Porsche weekend detail clinic
Monday, August 28, 2017
I've always taken great pride in how my cars look, particularly my Porsches. But I also have a lot going on in my life, so I can't focus on detailing details as other enthusiasts might expect. There's a point of diminishing returns when it comes to getting a showroom look, but you will never find a Q-tip or extension mirror anywhere near my car.
Don't get me wrong — I like a meticulously detailed machine as much as the next guy, but only when it's worth the energy. I've worked hard over the years avoiding the effort others spend hours perfecting, and enough people have asked me for my detailing system that it seems to support my theory.
So the following targets the time-minded weekend warrior who doesn't want to compromise, but will do so if the 98th percentile cannot tell the difference. You Concours d'Elegance addicts should probably move on and check out the latest Hemmings Motor News since I may insult you unintentionally.
A quick word about products — I use solutions for my particular application. There may be brands that you swear by and, frankly, I am happy to hear about them. I recommend brands and products I have found to work. These folks don't have interest in paying me, so you may take my recommendations for what they're worth.
My 2016 Macan S wins People’s Choice award at 2016 Porsches, Exotics and Classics.
It's all black and white
My previous Porsche was a white Macan S — I could usually get away with a touchless car wash every other week and an annual detail. But I recently traded it in for my second Cayman — a black-on-black 718. The difference in cleaning effort is staggering.
When it's all prettied up, I can look into my Cayman's deeply dark reflection and see my soul. But I can also spot every nick and scratch, every ding and imperfection with my eyes closed and in my dreams. It's the unfortunate principle of contrast, I'm afraid.
I can watch pollen and dust collect on the surface of my Cayman like dandruff on a dark sweater. Road film finds its way to the rocker panels faster than I can find second gear with my PDK, and brake dust appears on the wheels with my cleaning rag still in hand.
The fact is, darker colors are more difficult to maintain — scratches are more visible, and flecks of lint and dirt can't hide in the clear-coat The trade-off is that darker colors look strikingly better than their lighter counterparts with a thorough detail.
Whether your Porsche is Midnight Blue or Arctic White, you can make it stand out and get noticed, all with limited effort. The first thing you need to do, however, is accept the fact that a car begins its descent into filth the moment you sign the sales agreement. From then on, you're just hanging on to threads of optimism in slowing the process down.
My Black-on-Black 718 in it’s first car show (just two weeks ago).
Preparation is everything
Detailing is both an art and science if you apply yourself to the task. That's all fine and good when you can commit the required time to do the job right. I could not, so I began to look for solutions to common detailing problems where cutting corners wouldn't get noticed. I compiled them to share with anyone in the same boat.
To start with, I'm a detail surgeon. I don't mean I think of myself as some kind of detail savant — it's just that I always wear surgical gloves. They're disposable, protect your hands from grime, wax and cleaners, and will save your knuckles once in a while. Even mechanics have been using them for years.
I don't claim to wear those loose-fitting medical scrubs, but if this is something that appeals to you, by all means go for it. Being comfortable and weather-compliant will make the job a lot easier.
Note that it's best to wait for a sunny day well into the 50s before tackling a typical detail. Cleaning and polishing products tend to react poorly as temperatures drop or approach dew point. You can use a condition-controlled workspace, but I can guarantee you will miss things that'll look obvious when you get your Porsche out into natural light.
I'm a detail surgeon. I don't mean I think of myself as some kind of detail savant — it's just that I always wear surgical gloves.
The purpose of washing your car is to remove the gunk you don't want under any products. I employ a two-bucket system.
The first is for cleaning the wheels, because I dry my car immediately after I wash it. Rinsing the wheels afterward would require drying again. Because of the nature of road grime, the second bucket is used for everything else.
No matter what cloth or sponge you use for scrubbing your wheels, tires and wheel wells, never mix them up with what is reserved for the rest of your car. It's OK if I use my old washing mitt for wheel and tire duty, but never the other way around. What comes off your Porsche's shoes is not OK to rub onto painted surfaces.
I start with the rear wheels then do the front, since they generally collect most of the brake dust. Use plenty of water. Don't stop with the water until you are done scrubbing — I like to use a lot of water, and so should you. This is good practice when washing any part of your car.
