THE NEW WORLD ACCORDING TO MEGUIAR'S
by Thomas B. Nast
Copyright 1994 by Thomas B. Nast
Added to the E46 FAQ with permission
Five years have passed since I last wrote the definitive tome on using Meguiar's products to keep your car looking, well, as nice as mine. In that half-decade, some products and techniques have changed. Add to that certain production problems with the last publishing on this subject, membership turnover, and the recycling of old Zundfolges as kindling and parakeet cage liners; the time for a rewrite is upon us.
Credit for this rewrite must be shared with Dennis Noland of Exeter Garage of Seattle, one of the few detail shops which follows the processes outlined below; and with Terry Richards, the area representative of Meguiar's, who was kind enough to bring me up to date on new product details. I have personally observed or tried every operation described in this article, and routinely use the appropriate procedures on my own rolling stock. So, departing from my usual practice, I will take the blame for any errors the editors have not installed for me.
How to keeping new paint looking new always baffled me. Wash it, and I got scratches. Wax it, I got more scratches. It seems like the cleaner I tried to keep it, the more scratched it got. I'm not talking about gouges, just light scratching. Take the car to a detail shop (at least to judge from cars I've seen), and you can add swirls to the list of horrors. And I know I have a lot of company.
One solution (to which I used to plead guilty) is only to wash and wax once a year. Assuming the car is garaged, this does minimize paint damage, at the expense of appearance and oxidation. It is not really a solution at all, any more than a hat is a solution to baldness. Fortunately, there is a real remedy to the dilemma, and it is Meguiar's.
There are more companies making car care products than there are rust pockets in a Karmann-bodied coupe, and I cannot say that Meguiar's is the best. I have not tried them all (I have tried dozens, however). I have found only one line that seems to consistently work, with emphasis on consistent. In addition, Meguiar's has done more to see that its products are used properly (read, "successfully"), than any other manufacturer I know of (at least through its reps -- its printed literature is a bit confusing). I am not a Meguiar's salesman, and I feel that if you already have a system which works for you, stick with it. For example, I can suggest no Meguiar's compound which will do a better job on chrome than Simichrome. But if you have had decades of frustration, as I have, with $6.00 waxes wasting $3,000.00 paint jobs, read on.
Mr. Achilles takes a stand. Meguiar's has expanded its product numbers since the original publication of this monograph, continuing its entropic tradition. Unfortunately, there remains no choice but to learn which numbered product does what. Since you are not running a detail shop and are (presumably) concerned with only one or two cars, probably an half-dozen products will do it for you. Don't let the numbers intimidate you, you only need to learn a few.
Another bit of lameness is Meguiar's' naming of products -- "Professional" this, "Hi-Tech" that. To its credit, the "No. 11 Professional Hi-Tech Finesse Quick-Step" no longer appears in the catalog, but what is the difference between "No. 00 Hi-Tech Wash" and "No. 62 Carwash Shampoo & Conditioner"? Especially if your car is not endowed with a full bonnet of hair? Such monikers will not be honored by further repetition in these pages.
Theory. The theory behind Meguiar's products is simple. A system is needed to care for the car's finish, not just one or two `universal' products. First, take out scratching and don't put any in. Second, put oils back into the paint instead of taking them out. Third, avoid wax buildups or anything which will dull the natural gloss of the paint.
This theory is expressed in Meguiar's products in a number of ways. Solvents and detergents are avoided. Abrasives which will not break down are not used. Nearly every Meguiar's liquid has feeder oils, which replenish the natural oils in paint. Almost no carnauba wax is included, as solvents are needed to make it flow and it leads to wax buildup. Silicones are avoided in nearly every material except the waxes, where they are used as carrying agents. And the foam pads for machine use are about the best product to come down the pike for polishing without inducing swirling.
Typical case. The following is a typical treatment by a BMW owner new to the Meguiar's regime. It is based on about a dozen real-world applications by the author. This will help establish a baseline of products you can expect to use. We can then consider the exceptions to the rules, and the techniques involved.
First, wash with 00 or 62. Next, remove things that can be removed (e.g. windshield wipers) and mask vents, grills, or anything else that will be hard to clean spatter off of. Clean with No. 2. Polish with No. 7. Wax with No. 26 (one coat) or Medallion (two or three coats).
Whew, that's a lot of work! Fortunately, if you keep up with the car you won't need to do all the steps next time. Maintenance with No. 7 or No. 9 and wax is usually sufficient; if the car is kept polished and waxed, the cleaning is an annual event at most.
Now, on to more theory, technique and special cases.
Hand vs. machine application. We have been taught that the only way to clean and wax a car is by hand. This teaching, however, must be relegated to the same dustbin where the teachings of the Flat Earth Society now repose. Proper use of the right power tools and products will not only yield better results than hand application, but is less likely to damage the paint in the process. I was surprised by this too, but I cannot dispute that which I have witnessed. Unless you are preparing for a body-builders' convention, use machines. Virtually all Meguiar's products can now be applied by hand or machine.
