Auto Detailing Glossary – Defining Processes & Terms of Car Care


Auto Detailing terminology can sometimes be technical, precise, and a lot to process.


To help consumers, OCDCarCare Los Angeles created an auto detailing glossary to define the most common concepts, words, and procedures most frequently encountered in detailing or car care discussions.


Afterall, you have a right to know what’s being done or talked about in regard to YOUR vehicle.


Wash, Car Wash

A Generic term describing the removal of loose, or lightly embedded dirt particles and any other topical grime from the surface of a vehicle. Car wash types can include: a normal car wash with soap and water, a rinse-less wash, a water-less wash or the use of a spray detailer to remove light dust.

Decontamination (often called Clay Barring)

Processes used to remove above surface bonded contaminants (meaning anything clinging to the exterior of paint) such as air-borne pollution, tree sap, road tar, paint over-spray, or industrial fallout. Decontamination is performed using a tacky technology such as; Traditional Detailing Clay or Synthetic Decontamination Towels.

*Paint Correction – what is this term i keep reading?

Paint correction (also known as paint polishing or buffing) is the process of permanently removing below surface imperfections (in or below paint level) from a vehicle’s finish, restoring the true paint color, depth, and clarity, and reflectivity to states which are often better than factory new. These imperfections include: swirl marks or “spider webbing” (caused by improper wash techniques), fine scratches, water spots, bird dropping etchings, and holograms caused by improper use of a rotary buffer. Many budget detailers will fill fine scratches with a glaze. So, after 4-6 washes the glaze is removed from the scratched surface, wash by wash, revealing the scratches thought to be removed.

► The only way to remove (not mask with glaze) scratches in your vehicle’s paint is with the process of paint correction. This means REMOVING defects from the paint’s surface, smoothing it out to a uniform level, across the entire surface. Once the paint has been leveled, scratches are gone for good, but vehicles require proper wash techniques on regular intervals in order to remain swirl free and gloss over extended periods of time.


A visual depiction of the stages of paint correction, defined in the auto detailing glossary by OCDCarCare Los Angeles.


* How do I know if my vehicle is in need of paint correction?

Does the color look off — greyish?

Does the paint appear dull, cloudy, or does the metallic flex no longer show in direct sunlight?

Has your paint lost its high gloss or refelectivity?

Is your paint covered with layers of circular scratches?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then most likely your vehicle could use proper paint correction.


* Spider Web Swirl Marks & How They Alter Paint Properties

Have you ever looked at your car in the sun and thought that it looked like it was covered in a spider webbing? These are actually circular shaped scratches caused by improper washing techniques. Many people still wash & detail cars with the old, circular, ‘wax on-wax off’ method. Rest assured, Mr. Myagi will get NOWHERE close to your vehicle under the watchful eye of OCDCarCare. Seriously though, these circular scratches (most likely caused by improper wash methods) alter the appearance of paint because of the way they refract light, instead of reflecting it.

Because circular scratches always have a side directly bisecting your line of sight, reflecting a source of light; they will be much easier to see.  [pictured below] However, this can be corrected with the proper paint correction techniques and maintained if the vehicle is washed with front to back motions. This methodology helps maintain that micro scratches, from washing, will be uniform and will only be visible when perpendicular to the vehicle.


The detailing glossary illustrates how scratches & defects refract light & rob auto paint of color, gloss, and reflectivity.


 1-Step Cleaner-Wax a.k.a AIO [All in One]

A cleaner-wax is a product that does three steps in one process: cleaning, polishing, and waxing. A quality brand cleaner-wax, professionally applied, will help to restore a clear shiny finish but these types of products will NOT normally remove swirls and scratches. It will though minimize them and make the paint shine. A fairly strong cleaner-wax can remove very shallow defects such as swirls and scratches. However, removing swirls and scratches is best done with a dedicated compound or polish using a 2-step or 3-step approach.

*2-Step Process –  Polish & Wax

A two-step polish and wax is a more advanced procedure that will remove a majority of the shallow paint defects like swirls, scratches, light water spots and light oxidation and restore paint to a better looking finish overall. A two-step approach requires a specialist to use run a buffer over the paint which requires more time than a one-step cleaner-wax.
► Step 1 – Machine polish each square inch of each panel and then carefully wipe the polish residue off the surface.
► Step 2 – Application of a wax or paint sealant, by hand or machine to the surface. All these procedures require much more time, concentration, and experience therefore they are much more labor intensive.

* A note about paint polishing:
The key to quality results when machine polishing, is passing the polisher [with the appropriate pad for the job] over the surface at a controlled pace and pressure. Moving a polisher too quickly over a surface, in an attempt to speed up a process, will not remove the suface imperfections. Instead it will have little impact, resulting in the same results as only using a one-step cleaner/wax. This is the point in the process where most mickey mouse detailing work takes place– moving a polisher too fast over the surface in an attempt to reduce buffing time. This will not allow the machine to refine the surface and will often create Holograms while poorly refinishing the paints surface. Drive down any highway and in any give day, provided the sun is out, you will see the buffer trails from holograms. It is a black eye of the detailing industry, because it makes everyone look bad, detailer and client alike, and something professionals take great pride at avoiding at ALL costs!