After the wheels and tires are cleaned and rinsed, I fill a larger bucket with water and soap designed to wash cars. Dish soap removes paint protectants, and only when that's the intent, I use Blue Dawn. I'm not married to the brand, but it was recommended to me once. Since I don't use a lot of it, I still have enough to wash a battleship.
Whether you use a mitt or sponge, microfiber is always the way to go. It lifts and contains tiny particles that would otherwise cut your paint. Now is not the time to save the planet — clear and clean water is the best insurance against scratching premium paint surfaces. I hold the hose in one hand, flooding the area with water, and wash with the other.
Others will tell you to omit soap entirely, using only pure water. I disagree. Car-washing soaps have properties that trap dirt as it’s extracted from the surface, and they also have a slickness that can prevent micro-scratches. I highly recommend a grit strainer in the bucket to keep the sinking particulates away from the cleaning mitt.
It seems obvious to me, but I work from the top down. Water it turns out is highly affected by gravity and will get to the ground (along with the dirt) using the fastest route possible. I wet the entire surface areas — roof, hood and trunk using (once again) lots of water.
With the surfaces now clean, I rinse thoroughly. Then, I start on the front. I use a separate sponge with a netted honeycomb nylon cover, which is great at removing bugs and flecks of road tar. Some would consider this an abrasive, but most of the newer car noses are pretty durable, so I'm taking a small risk in the name of efficiency.
When the front is complete and rinsed, I move one direction around the car. Working a panel at a time and making sure I cover everything with lots of water. I rinse the entire car again. For those without a water softener, dry your Porsche from the top down using a microfiber towel or chamois to eliminate water, calcium and mineral spots.
I use a cordless leaf blower (with shortened tube), which helps the water exit areas it tends to collect in. I also do the car washing later in the evening on one day and let it dry completely overnight. This sounds a bit overkill, but even a little water residue will interfere with polishes and other protectants.
No matter what cloth or sponge you use for scrubbing your wheels, tires and wheel wells, never mix them up with what is reserved for the rest of your car.
I'm going to insert this next step, although it's a periodic process.
I'll assume claying is not in your detailing arsenal as it wasn't in mine originally. If you own a daily driver like me, you should clay your car at least annually — twice a year is better. Even if you drive less, pollutants and other filth collect over time, so consider claying twice a year.
The process of claying for your typical Porsche takes less than an hour. The Macan took a little more. At first it seemed a bit hokey to me: "OK, so I’m going to rub this chunk of silly putty all over the paint, and the surface will miraculously become slick as Mobil 1." I was also skeptical, but if it's your first time, you'll also become a believer.
I’m not going to get into the different types of clay. I’m guessing that the grade is more important than the brand. You can usually buy a kit that comes with a spray bottle of lubricant, the clay and detailed directions. I use Griot's Speed Shine (more on that later), using the same application pattern I did when washing the car.
Apply the lubricant liberally and rub a flattened piece of clay quickly back and forth in a bumper-to-bumper direction. Continually fold and flatten the clay inward with each panel. Wipe dry with an absorbent microfiber cloth, and polish away the haze. I start with the hood, roof and trunk, and then each panel from the front fender all the way around.
I do the nose last in the pattern since that's often the worst section, and I'm less likely to be rubbing bug parts all over my Porsche. The premise behind claying is that it picks up minuscule contaminants and pollutants that embed in your paint. I now know that it works — very well.
There’s one caveat with claying that’s essential to understand fully. The clay will get slippery from the lubricant (particularly when wearing surgical gloves), so it’s easy to drop. If it hits the ground, that’s it. Game over — you need to trash it. Don’t pick it up and try to pick out shards of debris.
There’s no such thing as the five-second rule here. It’s not like you dropped an Oreo on the kitchen floor when no one was looking. Imagine what a tiny chip of stone or chunk of asphalt would do when rubbed on your paint?
That’s why I never start a claying process without a backup readily available. The odds are too tempting to defy.
My 2017 718 Cayman dressed up for dinner in mid-July.
Always use protection
If you just now clayed your Porsche, used dish soap to remove old wax, or it’s simply been a while since you did your last polishing, now is the time for protectant. You have a basic decision to make at this point, and I’ll be of limited help because both will work well.