Hand application is necessary in certain areas that machines can't (or in the exercise of prudence should not be called upon) to reach. Examples would be around wiper blades, radio aerials and sharp body contours. And some people may not want to invest in machines. So because of this (and for those who won't use machines out of penury or atavism), hand application will be discussed, though it is not generally recommended.
Buffer swirls. Buffer swirls are the result of (1) the fibers which comprise wool pads, (2) compounds which don't break down, and (3) dirt being ground into the paint. Swirls are quite common when wool pads are used (and many detail shops still use wool pads). (A few years ago I attended a Porsche club event at the dealer in Tacoma, and saw three brand-new cars have their paint systematically destroyed while being "prepped" with wool pads).
Swirls are also induced by rubbing with compounds made of silicate, sand or aluminum oxide. These materials are not used in Meguiar's products, which use materials (e.g. diatoma~ceous clay) which break down as they are used instead of scratching up the paint. Improper cleaning of the car before waxing, or failing to clean the dirt out of the foam pads, will also result in swirling. Wax conceals buffer swirls, but does not remove them. Swirls will reappear as the wax wears or is washed off. Go to a car wash and take a look at the cars as they emerge -- otherwise impeccable cars come out with grotesque swirling in the paint, now visible as a result of the wax being stripped off. (Not to mention that most car washes introduce scratching.) Swirls can be usually be removed, but it is best not to install them in the first place.
The impossible. There are two things which no car care product can do. Totally oxidized paint, checked paint (thousands of tiny cracks), and peeling or flaking paint, cannot be restored. Paint this far gone (regardless of its age) should be stripped and new paint applied. ®MDBO¯®MDNM¯No compound or wax can save that which has been destroyed. In addition, deep scratches (i.e. near or into the primer) cannot be completely removed, as obviously all the paint will be removed with them. They can be minimized, but not eliminated. So don't expect miracles, even if you find waxing cars a religious experience.
Do not be completely discouraged, however. Partially oxidized paint can be restored, and light-to-moderate scratching can be removed. If you aren't sure whether or not you are attempting a miracle, give it a shot -- no harm can come from trying.
Type of paint. The products and techniques you use will vary somewhat depending on the type of paint your car has. So you must determine the type of paint you are dealing with. Meguiar's divides paints into two categories, conventional and "high tech", which I will call "plastic paints" because I can't stand the hype. Conventional paints are enamels (acrylics and otherwise) and lacquers (ditto). Plastic paints include the ever-expanding family of urethanes.
This matters because the urethanes are very hard, and when they scratch (or swirl) you have to be more aggressive to get the flaws out. Conventional paints are softer, scratching and repairing more easily. Conventional paints will tolerate more heat than will plastic paints, so buffers can be run at faster speeds (within reason); if plastic paints are overheated, they will cloud.
Determining which paint you are dealing with can be quite challenging. Manufacturers have been inconsistent in what type of paint they use, and aren't very good about telling you. To make matters worse, a different type of paint may have been used on a repaired area than on the rest of the car. So if in doubt, ask a reputable body shop what type of paint you have. And if your car is repaired or repainted, make a note of the type of paint used.
Generally speaking, solid-color BMW's used to come with conventional paints, but now come with a single-stage urethane. Metallic painted BMW's always have a clear coat. The clear coat was of uncertain parentage (some would say it was a son of a bachelor) until about the late seventies, when urethane clear coats appeared. As many of us know, paint failure on metallic BMW's was a certainty until this change was made. Any clear-coated BMW may be treated as having plastic paint. Solid-colored BMW's of other than recent vintage will require some detective work.
To check if you car has a conventional or plastic paint, rub a small area with a terry cloth towel and some cleaner (No. 2). If color comes off the car onto the towel, you have conventional paint. If no color appears, you have plastic paint (probably a clear coat).
Condition of paint. The condition of the paint will determine how aggressive you need to be in restoring it. New cars should need very little work (unless butchered when being "prepped"), but a five-year-old car which has been parked outside will probably need two or three additional steps. The differences will be dealt with in the text.
Equipment. In an effort to avoid inducing sticker shock, let me warn you that a one-time investment of $300 - $400 may be required to properly care for you car's paint. This could be lowered considerably by a club group purchase, or if your club purchases a buffer and DA and rents/loans them out.
What you need is:
- A variable speed rotary buffer for cleaning. I am satisfied with my Makita 9207SPC, which sells for about $200 discounted. Also recommended is the Black & Decker No. 6138 (ca. $280) Whatever you use, it should work at well under 2000 rpm (like 1000-1400 rpm). Some people use a variable speed drill with a $5 adaptor, but this quickly gets tiring; not recommended.
