I get this question asked to me all the time, so I figured I’d answer it here. People are constantly asking me what products they should use. There are just so many options out there that they just want me to narrow it down and tell them what works best. Well here’s the thing… “BEST” is purely subjective. What looks best to me may not look best to you. It’s like people arguing that iPhones are better than Android phones or Toyotas are better than Hondas. It all depends on what you are going for. So I am going to make some recommendations that I am comfortable giving which will work very well for anybody. Knowing the color of your car or the shape of it may cause me to make other recommendations, but generally these are the products I would suggest which will look just fine and really blow your mind. NOTE: These are all just my opinion, so when I use the word ‘BEST’ from here on in, keep in mind that I’m just speaking from my personal taste and experience with the products. There are no doubt other products which may work even better which I haven’t tried yet, so I’m not saying these things to start a debate with you. You asked for my opinion and I am giving it. Please take it for what it is worth.
I’m going to make the recommendations somewhat in order of the process, so here we go…
This is one of those areas you don’t need to spend a ton of money on. Go to AutoZone or PepBoys and get a bottle of Meguiar’s Gold Class. That stuff rocks and it is one of the best performers (in my experience) that you can get off the shelf.
Clay Magic for sure, but if you don’t have an AutoZone nearby, then find the Mother’s clay. Meguiar’s clay is still a bit crumbly, so I stick with Clay Magic or Mothers. You can also order the ebay clay and that works really well. Read the clay article on OCDetails.com for more information about this product.
Without a doubt I would go for the Eagle One A2Z for cleaning your rims and tires and Eagle One Wet (not the gel one or the aerosol one) for the shine. I’ve yet to use anything more effective for the price. I’ve heard the Mother’s wheel/tire cleaner is supposedly just as good, but the cost is nearly double what Eagle One is. For double the cost I would expect it to be more than “just as good”, so I haven’t tried it yet. I just can’t justify ten bucks a bottle for wheel cleaner when I don’t have any gripe with my Eagle One.
Don’t assume the wheels will be spotless after spraying something on and rinsing it off. Nothing will remove all of the grime and crap from your wheels, so still be prepared to get in there with a towel or a brush and get them scrubbed. This product gets the process started, but you should still have a wheel brush so you can scrub your wheels after you wash the car and before you dump out your bucket of wash water. Then use some glass cleaner after the car is all done to clean up any tire shine overspray or any water drips.
The best part about the Eagle One Wet is that it doesn’t sling all over the place and it will typically give you a nice look for two or three weeks in normal conditions. Just apply it to dry tires, or even better, apply it at night so it can dry till morning, and you are good to go.
Definitely Invisible Glass. I know people talk about newspaper doing such a good job and blah blah blah, but really… why would I use newspaper when Invisible Glass does the job better? I’m not using a process which was popular in the 50s just because my dad says it works really well. People who use newspaper to clean their glass make me think of people with hair styles from 20 years ago who simply will not change with the times. There are better products out there, so use them.
Honestly, Armor All works well for this. They got a bad rap back in the 80s, but they are just fine now. If you want the best as far as looks and protection, then you can get Aerospace 303 and that works great. I still use Armor All for areas that don’t get seen much like wheel wells and running boards.
Another product that really rocks is Meguiar’s Interior Detailer. This is safe to get anywhere in the car, unlike typical dash protectants. So it is a great product to use first to get all the dust and sneezes off your dash before protecting it with a real product.
For this I have been using Tuff Stuff lately and I really like it. It does a great job of getting stains out of carpet and seats and as a bonus it also cleans up vinyl and plastic. Just spray it on, let it sit for a minute, and then scrub it out with a carpet brush. Good as new. Prestone is also phenomenal at cleaning carpets, but not so great on plastics, so it is more of a single function product. If Prestone is a 10 then Tuff Stuff is an 8. But it is also an 8 at cleaning the door sills, running boards, lower parts of the dash (down by the pedals), center console, and other areas. You gotta love that.
