There are a ton of different products out there. You can buy them at WalMart, AutoZone, PepBoys, and even the grocery store. There are brand names you remember your dad using and maybe some that even HIS dad used. It can be confusing the separate the products into what you should use and what is not up to your standards.
Now that isn’t to say that companies would put crappy products on the shelf, of course. Just because I don’t like it and can’t see a use for it doesn’t mean it isn’t something that works. I once threw a bottle of product into a juniper bush by my driveway. It failed to perform and I had no use for it, so in disgust I tossed it in there. My friend was with me and we laughed about it. Nearly two years later I pulled it out of the bush and gave it another shot on something I thought it might handle. It did a great job at it! I reconsidered my position on the product and no longer said it was rubbish. Now I qualified it with the fact that it wasn’t as powerful as I had hoped it would be. So just because I say a product is not very good, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It just means it may not work as well as something else. And as always, this just boils down to my own personal opinion. Not much science is behind what I’m about to write. This is just how I feel.
I break products down into three categories. There are Consumer Grade products, Professional Grade products, and Enthusiast Grade products. I put them in those categories to more easily describe what you should expect from them. The purpose of this article is to go into those grades and not necessarily all of the products that fit into them.
Consumer Grade products are the ones you find locally for the most part. They are the Armor Alls and Turtle Waxes of the world. Products that have been around forever and people buy them simply because they are familiar with what they do or perhaps have used them in the past. Many of the big players in the other grades will produce Consumer Grade products simply because that is where most of the customers are shopping. Meguiar’s and Mother’s and others will dumb down some of their products into something that the average Joe can handle. The burgundy bottle Meguiar’s products are a good example of that. They created products numbers 1 through 3 and that put consumers on the right path to proper detailing. The products are very weak though, and they really don’t accomplish much. But they are going to get some type of result and they work for people who don’t have machine polishers and want to feel like they are taking care of their cars. The principle of what those products are supposed to do is correct, but the strength of the product is lacking for most applications.
Consumer Grade products are sometimes rock stars in disguise. For example, Meguiar’s NXT is a consumer grade product which verges on Enthusiast Grade. It is a product which works well by hand, but it introduces the consumer into a realm of synthetics that most products on the shelf don’t use. It provides a durability and appearance that very few products off the shelf could give you back when it was first introduced, and that was pretty dang cool to see. Finally there was something people could get their hands on which actually performed like it should.
Other products on the shelf which are surprisingly good are Stoner’s Invisible Glass, Eagle One A2Z (wheel & tire cleaner), Eagle One Wet (tire shine), Clay Magic, and even Turtle Wax clay. These are products that are necessary in the process of doing a complete detail, but instead of having to order an expensive bottle of tire shine online, one could just go to the local auto parts store and pick some up there. Sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t matter where you get something. If it works, then it works. The problem is in locating these borderline Consumer/Enthusiast Grade products and separating them from the definite Consumer Grade. There is a huge difference between some generic glass cleaner and Stoner’s Invisible Glass. In fact, the difference could be the saving factor for your dash and window tint, so knowing what you are looking for is very important.
The important thing to remember is that just because the product is sold in a consumer environment (off the shelf) that doesn’t mean it is necessarily Consumer Grade. There are Professional and Enthusiast Grade products found on the shelves locally as well, and we’ll get into that later. The bottom line is that the average Consumer Grade product is adequate at best. Some are awesome, but others are pretty poor. Unless you know what you are looking for, then the chances are you are going to get something barely good enough, but quite possibly something that is just going to wind up in a juniper bush for a couple years.
This is a tough one to classify. Probably the easiest way to tell if something is Professional Grade is how much is in the bottle and what does it look like. Professional Grade products are often kind of generic and sold in very large quantities. A detailer working on a dozen cars per week needs to buy things such as car wash soap, cutting compounds, and waxes in very large quantities. 55 gallon drums of car wash soap and gallon sized jugs of car polish are not uncommon for a detail shop or mobile detailer to be purchasing.
Quantity isn’t the only thing that sets them apart, though. Professional Grade products also usually don’t have any real marketing done on them that the average Joe would even know about. They market to professionals through publications they subscribe to or websites that they would visit. You won’t see an ad for a great deal on 55 gallons of vinyl and rubber protectant in your Sunday newspaper, for example.
Another thing that sets them apart is the availability of these products. Most of them aren’t going to be found unless you know a distributor. Most professionals will order directly from the manufacturer to save costs, but there are distributors of several professional brands that have local shops the pros can shop in. If you go to your local auto body supply shop you may see some of these products. Meguiar’s and 3M often have their lines displayed there.
Every now and then you’ll find a Professional Grade product mixed in on the shelf at an auto parts store. Meguiar’s #20 Polymer Sealant is an example of that. Their #7 Mirror Glaze is another. Both of those products can be purchased by the gallon, but they sell the smaller 16 ounce bottles at stores they have distribution deals with. Sometimes you’ll find smaller sized bottles of 3M compounds and polishes in the same stores.