- A dual action (DA), orbital or "hutch" (Hutchins) buffer for polishing and waxing. Polishing and waxing can be done with the rotary buffer, but a DA is a better choice for a number of reasons. It is smaller and lighter than a buffer, thus a lot easier on your back. Because of its low speeds, it splatters less material. And the low speeds and eccentric motions make it much less capable of harming a car than a rotary buffer. However, a DA is not good for cleaning. A recommended orbital is the Porter-Cable 7335; it sells for about $125. Air-driven Hutchins sanders also work well for buffing. The theory behind DAs, orbitals and hutches is to simulate hand application, but at a higher speed and with less effort®MDBO¯®MDNM¯.
- Meguiar's foam application pads. About $50.00. Do not use wool pads. Get two yellow polishing pads (W-1000 in 8"®MDBO¯®MDNM¯ and W-5500 in 5-1/2") and one or two 8" finishing pads (W-9000). The finishing pad has velcro backing, so you will need a backing plate (No. W-65) if you don't have one. (A new backing plate with an alignment pin for the pads is imminent). The 5-1/2" finishing pads presently only come with a backing plate permanently affixed; 8" finishing pads come with permanent backing plate or with velcro (W-1000L). If you are using a DA, get a couple of 6" yellow polishing pads for it (W-6000); these are presently the only foam pads available for DAs. If you are attaching serious scratches, get a burgundy cutting pad (W-7000).
- A supply of terry cloth towels (all cotton). Thick looped toweling is best; the theory is that dirt goes down into the loops, where it cannot damage the paint. Save your marriage, and get some nice, soft towels for your car at a department store sale.
- Folded and stitched terry cloth pads, about 3" square. Not absolutely necessary, but very nice for hand work.
- A small, stiff nylon brush. Like a toothbrush with a gland condition. Figure a dollar.
- A small wire brush (Snap-On sells a nice one with stainless steel bristles for under three dollars).
- Some dense, closed-cell foam application pads for applying polish (about 3" square). Cadge these. I use foam from the thermal barrier you put under your sleeping bag when camping.
- Meguiar's materials appropriate to the job. Plan on $80.00.
- Apron or coveralls, free of any scratch-inducing metal on the front. Some enterprising sort should market terry cloth aprons!
To help you accept this, consider that the total cost is less than two trips to a detail shop, and the results should be substantially better in most cases. If you share, borrow or rent a buffer from your club, you're probably dollars ahead the first time around.
The yellow polishing pads for rotary buffers come in large (8") and small (5-1/2") sizes. The 8" pad covers a lot of area in less time, but the 5.5" pad is good for getting into smaller spaces. My counsel is to start with a set of the 8" pads, and pick up smaller ones when you feel the need.
As to where to get this stuff locally, I bought my Makita at Tool Town on 15th Ave. West. The Meguiar's products are carried by Exeter Garage and Autosport Seattle. Look for department store or linen store sales for the towels. The orbital can be bought at Home Depot.
Technique. Technique is, of course, more important than size (850i owners take note). The following practices should be observed, as a general rule.
First, never wash, polish or wax the car in the sun. Do it in the shade, indoors or not at all.
If you are applying materials by hand, squirt the material onto the terry cloth pad, instead of onto the car as you usually would do with machine application.
With buffing wheels, use different pads for cleaners, polishes and waxes, and frequently clean or change the pad, as any dirt trapped in it will scratch the paint. Frequently refresh the pad with material, using modest quantities. When rubbing, do not use a circular motion. Always use straight strokes. This will avoid swirls and minimize the number of angles at which light is refracted by any scratches you induce. It is recommended that your strokes be back and forth, in the direction which the car travels.
Whether by machine or by hand, use light pressure. If light pressure does not do the job, try a more aggressive product (except on urethanes) and/or a higher machine speed, depending on the experience of the operator and the type of paint. Keep rotary buffers well under 2000 rpm; if working on urethane 1200 to 1400 rpm is better). Under no circumstances should you be "grinding" on the finish.
Sometimes the rotary buffing wheel will start to oscillate, jittering like an orbital sander. This is usually the result of the pressure not being on the center of the pad (plus the pads are not the best-balanced objects to pass through my shop). The oscillating motion can do your paint no good, and may well harm it. If you feel an oscillation building, ease up the pressure and try to center the pressure on the middle of the pad. Otherwise, lift the buffer off the surface and reapply it after the oscillation subsides.
With an air-driven hutch or DA, don't turn the tool on before the wheel is on the car. Without contact, the wheel spins up to a very high speed, slinging material and tearing up the pad. The slight friction contact with the car provides should slow the tool down to a fairly slow speed (adjust the air pressure if it doesn't).
Resist the temptation to hold the buffer with one hand while stretching to reach those hard-to-get spots, like the center of the roof. This is an invitation to disaster.
