Consumer Auto Detailing Glossary: Car Care Definitions & Processes

This Consumer Auto Detailing Glossary defines common detailing processes & car care concepts.

Detailing terms are often confusing & overly technical… but they don’t need to be.

Wash, Car Wash

The removal of loose, or lightly embedded dirt particles and any other topical grime from the surface of a vehicle. Car wash types include: a traditional car wash with soap and water, a rinseless wash, and a waterless wash.

Physical Decontamination Process ( ‘Claying the Vehicle’)

Physical decontamination processes, such rubbing a clay bar or synthetic mitt over surfaces with a lubricant, remove above surface bonded contaminants. This process removes any contamination clinging to smooth exterior surfaces after a thorough vehicle wash. Surfaces eligible for physical decontamination include paint, head and tail lights, piano key trim, chrome plated trim, glass, etc.

Bonded contamination may include: air-borne pollution, tree sap, road tar, paint over-spray, or industrial fallout. Decontamination is performed by running a tacky technology such as; traditional detailing clay or synthetic decontamination towels over the surface with a lubricant. The tacky medium removes the contamination, embedding the particles within the clay or synthetic.

Swirls, Scratches, & ‘Spider Webs’: How They Alter Paint’s Appeareance

Ever looked at your car in direct sun and thought the color looked off and muted? Or the surface looked like it was covered in a series of spider webs?

These are actually many types of straight and 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. These circular scratches alter the appearance of paint because 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 proper paint correction techniques. And the finish is maintained if the vehicle is washed with proper technique, which includes front to back motions. This methodology ensures that any micro scratches, from washing, will be uniform and in a single direction.

Learn how Scratches refract light making automotive paint dull, whiteish, and non reflective by OCDCarCare Los Angeles Training Classes.

DEEP Paint Defects

While the majority of paint defects can be removed from a vehicle surface, sometimes defects are too deep for removal. This type have completely broken through the clear coat. Or they are so deeply embedded within the clear coat that to remove them would completely jeopardize all clear coat protection in the affected area. However, even though these deeper paint defects cannot be removed, they can often be greatly improved and sometimes almost impossible to find.

To remove these deeper defects a combination of in-depth paint correction or light sanding may be required.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 educate 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.

Horizontal View of Scratches through Clear Coat into all 5 Automotive Paint Layers by OCDCarCare Los Angeles Detailing Training Classes.

All in One (AIO) Polish (formerly a 1-Step Cleaner-Wax)

An All in One (formerly a cleaner-wax) product provides a low cost method of shining and protecting automotive paint.

The product performs three function inside one process: cleaning, polishing, and waxing. A quality brand cleaner-wax, professionally applied, will help to restore a clear shiny finish.

However, these types of products will NOT normally remove much in the way of paint defects such as swirls and scratches. It will however, minimize their appearance and make the paint shine. A fairly strong cleaner-wax can remove very shallow defects such as swirls and scratches.

To remove swirls and scratches a dedicated compound or polish using a 1-step or 2-step paint correction approach is needed.

An All in One (AIO) is an updated version of a cleaner wax with greater defect removal (still light) and more enhanced protection.

The Auto Detailing ‘Paint Correction’ Process – What does this mean?

Paint Correction (aka paint polishing or buffing) is the process of permanently removing below surface imperfections from a vehicle’s finish. These imperfections include: swirl marks or “spider webbing”, fine scratches, water spots, bird dropping etchings, and holograms from improper use of a rotary (high speed) buffer.

Additional benefits include true paint color, depth, and clarity, and reflectivity levels often better than factory new. Many low-budget detailers will fill fine scratches with a glaze. However, after 4-6 washes the glaze is gone, revealing the scratches thought to be removed.

► The only way to remove imperfections in a 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 corrected, scratches are gone for good. However, vehicles require proper wash techniques on regular intervals to maintain a fine finish over time.

Paint Correction aka polishing or buffing stages explained: starting condition, compounding (defect removal), final polishing by OCDCarCare Los Angeles Detailing Training Classes.

Paint Correction: How do I Know if My Vehicle Needs It?

Has you vehicle’s paint color lost its vibrancy and intensity?

Does the paint appear dull, cloudy, greyish, muted, or lifeless&

Are the metallic paint particles no longer visible in direct sunlight?

Has your paint lost its gloss look?

Is your paint no longer reflective?

Is your paint covered with layers of circular scratches?

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

The Auto Detailing Paint Correction Processes

A few levels or stages of paint correction exist according to the level of defects on a vehicle or the customer’s preferred result.

1 Step Paint Correction Process

A one step paint correction process removes many of the shallow paint defects like swirls, scratches, light water spots and light oxidation.