You can apply a premium wax such as a fine carnauba, or you can use a synthetic polymer. There are quality levels of each, and I won’t get into the debate as to which is more effective. It’s your choice, but either way you need a protectant now that you've stripped away what was there. Personally, I swear by Zaino Z2 for clear-coat paints.
Although newer carnaubas and other wax products are a lot easier to use these days, my search is now over. I have tried virtually every commercial paint protectant on the planet from Turtle Wax to hand-mixed natural waxes. Nothing is easier with results this amazing — smooth as glass, really.
I use the hardener additive, which allows for successive coats. Like most other polishes, the more layers you use, the better and deeper your finish will look. I apply it using a damp applicator pad, let it haze and wipe it off. It’s much easier to remove than standard wax — even in the hot sun.
There’s no powder, no residue, no machining and little elbow grease. I follow up with a Griot’s blue microfiber cloth to do a final buff. Zaino lasts as long as any wax, and it’s easy to apply. As far as I know, their products are only available online, but they ship quickly and customer service is first-rate.
If I’m between details and don’t need a protectant, I’ll use my favorite spray-'n'-shine product — Griot’s Speed Shine. I use it religiously because of its versatility, and it’s easy to apply and remove. There’s no real secret in using any spray-'n'-shine, other than you’ll want to employ two types of microfiber cloths.
The application cloth should have a shorter nap so as not to soak up too much of the product and to catch loose debris not visible without a microscope. The second cloth (Speed Shine cleaning cloths are a good choice) is to buff to a luster. You will appreciate that the car is dry at this point as residual water makes polishing difficult.
The entire spray-'n'-shine process on a Cayman or 911 should take between 20 and 30 minutes. I have occasionally used it between car washes, but you need to be careful here because the more film on the paint, the more the risk. In this case, I’ll product-overload to keep the surface wet and lower the risk of scratches.
You can apply a premium wax such as a fine carnauba, or you can use a synthetic polymer. There are quality levels of each.
Wheels and tires are up next. It’s frustrating because even a few miles of brake dust will make them look dingy. Honestly, the best defense against the horror of brake dust is black wheels. Since I have just washed the wheels, however, it’s relatively easy to polish them.
I use Griot’s Speed Shine for this process, selecting a well-used cloth from polishing the panels. Spray evenly on the wheel surface and try to avoid a direct hit on the rotors. Alternatively, spray directly on the cloth and then apply. I use a cleaning pattern so as not to miss anything, such as starting and ending at the tire valves.
Soaking an edge of the cloth with Speed Shine and swirling into the wheel lug orifice will ungunk it. Alternatively you can use foam applicators, which work great if you soak and scrub them just prior to your wash.
If you didn’t take my earlier suggestion of wearing surgical gloves, now is the time for regret. Road filth and brake dust is a dirty combination. Once I’ve done all of the wheels, I spray a healthy amount of speed shine on the now-fully-soiled cloth and go back and apply a saturated cloth of Speed Shine to the tires.
After these efforts, the microfiber cloth is beyond saving (or washing for that matter), so in the trash it goes. I have now used the same cloth for the paint, the wheels and the tires. In fact, this applicator likely started its life as the previous detail’s glass wipes. This is part of my patented (not really) regressive recycling campaign.
My 2009 Cayman gets a thorough wheel well cleaning for Radnor Hunt Charity Show in September 2015.
Department of interior
No one looks inside your car, so who cares, right? Wrong. What’s the first thing you do when you walk by an awesome-looking car? You take a peek through the window — cupping your hands around your eyes to seal out the reflection, being careful not to smudge the glass.
What conclusion would you draw if there were fast food bags and coffee cups strewn about the cabin? You’d be disappointed, right? Probably shrug your shoulders and presume the owner is some rich dude with a bad combover.
A clean interior is the sign of a good detailer. And the dirtier the inside is, the less the outside can compensate for it.
The best path to a clean interior is to keep it that way in the first place. Not to sound overly critical, but if you’re collecting trash in the passenger seat and wedging food containers in that convenient intersection of the windshield and dash, you likely don’t care much about detailing anyway.