When applying liquids with buffing wheels, a number of practices should be observed. The foam pad must be kept clear of dirt and dead foam. Before reusing the pad and periodically thereafter, scrape it (while rotating) with the plastic brush until stuff stops coming off. If there is any suspicion of dirt caught in the foam, you may also apply terry cloth to the rotating pad to clean it. The foam wheel may be trimmed using a wire brush. The wheel should be kept in flat trim, and periodic trimming can greatly extend the life of this fairly expensive product. Application of liquids may be in a column on the painted area being worked on, or to the foam pad directly. Which is appropriate depends on which product you are using (see text below and read the labels), but generally you will be happier applying the liquid to the car, as the wheel slings off quite a bit in all directions as it spins up. If the liquid has been applied directly to the car, approach the liquid with the pad at a slight angle, so the liquid is thrown back onto the pad and not onto everything else. With the Makita, which rotates clockwise (when observed from above), the edge farthest from you will be the contact edge if you are right-handed. Once the liquid has been distributed, keep the pad flat on the panel (with the weight on the pad's center) to avoid swirl marks. Do not apply cleaner to the car and then leave it sitting.
Guide the machine in long, straight, overlapping strokes, letting the machine do the work. Every novice moves the machine in a circular pattern on the panel being worked -- don't do it. On the other hand, keep the machine moving; if you rest it in one place, the paint may overheat from friction and be damaged. I have found that the trunk and hood are more easily approached from their ends than from the sides, and that the roof is most easily buffed without the use of a ladder. Avoid using the machine on high points (the body creases), because it will wear through the paint. Do these by hand. And avoid objects which may catch the pad (e.g. the air vents on the hood, antenna, etc.), because the pad is too expensive to rip up and you may have the machine power itself onto the hood (or whatever), ruining your whole day. In the same vein, some system is necessary to avoid scratching the finish with a power cord or air hose. Encasing the cord in socks is one suggestion.
Also, avoid the plastic beading set in the rubber around windshields (2002, 320i). I found that the buffer can permanently disfigure these.
All Meguiar's materials have an indefinite shelf life (if not allowed to freeze), but they should be well shaken before use to evenly distribute the solids, which may settle out.
If applying a liquid directly to the car, squirt it in a 15" - 24" long bead. After it is worked in, lay down another bead on the feather edge of the area you just worked. Columns will be about 12" apart except the wax, which works better with more but thinner columns, so expect columns 8" on center for wax. The other exception is the No. 1 cleaner, which is best applied directly to the pad. When applying materials onto the pad instead onto the car, put it on the center of the pad to minimize splatter.
Although you can continue buffing until the liquid is mostly dry, this is not a good idea on dark or clear-coated finishes. In general, you should stop buffing after the material begins to break down but before it becomes dry (you can tell when it is dry because it will leave a glossy finish without further wiping); stop when a thin film of material remains. At this point you can (and should) remove the film with terry cloths, rather than with more buffing.
Discrete foam pads should be used with cleaners, polishers and waxes. This is because their chemical and abrasive compositions differ, and mixing them up undoes what you are trying to do. So plan on having three pads, and identify the use of each with an indelible marker. Use your best pads for polishing and waxing; when they become tatty, demote them to permanent cleaning duty.
Be somewhat stingy with liquids. Most people use way more than is necessary, at least while they are learning.
Use the softest terry cloths you can. They often get soft~er with repeated washings, by the way. Remember, cloth is an abrasive! Any dirt caught in the cloth will undo your work, so clean the cloth frequently with a brush or another cloth, and don't be bashful about chucking it into the laundry and grabbing another, clean cloth. When washing, do not use liquid fabric softeners. Fabric stores carry terry cloth by the yard, but it will generate lots of lint before it is washed. Also, when you cut it the unbound edges will chuck off yet more fabric. So I prefer towels to terry-by-the-yard.
Finally, it is much easier on you and the car to maintain the paint (with regular washing and waxing) than it is to restore it and wax it, say, annually. (This is true of every aspect of any mechanical object, just in case you hadn't contemplated the subj. It is also true that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Such is the yin and yang of automobiles.) The idea of an annual wax (as with Meguiar's No. 20, a polymer) will not work out if the car is used outdoors. If you just drive it around your garage, though, it's probably ok.
Splatter. It is inevitable that, using machines, slop will get all over the car. Especially until you learn just how much liquid to use and how to apply it. The car will look like a muddy dog shook itself off nearby. For this reason, you should plan on doing each step to the entire car (or as much of it as is appropriate) before moving on to the next step, so you only have to wipe up once after each step. You could cover areas not being worked with soft (e.g. terry) cloths, but it's probably easier just to wipe up slung liquids with terry cloths.
Other suggestions: Wear an apron or coveralls, for some of the splatter will be tossed onto you, particularly your chest and gut. And start at the top of the car and work down, because splatter obeys the law of gravity.
Another characteristic of splatter is that it gets into cracks, such as between the hood and fenders, the door jambs, and so forth. You will find a thin line of splatter behind the edge you just worked. I suggest that after each step, you open the appropriate panel and remove the splatter before it dries out. Use a terry cloth. It may take a couple of wipes, as a thin residue will be left after the first pass. Dry or hard-to-remove splatter can be addressed with No. 34 spray and terry towels.
