10 October 2005

Waxing Advice From a Pro

When people see Tom Mangert’s ’69 Mustang Mach 1, they ask where he got the paint job. They’re somewhat surprised when he tells them that his Mustang was painted nearly 20 years ago. The Mach 1’s factory-fresh appearance is a credit to the painter he chose – and to Tom’s skill in washing and waxing collector cars.

Tom has been detailing cars for 38 years. Four years ago, he decided to do it full time and started Tom’s Auto Detailing in Waupaca , Wis. Since then, he has beautified everything from a ’29 Packard straight eight to a ’67 Chrysler 300. He also refreshes modern iron from sports cars to minivans.

According to Tom, washing, waxing and detailing a vehicle is a full 7-8 hour process. “To do a car right, you have to give it your full attention,” he explains.

Before waxing, start with a complete hand wash of your car to take off loose dirt. Tom uses an exploded-tip brush with a 48-in. handle. The exploded-tip brush has ultra-soft bristles that won’t make small scratches in the paint. “Stiff bristles will scratch the paint, and little scratches will have to be buffed out later,” he points out. “The exploded-tip brush doesn’t scratch and it can get into hard-to-reach corners.”

Tom uses Zip Wax for washing, which is a “soapy wax.” It puts a nice sheen on glass areas, has nice sudsing and sheeting action, and dries without water marks. After washing the car, use a pressure washer for the entire vehicle including door jambs, trunk lip and engine compartment.

“The pressure washer sprays stuff right off,” says Tom. “For bugs I use a 50/50 mix of cleaner and water, which softens up bugs and road tar.” He also rinses with the pressure washer to remove soapy residue.

For cleaning the windshield, windows and backlight, Tom uses a home-brewed mixture of ammonia, rubbing alcohol and water. “I wipe it off with a moist chamois, and it leaves the glass clean with no streaks,” says the detailer.

Tom cleans the interior of the vehicle with an industrial wet-vac. “It has to be of the 2-inch inlet variety,” he explains. “Then, it has the power to pull sand and dirt out of the carpets.” Tom also uses an air compressor to blow out insects, food crumbs, beach sand and other types of dirt that get inside a car.

The next step before waxing the vehicle is taking care of the tires. Tom uses a Bleech-White product and then lets the tires dry. Next, he applies a concours dressing that he puts in a pump-type bottle. “This is really a vinyl protectorant with anti-static characteristics,” says Tom.

Tom’s favorite wax is 100 percent carnauba wax with a name that indicates it originates in Brazil . “I’ve used other products, but this one works well and lasts,” says Mangert. “I try to stay away from silicone-based polishes and waxes, since they are a problem for body shops if you have a fender-bender.”

When asked if he applies wax with a buffer, Tom answered, “No, I don’t. Most people use too much wax, and using a buffer to apply wax promotes this practice. I use a micro sponge that puts a blotch the size of a quarter on the metal. I use that much to do areas as large as half of the hood on a typical car.”

About five minutes after applying the wax, he goes over the waxed area using a foam “waffle” pad on his buffer, which is set at 2,000 rpm. “You do not have to use a new pad every time, but when it gets ‘gunky,’ pitch it,” Tom advises. “The foam pads don’t last a long time but they do a really good job.” Tom proceeds by waxing one panel at a time and buffing it using foam pads.

If the vehicle’s paint has been exposed to weather for a long period, Tom recommends using an extra-cut rubbing compound on a wet surface and buffing at slow speed with a wool pad on the electric buffer. He suggests keeping the paint surface wet by applying water with a trigger sprayer and working small areas (about 2x2-feet wide) to prevent scuffing the paint. If further shining is desired, Tom recommends the use of a polishing glaze that is less abrasive. In some cases, this may be all that’s required before final waxing.

According to Tom, car waxes have cleaning agents blended into them and polishes don’t. “Polish is good stuff, providing you’re using it on clean, high-quality paint,” says the detailer. “But most paint is dirty, so you want the cleaning agent.”

If you want a car with an “ultimate shine,” Tom recommends waxes that use a new “nano” technology. Such products use ingredients that are smaller than micro” size, so they can fill in the finest scratches and swirl marks. This leaves a smooth surface that doesn’t diffuse light rays. But nano wax is more expensive than other wax.

After the wax job, Tom suggests using a micro cleaning cloth – a cloth with a special weave that lets it get into little cracks and crevices – to clean up leftover wax. “This is very important for removing the wax that gets into corners and for picking off wax residue,” he explains. “I even use my older micro cleaning cloths to pick the wax out of grained vinyl dashboards.”

To keep up the shine, wash your car about once every two weeks. You shouldn’t need to waxmore thanafew times per year, but there is no right answer on how often you should wax. Many variables influence a car's finish: environment, type and condition of paint, etc.

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola , Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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