My first recommendation for the inside of your Porsche is to maintain two sets of car mats. One for daily use (I suggest the factory set), and one for periods of inclement weather — the entire winter here in the original northern colonies. Cleaning road salt stains from the mats isn’t usually worth the effort.
I don’t condone the practice of placing one mat over the other as a shield since stacking floor mats is a dangerous practice. Just keep the extra set handy so it’s easy to swap them out. This will save you a lot of work since most of the muck and grime that enters your car comes in through from your feet.
A conveniently located DustBuster is your best bet in maintaining the interior carpeting. You can buy one for 25 bucks, and it takes a half-minute to suck out the immediately visible stuff. Spend a bit more for a good cordless one, and consider keeping it in the car (if not in the garage).
The first thing I do whenever I drive my car is to do a quick touch-up. It may seem obsessive, but the more often you observe this practice, the easier it will be when you have to call in the heavy artillery. I also bring a cordless vacuum to every car show — and it gets loaned out a lot.
However, you’ll need the power of a quality shop vacuum to draw the dust and embedded pebbles out of all the crevices that you can’t get with a DustBuster. Do not use attachments on any part of the dash — even the brush. I speak from my own experience — you can lose or damage knobs, scratch GPS screens and destroy dash material.
For cleaning mats, it’s best to remove them from the car and put them on a relatively flat and clean surface. Use the upholstery tool on your shop vac and run it slowly in each direction. If you find yourself trying to muscle the tool with the vigor one reserves for rough-sanding hardwood, it’s likely time to replace the mats.
Tough salt stains can sometimes be removed using a 50-50 mix of water and white vinegar. Warning: Air out the mats for at least a full day in the sun and fresh air, or your car will smell like an anchovy salad for a long time. Worth the wait in drying time, though, as this process is the only way I know to remove a winter season of salt and brine.
Before returning your mats to the foot wells, use the crevice tool to thoroughly extract debris throughout the rest of your car. If you hear the sounds of shrapnel drawn up through the hose, you probably should have vacuumed years ago — here’s where periodic cleaning can save you hours.
A clean interior is the sign of a good detailer. And the dirtier the inside is, the less the outside can compensate for it.
You know what my secret is for the dash and instrument cluster? A Swiffer Duster. Laugh if you want, but a quick trip around the controls and components with one of these utensils and it’ll make a believer out of you, too. I find it reaches well into crevices.
For cleaning up the dash, leather and vinyl, I recommend the use of Windex Wipes. This is my go-to product for the interior, smaller parts hard to reach places. I use them for everything, and they are an essential tool in my bird poop kit for every car I own.
I mentioned the interior first, but it’s sometimes best to detail the inside at the end just before you polish the windows. While I’m contorting myself into different positions to get into those deep and dark crannies, I’m at the same time drawing pictures on the door panels and sills with the soles of my Nikes.
Focusing on these basics will reduce the time and effort it takes if I ever need to bust out the serious chemicals. I’m not a big fan of protectants and coatings for the interior materials. The surfaces become slick and unnaturally shiny. But sometimes Armor All wipes do become necessary — use judiciously.
Glass should also be done in the sun and above 60 degrees. The sun is for reflective perspective — you can’t clean what you can’t see.
I do windows
The glass is always done last because even though I’m risking the interior of my Porsche with sweaty limbs, dirty clothes and sneakers, virtually all the products I’ve used on my car are not meant for glass and will leave a residue or film that contributes to streaking.
Glass should also be done in the sun and above 60 degrees. The sun is for reflective perspective — you can’t clean what you can’t see. Also, the faster the evaporation of the product, the less streaking occurs. A cold windshield doesn’t provide enough heat to aid in the vaporization process.
I hate cleaning windows and have used all the typical methods and materials for glass. I’ve tried newspaper, combinations of ammonia, alcohol and water. Oddly, Windex Wipes are great for mirrors, but they aren’t the best option for a large windshield. The most important recommendation is to clean your glass often.
Of all the products I’ve wasted money on (and I have a cabinet full of them), I keep coming back to Stoner’s Invisible Glass. It’s a can of spray-on foam that stays in place, wipes off easily and when buffed with a microfiber tight-weave glass cleaning cloth, leaves a streak-free shine.