Wash the car. Never wash in direct sunlight. When washing the car, do use plenty of water and never, ever use a detergent (like dish soap). Prepare a five-gallon bucket of suds, so when you wring out your wash mitt the dirt can settle out. Wet the car thoroughly before soaping. Do one panel at a time (so the soap doesn't dry before it is rinsed), starting at the top. As I apply the soapy water to an area, I flush it with the hose at the same time.
Synthetic wash mitts work well -- this is the only place for synthetics (other than the buffing pads). Terry cloth can also be used. Frequent turning and rinsing of the mitt or terry is necessary, because dirt trapped in it will scratch the finish. Car washing is where scratching problems start; after all, that's when the most grit is present to cause scratching. Don't let it happen to you.
Meguiar's recommends its No. 00 wash, which I have used for years. A more recent product is No. 62, which is available in the large quantities No. 00 used to come in and which is a good deal less expensive (though about the same as No. 00 was before No. 62 came along). Though I am resistant to change, I can find no fault with No. 62 and for reasons of economy will adopt it. The Meguiar's products really enhance the shine of Meguiar's-finished cars, without silicones and without stripping off the waxes and oils.
However, most any quality car shampoo will do fine. A quality product will have no detergents and no silicones.
Meguiar's also makes a waterless spray-on wash, No. 34, which you wipe off with a terry cloth. This product, now called "Final Inspection", replaces, is much less expensive and is entirely reformulated from, the former No. 34 "Trigger Wash." The notion of wiping off a dirty emulsion scares the hell out of me, because how can you avoid abrading the surface as you wipe? The theory is that No. 34 puts a lubricant (not silicone) between the paint and the dirt, floating the dirt off. It seems to work, but I remain uncomfortable with it in heavy grime situations.
Dry the washed car with The Absorber or clean terry cloths, again turning them frequently to avoid scoring the finish with dirt particles. Leather chamois is not recommended for drying (or anything else, for that matter, except patching elbows).
Removing scratches. The technique for removing scratches depends on the severity of the scratch.
Very light scratching and light oxidation can be addressed with No. 9 ("Swirl Remover").
Light scratching is addressed with the standard cleaning routine, using No. 2.
Moderate scratching can be more challenging, and may require a few trips to the arsenal. Try less aggressive products first, then more aggressive ones if needed. This is true both for the cleaners and the pads. So depending on how bad the scratching (or oxidation) is, first try No. 2, No. 1, then No. 4 (in that order); and start with an unaggressive pad (a finishing pad), moving to a moderately aggressive pad (the yellow polishing pad, Nos. W-1000 and W-5500 depending on size), then a cutting pad if that doesn't work (W-7000). Use your judgment and experience as you acquire it, though. Paints are different, and you may find it best to go right to a polishing or cutting pad. You may want to try a more aggressive pad with a less aggressive cleaner before going to a more aggressive cleaner. Note that the aggressive cleaners and pads will induce some light scratching while reducing the moderate scratch; you will need to progressively rework the area with decreasingly aggressive products to polish it mirror-smooth.
Deep scratching is handled with Unigrit sandpaper (described below); 2000 grit is a good starting point. Follow this by No. 1, No. 2 and then either No. 3 or No. 7 in that order.
Severe scratching is present if you can run your fingernail over the scratch and it gets caught. This generally cannot be sanded. Likewise, if the flaw has penetrated near or to the primer or metal, sanding is not the answer. You have no choice but to use touch-up paint, let it dry thoroughly, then block sand and polish. Scratching underneath the paint, of course, requires stripping the paint and refinishing the metal.
Sanding and blocking. Sometimes a scratch will need to be sanded out, or touch-up paint will need to be blocked down so it blends with the rest of the paint. (And sometimes whole cars need to be wet-sanded, but that is beyond the scope of this article). Sanding is done with Meguiar's Unigrit (formerly Nikken) sandpaper. This has a very even distribution of grit which is closely controlled in size. It comes in grades from 80 to 2000 grit -- you will mostly be concerned with the 2000. It should be soaked overnight before use, and used with dilute No. 00 as a lubricant. The E-7200 backing pad is an excellent backing. Two sheets of sandpaper and a new backing pad run about three dollars. In sanding, you will simply feather the scratch out.
Sanding blocks are used to work out defects above the paint surface. Meguiar's blocks (which are fairly small) come from 400 to 3000 grade, and last almost forever. They should also be kept soaking before use.
After any sanding, expect to clean with No. 2 or stronger, followed by polishing.
Cleaning the car - Theory. "Cleaning" the car is not the same as "washing" the car. A "clean" car is free of oxidized paint, road tars and salts, acids found in the rain, and so forth. The car is chemically clean, and the pores of the paint are free of contaminants. Thus, a wax-based material is ®MDUL¯not®MDNM¯ used for cleaning. Meguiar's cleaners are No. 1 (medium) and No. 2 (fine) and No. 4 (heavy).
