wrote this article, the car polish industry has gone through several generations in technology. It is no longer necessary -- or desirable -- to use a heavy rubbing compound to remove paint damage, like scratches, water spot etching or severe swirl marks. The very best over-the-counter paint restoration car polish available today is Meguiar's Ultimate Compound. Use it by hand or machine and it works.
NOTE: Removing swirl marks, fine scratches, water spot etching and other paint damage by hand is very difficult work. It can be done, but it isn't easy. The clear coat finish on most new cars is very hard. I recommend that all DIY car owners invest in a polisher. Since the 1990's, the Porter Cable 7424 car polisher has been #1 with car enthusiasts.
Step 4: Restore Finish Clarity
Now it's time to bring out your car's full shine and gloss potential. For this I recommend an ultra-fine "swirl remover" polish. Swirl-remover polishes are designed to remove fine swirl marks, not the heavy paint damage removed in the previous step. If your paint is already in perfect condition, you can skip this step.
There are so many different swirl remover polishes available that it's difficult to know which polish to choose. My favorite for more than twenty years has remained the same, Klasse All-In-One. I keep trying new products, but in the end I keep reaching for the Klasse. It just works. Another excellent polish is Meguiar's #205 Ultimate Finishing Polish (machine application only).
Step 5: Seal and Protect
Once perfectly polished, your paint is ready to be sealed. For this I use a product that's been protecting my cars since 1987, Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze. The Klasse acrylic formula has proven its quality to me again and again. Klasse Sealant Glaze protects paint for months with a durable acrylic finish. The best way to apply Klasse is with a microfiber applicator. The secret is to put it on as thin as possible. If you apply a heavy coat you will suffer through wiping it off. Apply it whisper thin and wipe off is a breeze. Better yet, do what I do and use a car polisher!
One of the most awesome things about Klasse Sealant Glaze is that you can apply layer after layer to achieve a deeper, high-gloss shine. Klasse Sealant Glaze does not contain cleaners to remove old wax. It's a pure acrylic sealant. Additional layers of Klasse increase the protection, too!. For more information about Klasse, check out our Klasse Car Wax Guide.
Step 6: Make it Pop!
You're almost there. The final step, the literal icing on the cake, is waxing. You may be asking, "After polishing and sealing, why wax?" The answer lies in the richness of color, depth and clarity that only a high-quality carnauba wax can bring out on a polished surface. For this job I reach for P21S Carnauba Wax. P21S Carnauba Wax is a true show car wax.
Compared to other show car waxes of similar formula, for the money P21S offers the best final finish. P21S Carnauba Wax brings out a warmth and depth on red and yellow that I have not been able to duplicate with any other wax under $70 per can. On black and dark blue cars, the paint looks like a reflection in a pool of water.
On steps four through six, I use a quality foam applicator to apply product (except Klasse Sealant Glaze, which requires a microfiber applicator). For final buffing of the P21S Carnauba Wax, I use a high quality Microfiber Buffing Towel. I prefer the towels with satin edging.
Maintaining Your Car's Perfect Shine
If you've finished the six steps to The Perfect Shine, you'll need to do some light maintenance to keep it looking great. It's really easy. Wash weekly and quick detail after each outing.
I highly recommend P21S Bodywork Shampoo car wash. It's very gentle, so it won't remove the wax, and it smells great!
Choose a good detailing spray for quick detailing. It does not have to be a super expensive product, either. In fact, the products I can't get over for its performance/value is Meguiar's Ultimate Quik Detailer. It's simply amazing. Quick detailing will normally take no more than 5 to 10 minutes.
You can apply a fresh coat of P21S wax as often as you like. I recommend reapplying wax monthly, or whenever you want your car to look its very best.
The Klasse protection will last 5 to 6 months. Plan to repeat The Perfect Shine process twice a year to keep your car's paint in perfect showroom condition.
HOW THE PERFECT SHINE WORKS
There's no particular magic to my process; however, at least two of the ingredients are key. Finish preparation is the most significant function of the process. The paint finish must be refined through a couple grades of polish. This is how jewelry makers create gems of radiant beauty.
The key ingredients are Klasse Sealant Glaze and P21S Carnauba Wax. The reason these two products work together, where others do not, is actually pretty simple. Klasse is an acrylic resin coating. It's not a petroleum- or water-based product. It's an acrylic. When it dries, it dries hard. Most synthetic sealants are polymers based on the element silicone.
To my knowledge, all polymer sealants are based on an emulsion system containing petroleum distillates. As a result, even the mildest petroleum distillates remove polymer sealants. Zaino Show Car Polish is the only polymer sealant that I'm aware of that can be successfully layered (a new application of Zaino Show Car Polish does not remove previous applications).
Likewise, carnauba waxes contain petroleum distillates. In waxes, petroleum distillates are used to soften the carnauba, which is rock hard in its raw form, so it can be blended into a paste or cream. The P21S Carnauba Wax formula uses a highly refined petroleum distillate, much the same as that used in the manufacture of cosmetics (i.e., lipstick wax). The solvent content in P21S Carnauba Wax does not affect the cured Klasse sealant. By conducting side-by-side durability tests, I have proven Klasse remains solidly intact.
If you're a car appearance fanatic, creating "the perfect shine" is akin to finding religion. The technique discussed here is not the only method, it's simply the process I discovered that works for me and has been proven by hundreds of other detailing fanatics.
After the Perfect Shine, Get Show Car Tires & Wheels
This article explains how to create the perfect shine. It's a great start, but don't stop there. Learn how to create Show Car Tires & Wheels.