The outside glass is fairly easy — even with tree sap, bugs, tar and road rash, I can always use a glass polish. When called for, I apply Griot’s Fine Glass Polish, which works well to get all the gunk and microchips from the surface. You’ll see and feel an immediate difference.
But the inside of the cabin is more difficult. A heated interior releases "outgases" from plastic and vinyl that adhere to the surface like a layer of Crisco on a pie plate. And it’s really difficult to get off — even with glass polish. Not to mention that glass polish can leave a powdery residue that has to be removed afterward.
Like any surface, it’s best to clean glass regularly. But even then, I wrestle and twist, muscle and contort, and still have to clean and reclean. I’ve found that a microfiber cloth soaked in Windex will remove the aforementioned film, and a few passes of Stoners will complete the process.
I have spent the better part of my life mastering the craft of windshield cleaning, and it wasn’t until a recent summer that I became privy to a trade secret I will share with you now. I heard of this simple method to remove sap from glass years ago, but I was skeptical for many reasons.
Superfine (0000) steel wool will remove almost anything safely from glass. What you say? Won’t this scratch? Can’t it damage window films? The answer is no and sort of. Glass is one of the hardest of man-made substances and is nonporous.
Super-fine steel wool is the abrasive equivalent of 2,000 grit wet sand paper (which is used successfully for automotive paints). If your windows are factory tinted, no worries. Factory tint is part of the makeup of the glass. Conversely, steel wool should never be used on aftermarket window film.
A nice bonus when using super-fine steel wool is that it’s dry. I suggest getting the pads that are bundled and sold at most hardware stores — verify the superfine (0000) grade. I take one of the pads and with an open palm, rub lightly on the glass surface in a circular motion to promote coverage (since this procedure leaves no trail or residue).
After doing the outside, I use a Swiffer Duster to remove the fine particles of the pad that might land on surfaces (there won’t be much since you’re not rubbing hard). Once that’s done, you can apply Stoner Invisible Glass as earlier described. You can use the cordless leaf blower as well.
When done carefully, this process removes everything but the glass itself. If you keep up with your glass cleaning, steel wool will not be necessary often. But when I’ve neglected my Porsche for too long, this process is a detailer’s miracle. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.
My 2009 Cayman at PCA Membership Event on May 3, 2015.
Just before the show
Somewhere immediately prior to parking at an event, I pull into the shade away from dust and tree sap. I call this my staging area. Although I can technically perform these last-minute tasks in the spot where I’m displaying my car, product overspray can soil the scene and look kind of trashy.
The first weapon I draw from my detailer’s road kit is Griot’s Undercarriage Spray. This product wets and blackens plastic housing, springs, shocks; basically everything in the wheel wells.
Why do I use this product? Pure aesthetics — it makes anything it comes in contact with look shiny and new. It blackens dirt and grime long enough to fool everyone into thinking I was under there all week with a toothbrush and a bottle of Soft Scrub (an activity I actually saw someone doing).
I then use any one of the aerosol foaming tire dressings available at any auto supply store for the rubber. The foam allows me to see what I hit, and I have the option of letting it stand for a high gloss or wiping it off for a flat-black look. I’ve done both, depending on my mood.
With the tires, wheels and wells out of the way, it’s time to Speed Shine the car. I give all painted and plastic surfaces the once over with Speed Shine. I try to keep overspray on the glass to a minimum. This entire process should only take a few minutes.
Next, I apply a final application of Stoner on the exterior glass. Technically, you should move into the sun, but as long as you finish with the tight-weave glass cleaning microfiber cloth, you should be OK. You could also do this step in the display area.
Now it’s time to move into position in the show or event. The hardest part at this point is ignoring the temptation to continue the detail process and miss out on the show I came to enjoy. But the last thing I do is to whip out the DustBuster to pick up the morning blades of grass and flecks of microfiber fluff.
My Cayman now looks as good as most of the other cars there, even if it doesn’t pass the Q-tip and white-glove test. So I’ll just fold out my chair in the shade, pop open a beverage of my choice and enjoy the afternoon.
I suggest you do the same.
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