A nearly new finish will need no cleaning at all -- the step can be skipped, and you can go straight to polishing. No. 2 has feeding oils, cleaning chemicals and a buffered earth abrasive. I have found it to be gentle and effective. No. 1 is used for finishes with moderate oxidation or swirling. If you use No. 1, plan on following up with No. 2 before moving on to polishing. No. 4 is used only to removed heavy oxidation or relatively deep scratching; in practice, you will rarely employ it. Experience will teach you that the proper amount of cleaner is more sparing than you think -- it does not need to be slopped all over.
The key is to start with the least aggressive treatment, and only if that proves insufficient do you move on to a more aggressive product. If in doubt, use the less aggressive. And remember, it sometimes takes more than one pass to get the job done. Again, you are better off with two passes of No. 2 than one pass of No. 1, but I would draw the line there. You will quickly develop a sense of just what the two different cleaners do. If in doubt, experiment on test patches, as experimenting on whole panels is very time consuming, not to mention risky.
Clean the car - by machine. For conventional paints, try a finishing pad first, using No. 2, especially if this is maintenance cleaning; if this doesn't get the car clean (you will know after working on one panel) move to a polishing pad. Bear in mind that not all panels are the same; frequently, the roof, hood and trunk will need more aggressive treatment than the sides, due to more exposure to the elements.
For plastic paints, follow the same procedure, bearing this in mind: plastic paints are harder than conventional paints. Much harder. That means that you treat them ®MDUL¯less®MDNM¯ aggressively. Why? The harder the paint, the milder you treat it, as harsh treatment will induce scratching you can't easily polish out (induced scratching is relatively easy to polish out of the softer conventional paints). Thus, you will want to avoid No. 1 (use only No. 2 cleaner or No.9 cleaner/polish) and you will run your rotary buffer at its lower speeds. Also, you will probably use a finishing pad instead of a cleaning pad.
Clean the car - by hand. In the Meguiar's world, use No. 2 for most cleaning by hand, applying the liquid directly to the pad. Expect a moderately needy finish to require thirty to forty strokes to be clean.
Polish the paint - theory. By polishing the paint, we mean nourishing it and hiding hairline scratches. Meguiar's polishes also restore the oils which washing, age, sun, rain and air (smog) have leached out of the paint. (This is not to be confused with the "seal jobs" done by car dealerships, which involves putting a polymer over the paint, rather than oils into it, together with an adjustment to the customer's bank balance.) The immediate difference this step makes, especially for dark-colored cars, is so impressive that you would use polish even if it didn't renourish the paint. Meguiar's claims the benefits of its polish accrete with each application; and indeed, if maintained, very little polish is needed to replenish the paint.
The Meguiar's family of polishes includes Nos. 3, 7, and 9 (No. 5 has been removed from the line-up since last publication). Unlike cleaners, pure polishes are not abrasive. Meguiar's No. 7 is pure polish. No. 3 is a little more aggressive; it can pull a little haze off the paint, or a very light oxidation. No. 9 is a polish with a cleaner, and thus has some light abrasives in it; it is the most aggressive of the polishes. No. 9 is good for removing light swirling, or if you really don't need a cleaning step. Use it with a rotary buffer and a finishing pad, if available.
Polishing by machine - in general. Polishing is not an abrasive process (except with No. 9, see above), and in fact the polish acts as a lubricant between the pad and the paint. For machine application, the polish may be squirted directly onto the panels, doing one panel at a time. The polish may be buffed until the material breaks down, stop buffing before the polish dries into a powder. If one application and buffing is insufficient, try another. Be sure to observe precautions (under "Polishing by hand", below) about not letting the polish dry. Especially with No. 7, the polish will get gummy, making it unnecessarily difficult to remove the excess. By the way, I have had a problem with blockages in the dispenser nozzles of No. 3; a bent paperclip or coat hanger clears it nicely.
Polishing with buffers. If using a buffer (a rotary machine) for polishing, use a finishing pad (W-9000). For polishing conventional paints, use No. 3; No. 9 is recommended for plastic paints. In addition to including mild cleaners, No. 9 is designed for the tighter molecular structure which plastic paints present. It is also the easiest of the polishes to use, if you need further incentive.
Polishing with DA. For polishing with a DA, orbital or hutch, yellow polishing pads are all that is available (and will work fine). Whether polishing conventional or plastic paints, use No. 7. Use No. 7 sparingly, and clean the foam pad often, to prevent the pad from gumming up.
Polishing by hand. For hand application on conventional paint, use No. 7. This polish can be applied with a rigid foam pad, a soft sponge or a terry cloth. Apply the polish directly to the car, and spread it out evenly with the pad. The pad will literally glide over the polish. The idea is to coat the panel (start by doing one panel at a time, until you gain experience with curing times) with as thin a coat as will completely cover it. The polish can be further worked into the paint using a terry cloth. The more which is infused into the paint, the better; however, it should be used sparingly to avoid gumming and excessive wiping. The paint can only absorb so much; beyond that, the polish is wasted and just creates extra work.