► 3-Step Process: Compound, Polish & Wax

A three-step: 1) compound, 2) polish, and 3) wax is an advanced procedure that will remove a majority of all below surface paint defects except very deep defects which are past the clear coat level and are into the color coat.
* Step 1 – Compounding: Each panel is carefully compounded to remove the majority of deeper defects and most shallow defects. After completion of each panel or section, the compound must be carefully wiped off with a gentle microfiber towel to avoid any scratching, because some paints are so soft that even the light friction from a towel wipe may leave visible scratches.

* Step 2 – Polishing: Paint is polished to maximize gloss and clarity. Typically a much less aggressive pad and product are used to polish each square inch of every panel to remove any smaller imperfections that remain. Polishing is the last step and is the refinement of the more aggressive compounding step. Sometimes, the polishing phase requires one step and, depending upon the level of finish required, polishing can require 3 different steps. Polishing perfects the paint for application of a wax, synthetic paint sealant, or long-term protective paint coating. Because the compound and polishing steps work with products that have residual oil in them, it must be ensured that the polish residue must be carefully wiped-off as to make for a perfect bond of the wax or sealant.  Therefore, the last step is an additional wiping, or two, with alcohol to ensure that the paint’s surface is perfect clean for the step 3 protective application.

* Step 3 – Protection: A Protective Coating Wax, or Synthetic Sealant is used to seal the paint from the elements. The LSP [last stage product] is determined by the needs and wants of the client. Sometimes a combination of these three or all of the above will be used to ensure proper longevity and beauty. This is what we call the sexy step!

* Deeper Paint Defects 

While the majority of paint defects can be removed from a vehicle surface, sometimes defects are too deep for removal. This is because they are completely through the clear coat or because they are so deeply embedded within the clear coat that to remove them would completely jeopardize all clear coat protection in the affected area. Yet, even though these deeper paint defects cannot be removed, they can often be made to look less obvious and sometimes almost impossible to find. This is accomplished by a combination of in-depth paint correction techniques and is the preferred method for any vehicle that is used as a daily driver. But please note that certain conditions, such as: paint chipping, clear coat failure, or extremely deep scratches (think key marks) that cannot be corrected with a paint correction processes alone. A high calibur detailer will be straightforward during a vehicle inspection and inform you of defects that will be either impossible to remove, or those that can only be minimized with specialized corrective services.


Visual depiction of defects encountered in paint correction from the OCDCarCare Los Angeles Detailing Glossary.


* Factory paint is          t   h      i          n

The factory clear coat on most new cars is around 2 mils thick, that’s thinner than a Post-it Note or Dollar Bill. If too much clear paint is removed in an effort to remove a deeper defect, it’s possible the car could suffer from clear coat failure. This is wise to always consult a highly trained & knowledge professional to remove defects from factory paint. So please ask us about the care for such defects. Also, if you are attempting to correct something yourself ASK US, we can provide insights to assist you and prevent those, “OOPS,” moments.

* Car Waxes

Car waxes are products that contain some type of waxy substance either natural or man-made or a combination of both to aid in spreading, wipe-off, protection, and longevity. Not all “waxes”  contain Carnauba wax, the most well-known ingredient used to make a car wax. Premium quality Carnauba waxes tend to create a warm, deep shine and, when taken care of via careful washing, can last up to 3 months on a vehicle. It’s a good practice to re-apply a coat of wax to maintain protection and appearance quality of the finish before all of the previously applied wax has completely worn off.

* Synthetic Paint Sealants

Synthetic paint sealants are man-made replacements for car wax. Premium quality sealants tend to last longer than traditional car waxes, yet should still be re-applied on a regular schedule to maintain proper protection and, of course, quality aesthetics.

* Protective Paint Coatings & Professional Paint Coatings

Automotive Protective paint coatings (also known as: Nano Coatings, Ceramic Coatings, or Glass Coatings) last longer and protect automotive paint and surfaces better than both car waxes and synthetic paint sealants. Certain coating technologies add protective value by adding measurable thickness to the overall paint layer with hardened outer layer which cross-links (bonds) directly to paint.

Not all coatings on the market are created equal. While some coatings offer increased scratch, chemical resistance, and uv protection some do not. Some Protective Paint Coatings may also have hydrophobic qualities that assist in repelling water and dust. There are many paint coatings on the market and they are definitely not all created equal. So always take the time to research any coating you may be considering for your vehicle.

NOTE: Paint coatings which offer a hardened  protective barrier to paint, are often considered professional grade because they require more expertise to apply. Also, , in order to ensure optimal bonding and the highest degree of finish. the paint surface must undergo a proper and thorough paint corrected in preparation for application of professional protective paint coatings.



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