Typically for things like chrome grilles and bumpers I just use Invisible Glass. It works fine. Same goes for exhaust tips. Eagle One has a product in a silver can called Never Dull which works great to clean corrosion off chrome and stainless steel and really brighten it up, so that is another product to have on hand.
Now for the tough one. If you are asking me what product to use to remove swirls by hand, I have to tell you that there isn’t one. There are many that say they will mask swirls or cover them up, but you are not likely going to be able to generate the speed and heat required to break down polishes to cut your paint and leave a clear surface, so don’t even try. If you don’t have at least a Porter Cable 7424 then don’t even start polishing your car. You’ll just make a mess of the paint. Trust me on that one. A PC7424 is $120 at CoastalTool.com shipped. Buy one. Get some pads and you are all set.
I use the Edge2000 pads, so I’m not much help with which pads you should get. All I can tell you is that Autogeek.net has fabulous details about their products and the uses they have. Read up on what each type of pad does and get the ones you need for whatever you are facing. Typically for me I can get 90% of the work done with a Blue Edge pad and a White Edge pad. I have no idea what the equivalents are with other makers. The color means nothing and there is no standard level of cutting that all blue or yellow or whatever color pads do. You just have to read the description and go from there.
For polishes I’m going to recommend Poorboy’s Super Swirl Remover II (SSRII) and SSRI. Most of your polishing can be done with SSRII and then you follow that up with SSRI for a perfect surface. Sometimes you just need SSRI because you want a little bit of bite to your polish to clean off the wax/sealant and you don’t have many swirls. Most of my details can be sorted out with SSRII, so that is my go to product.
Paint sealants and waxes are the tough one. So many things determine what I use. For Black, Red, and dark colors I would go with Wolfgang Paint Sealant. For light colors I would go with 4 Star Ultimate Paint Sealant. For a wax I would go with Wolfgang Fusion or Pinnacle Souveran if you are feeling rich, or just go with S100 at your local Harley shop if you want to shop local. They all look awesome.
The burgundy bottle of Meguiar’s Quick Detailer works fine. I use it for cleaning door jambs and getting the left over polish that gets into seams and emblems. It also works well for getting dust off your car in between washes. I love the stuff. There is also the Meguiar’s Ulitmate Quick Detailer which adds a little protection to the spray. That stuff is awesome too. Again, there are other options out there online which are just as good or better, but generally there isn’t much difference in this type of thing. A quick detailer is a quick detailer. Spray waxes and sealants are an entirely other ball of wax, but I don’t use those much at all unless it is for motorcycles. They are too spendy for what they provide on a car, so I usually just recommend people use Meguiar’s QD and leave the spray waxes alone.
Gunk Foaming Degreaser and a normal All Purpose Cleaner like Purple Lightning or something like that works great. Use towels and brushes and really scrub. Then use CD2 Engine Detailer to really make the rubber and plastics shine when you are done. Run the engine for about 20 minutes after applying the CD2 and then wipe the engine down again for a flawless finish. Simple simple simple.
I buy my towels from Autogeek.net. I’ve never bought a towel from them that I wouldn’t use on my paint, so just keep your eye out for deals. Get the waffle weave towel for drying. The green one. It is awesome. The silk trimmed ones are the plushest and awesome for your paint. For the towels you use on the interior, glass, and engine I would just buy them in bulk at Costco or something. Just don’t use those on your paint. They will fall apart and just lint everywhere.
They make great wash mitts out of microfiber too. The ones that look like muppets with dread locks are great. Use those instead of a sponge. Sponges are another tool we are told to use because that is what our parents were told to use. They are flat out the worst tool you can use to wash your car if you are trying to avoid swirls, so burn all of your sponges right now.
That seems pretty complete. I’ll add to this if I see that I’ve missed anything, but that covers the most usual product recommendations I’m asked for. Most of these products may either be found locally or online. I shop at Autogeek.net, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I just like shopping somewhere that has everything I need so I don’t have to put in multiple orders and pay for shipping a dozen times. Happy detailing!