The polish will not fully dry (nor would you want it to); hence, it can and should be wiped off with terry toweling. This can be done one panel at a time. If the weather is not too warm, removing the excess polish can be done after the whole car has been coated; however, warm weather will cause the polish to dry, and you will regret not having wiped it off earlier, so keep an eye on it.
Using the terry cloth towel, wipe gently using straight strokes. A residue will be left, which can be wiped up with a fresh terry cloth. Continue until all the polish is removed.
For hand application on plastic paints, use No. 7 or No. 9. If No. 9 is used by hand, apply it as you would a cleaner and not as you would apply the No. 7 polish.
Wax the paint - in general. Whether by hand or by machine, and whether the paint is conventional or plastic, use either No. 26 liquid wax or Medallion. It is hard to describe the differences; the No. 26 is one of the few Meguiar's materials with silicone, and it has some (not a lot) of carnauba (you don't need or want much carnauba, by the way). Meguiar's does not disclose the contents of Medallion (it probably has some silicone in it too), but Meguiar's claims that it ionically bonds to the car's finish, resulting is freedom from dust-attracting static. This is a difficult claim to verify, but it does seem to yield superior results, last longer and be even less effort to apply than No. 26. Considering how little is needed to coat the car and its greater durability, Medallion's additional cost is more than offset. Plus, it smells a lot better than No. 26. My unconditional endorsement goes to Medallion.
Apply the wax - by machine. I have found machine application consistently yields results superior to hand application here, especially with Medallion. Use thin coats, two if No. 26, two or three if Medallion), instead of one thick one. Both of these materials are so slippery that very little is needed.
If waxing with a rotary buffer, use a finishing pad; if waxing with a DA, you must use the yellow polishing pad (the only pad available for DAs), which will carry more of the wax in its larger cells than will a finishing pad.
For machine application, apply the wax directly to the car and buff in 8" columns. Buff using light pressure and overlapping strokes, leaving a film to dry; do not buff until the material begins to break down! Use the slowest buffer speed possible; this is the great advantage of the DA.
Apply the wax - by hand. If waxing by hand, use the same procedure as with No. 7 polish. By hand, rub the wax thoroughly into the paint so that it fully penetrates. Wipe with clean terry cloths, which will take several passes a few minutes apart.
Meguiar's does make paste waxes (No. 16 and No. 26), and someday I hope to meet the fellow who buys them (five gets you eight he owns a Porsche). Paste waxes may not be used with a rotary buffer, but can be used with an orbital. If applied by hand, they are maybe six times more work to apply than No. 26 liquid or Medallion, with an inferior result. If you wax cars for exercise, though, hand application of paste wax might be for you.
Finishing waxing. How long you let the wax dry (cure) is critical. It should dry to a hazy white. If you drag your finger across it, it should ball up and not smear. This will take five or more minutes (remember, you are not in direct sunlight). If wiped off as a liquid it does no good, and it is difficult to remove and you risk damaging the finish if it is left to dry to a powder. Of course, the warmer the day the faster the dry time. Keep an eye on it, and experience will quickly teach the optimum.
After the excess is wiped off with terry clothes, there may be oils from the No. 7 or No. 9 left on top of the wax, which looks like streaking. This is best ignored for a day, after which the oil may have been absorbed by the paint and a quick pass with a clean terry cloth will solve the problem. Otherwise, wash the car down with No. 00 or No. 62. Many have found that after the full Meguiar's treatment, a No. 00 or No. 62 wash further improves the car's appearance!
Maintenance. They best way to maintain the finish on your car is to keep it garaged when not in use. It is almost impossible to keep a car looking nice if it's parked outside, especially if you have a life.
To maintain the Meguiar's finish, wash with 00 or 62, polish with No. 7 or No. 9, then wax with No. 26 or Medallion. If this is done as needed, the car will seldom need the cleaning step. Since cleaning is the most time consuming, laborious and wearing on the paint, routine maintenance is a sensible (if self-disciplined) alternative to an annual or semi-annual detailing.
Clean the glass. The glass may be cleaned, again preferably by machine, using No. 1 or No. 4 (which may also be used by hand) (and don't try to do the inside of the glass by machine). I am amazed how already-"clean" glass can be made to just sparkle with this treatment; it also removes water spots. And you should do it before polishing and waxing, as there will be cleaner splattered all over the glass from when you cleaned the paint, and cleaner will be splattered over the paint when you clean the glass.
Glass can be finished with Rain X if you wish (outside only). For those who haven't tried it (and it has been around for quite a while), Rain X seals the pores in the glass, which causes rain to bead and fly off, and also gives your windshield wipers a smoother ride. The down side is complaints about hazing, especially in difficult lighting conditions (dusk and dawn). I have used the stuff intermittently for about a dozen years, and I think it's a good product if used correctly (the residue must be wiped ®MDUL¯completely®MDNM¯ off, and you can't tell if it's completely off in certain lighting conditions). Give it a try; it's around $5 per bottle, which will last years.