Its intended to restore automotive paint to a better looking finish overall. A one step paint correction requires a professional auto detailing specialist to effectively use a machine polisher over the paint to remove paint defects.

► Step 1 – Machine polish all painted panels of a vehicle and prepare the surface for the protection application step.

After the one step correction, the surface requires an application of a wax, paint sealant, or ceramic nano coating for protection. Far and away a coating will outperform and out last a wax or sealant in every way. These procedures are much more labor intensive, requiring much more time, concentration, and experience.

2 Step Paint Correction Process

A two step paint correction provides a greater degree of improvement to painted surfaces than a 1 step correction. This is because the duties are split between two processes : 1) Defect Removal (Compounding) and 2) Refinement (Finish Polishing). The two step paint correction will remove a majority of below surface paint defects except very deep defects which exist deeper than the clear coat layer of paint.

* Step 1 – Compounding: Each panel is carefully compounded to remove shallow defects and the majority of heavier defects. After completion of each panel or section the compound is removed gently with a soft and plush microfiber towel to avoid scratching. Some paints are so soft that even light friction from a towel wiping motion may leave visible scratches.

* Step 2 – Finish Polishing: After the defect removal from compounding, surfaces require a final polishing to refine the surface and maximize gloss. Finish polishing is a less aggressive final step, refining the more aggressive compounding and  removing smaller imperfections. Sometimes, the polishing phase requires multiple steps, depending on the characteristics of the paint system and the level of finish required.

Polishing prepares the paint for application of a wax, paint sealant, or long-term protective ceramic nano coating. Because compound and polishing use products that have carrier oils in them, that polish residue must be fully wiped-off to promote optimal bonding. Therefore before an LSP is applied, all carrier oils need to be removed.

Surface Protection is Critical after Paint Correction

After the intensive labor and time of a two step paint correction, the surface is refined and exposed to the elements. Time to protect surface and further enhance the aesthetic benefits of paint polishing. This is what detailers sometimes call the sexy step!

Protective Nano Coatings, Waxes, or Synthetic Sealants are all options to seal the paint from the elements. Far and away the best choice to maximize color, gloss, reflectivity, protection, and durability is a ceramic coating.

Automotive OEM (Factory) paint is very thin, so be careful!

On most new vehicles factory clear coat, the outermost protective paint layer, ranges between 40-60 microns (~1.57-2.36 mils) thick.

That’s about half the thickness of a US Dollar Bill.

If too much clear coat is removed, attempting to remove a deeper defects, the paint system could be compromised. The only fix for damaged or jeopardized clear coat is a full repainting of the entire affected panel. 

This is why it’s wise to always consult a highly trained & knowledge professional auto detailer to remove defects from factory paint. The last thing anyone wants is an expensive “OOPS,” moment.

Traditional Carnauba Car Wax (outdated technology)

Car waxes contain some type of natural wax (such as Carnauba) or man-made protection for vehicle surfaces. Not all “waxes” contain Carnauba since it is expensive and melts easily. Premium quality Carnauba waxes create a warm, deep shine and may last up to 3 months on a vehicle.

If using a wax, best practice is to re-apply a new wax layer before all of the previously applied wax has completely worn off. This maintains and protects the appearance of the finish.

►► With today’s technology traditional waxes are inferior in almost every way. See Ceramic Nano Coatings Below.

Synthetic Sealants (outdated tech)

Synthetic paint sealants are an evolution for car wax. Premium sealants last longer than traditional carnauba waxes, some even 6 months to a year.

Most are found in a spray application form. Sealants still require reapplication on a regular schedule to maintain proper protection and, of course, quality aesthetics.

►► With modern technology synthetic paint sealants are inferior compared to a ceramic coating. See Ceramic Nano Coatings Below.nology

Ceramic Nano Coatings or ‘Glass Coatings’ (best modern tech)

Automotive Ceramic Nano Coating Technology (a.k.a Ceramic, Glass, or Paint Coatings) lasts MUCH longer and protects paint in ways car waxes and synthetic paint sealants cannot. Coating technologies add greater protection capabilities with durable long term protective layers which cross-link (bond) directly to paint.

Not all coatings on the market are created equal.

While some coatings offer increased scratch, chemical resistance, and UV protection, others do not. Some Protective Paint Coatings may also have hydrophobic qualities that assist in repelling water and dust. There are many ceramic coatings on the market of varying quality and application. So speak with a trusted detailing professional to research any coating you may be considering for your vehicle.

NOTE: Ceramic coatings offer a more robust protective barrier to painted surfaces. Many are considered professional grade since they require more expertise to apply and may only be available to serious auto detailing professionals. To ensure optimal bonding and the highest degree of finish, paint surface must undergo a proper and thorough paint correction process in preparation for application of ceramic nano coatings.

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