Clean the rubber. While the wax is curing is a good time to get started on the rubber and vinyl. Cleaning is done with No. 39 and a nylon-bristled brush. On the exterior, hose off the cleaner. For protection and appearance, No. 42 works well with rubber bumpers, tires, plastic and semi-gloss painted areas. It soaks in, and may take multiple coats. It does ®MDUL¯not®MDNM¯ leave a shiny coat like Armorall, and seems to have less of a tendency to wash off in the rain (the streaks Armorall leaves as it washes off are one of many reasons to avoid the stuff).
Clean the plastic. Interior plastic parts may be cleaned with No. 40, which can be wiped on or (if the filth requires it) brushed with a brush of stiff plastic bristles. (For real grunge, No. 39 is a more aggressive cleaner.) It is an Armorall substitute, except that it leaves matte finishes matte. (I dislike Armorall's making everything shiny. I also dislike the way it evaporates and deposits itself on the windshield as a haze, something No. 40 also does not seem to do.)
High-impact plastics, such as turn signal lenses, can have scratches removed by machine with No. 1 and No. 3 cleaners; No. 10 can be used for cleaning thereafter. I have restored lenses I was ready to scrap with these materials. No. 10 is the industry standard for cleaning plastic airplane windshields, by the way (they are restored with a product called Micro Mesh).
Protection/maintenance of clear high-impact plastic pieces can be accomplished with No. 18, which is a cleaner/polish. It can also be used on window tints and compact disks.
Clean the wheels. Everybody has a favorite wheel cleaner, from Mothers to Eagle One. Meguiar's sells No. 36, which is used with a household paint brush and elbow grease. The No. 36 is non-acidic and is not corrosive -- it will not damage wheels. Meguiar's makes a big deal out of No. 36 being the only cleaner blessed by BBS. But because No. 36 is not aggressive, you have to put in a lot of your own effort. So try them all, and use what you like best, but don't wait until after you have damaged your wheels with another product to try the Meguiar's.
Summary of applications. By machine: Conventional paints: Wash with 00 or No. 62. Clean with a buffer, using No. 2 unless severely oxidized or deeply scratched, in which case use No. 1. Polish with No. 3 if using a buffer, or with No. 7 if using a DA or hutch. Wax with No. 26 or Medallion, preferably using a DA or hutch. Plastic paints: same as above, only polish using a DA or hutch with No. 7 or with No. 9 with a rotary buffer and a finishing pad.
By hand: Conventional and plastic paints: Wash with 00 or No. 62. Clean with No. 4 or 2, polish with No. 7 wax with No. 26 paste or liquid, or Medallion.
Summary of products. A summary of relevant Meguiar's products and their uses:
1 - very aggressive cleaner for use by machine only. Can also be used as a glass cleaner.
2 - mild cleaner for use by hand or machine. Less aggressive than No. 1 or 4.
3 - machine polish, for conventional paints.
4 - most aggressive cleaner, for use by hand or machine. Fairly abrasive, and without chemicals. Use only if milder cleaners don't do the job.
6 - cleaner/wax for the one-step crowd and for removing road tars. Not for you.
7 - glaze. Apply by hand. Full of feeder oils and other good stuff, and hides hairline scratches.
9 - swirl remover for polishing out swirling or very light scratching by hand or machine.
10 - high-impact plastic cleaner.
16 - paste wax. Apply by hand or DA/orbital.
18 - high-impact plastic cleaner/polish for clear plastics.
20 - polymer sealant. For the annual detailer type. Not recommended for fine German cars.
26 - modern paste and liquid wax. Can be applied by hand or machine.
36 - wheel cleaner. Use with paint brush and elbow grease. BBS approved.
34 - squirt bottle wash. Good for clean-up, prepping panels about to be worked and concours. Enhances gloss.
39 - rubber and vinyl cleaner.
40 - vinyl and plastic cleaner/conditioner. Goodbye Armorall!
42 - rubber cleaner/treatment.
62 - car wash concentrate destined to replace 00.
Medallion for All Paint - the most wonderful wax.
Medallion for All Leather - Meguiar's leather treatment. I prefer Mercedes-Benz Lederpflegemittel (p/n 0009860571), Connolly Hide food or saddle soap.
S-2005 - Meguiar's Unigrit sandpaper (2000 grit). Most commonly used grades are 1000, 1200, 1500 and 2000.
K-2000 - Meguiar's sanding block (2000 grit). Available in grades from 400 to 3000.
W-65 - backing plate for W-9000
W-1000 - 8" yellow polishing pad.
W-5500 - 5.5" yellow polishing pad.
W-7000 - cutting pads.
W-9000 - 8" tan finishing pad.
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