You can usually tell the difference between the Professional and the Consumer products based on the packaging. Consumer Grade products are brightly packaged with flashy labels, eye grabbing colors, and even sometimes fancy foil labels. Professional Grade products typically don’t have anything fancy on the labels. The name of the product, how to use it, and what to use it for is pretty much the only thing you’ll find on a product for the pros. They don’t care that you have a stock photograph of some concept car on the label that has never had the product applied to it. Pros just want something that works and they couldn’t care less about how fancy the package or label is.
These are the products I like best! The Enthusiast Grade encompasses all of those products which give you the show car results that you want for your pride and joy.
There are a lot of people who treat their daily drivers like rental cars, but there are a large number of people who recognize that the car was a huge investment of money and they want it to stay as nice looking as possible. They would pay someone to detail it for them, but that gets expensive. They want to learn to do it themselves, but if they are going to go through the time and effort of learning how to do this, then they are going to use the best products available. Those are the Enthusiasts.
An Enthusiast Grade product may be identified by not only the quality, but also in the way it is marketed. These methods are not always exclusive either. There are consumer grade products trying to market to the enthusiast, but they are easily identified as “less than” after use. Enthusiasts know what to expect from their product and it takes more than a fancy label and slick marketing to reach those expectations.
An example of the above is Zymol. I’m sure I’ll get hate mail for saying this, but it is my opinion that Zymol is crap. They have probably spent millions upon millions of dollars to convince the consumer that their product is the best thing in the world. Some people believe that quality can be determined by the price tag. If it costs significantly more than the average product then it must be better, right? Not so. Just because guys like to use the blue bottle of Zymol on their show cars (probably only because they have seen other show car owners using it) doesn’t mean it is the best. It just means that lots of people use it.
I’m not explaining this very well… I know what I want to say, but it is really hard to put into words.
How about this… The most viewed video on YouTube is not the best video. It is only the most viewed BECAUSE it is the most viewed. People want to see what the big deal is, so they watch it and then scratch their heads at why so many millions of people have watched it. The same holds true for a product like Zymol. People only use it because they see other people using it. The truth is that it is really hard to make a wax that DOESN’T look good on your car. Anything applied to a properly prepped surface is going to look good. There is just a lot of difference between what looks good and what looks mind stunningly, jaw dropping, traffic stopping A W E S O M E! That is the difference between a consumer grade product in Enthusiast Grade clothes and an actual Enthusiast Grade product.
Most of the Enthusiast Grade products have to be ordered online. Because they are focusing on a niche market, they need to be able to differentiate themselves from the competition. This requires providing more information than the average product label can handle. Maybe videos are needed and certainly a lot of pictures. With the popularity of internet forums there is a lot of opportunity for Enthusiast Grade products sold on the shelves at AutoZone to get some great reviews, so we are starting to see more of it on the shelves, but it is still just a fraction of what exists out there.
Autogeek.net is a perfect example of an Enthusiast Grade retailer. Full disclosure here… I have a lot of friends who work for Autogeek. I volunteer my time and work with them at the SEMA convention every year for the past four years. They don’t buy my opinion and they don’t pay me to promote them. Just like every consumer, you become a fan of a store or a product and you promote it. That is all I’m doing. I have found very few sites that carry the range and quality of product like Autogeek, so they are who I promote. Even when friends have left the company I have still promoted them, so that is what I’m doing now. They are awesome to work with and their product is second to none.
So Autogeek.net is a great example of what I’m talking about. They formulate their own products to specific standards and purposes meant for the enthusiast. When I spend 8 hours polishing my car (which I recently did) I want only the best to top it off with. Using the same stuff that everybody else uses isn’t an acceptable option. I just spent a lot of time and effort on this and I want it to stand out. So I use an Enthusiast Grade product that none of my neighbors have ever heard of called Wolfgang Paint Sealant. The result is something they have never been able to achieve on their own cars. Look at some of my work and you can tell the difference. When it comes to appearance products, I ONLY use Enthusiast Grade products. My work needs to stand out from the pack and definitely needs to stand out from the rest of the detailers out there, so I have to use top shelf products. The mobile detailer using a generic wax can’t even come close to touching the appearance I achieve using very specific products for the colors and shapes that I work on. I’ve got maybe a dozen different ‘Last Step Products’ (LSP) that I’ll use depending on the color and shape. It is the Enthusiast Grade products which make detailing an art. Painting a house isn’t an art. Painting a mural is. Enthusiast Grade products give you the palette to paint a masterpiece on your car.
Hopefully the helps explain it a little better. If you haven’t ever heard of it and you have to order it online, then it is very likely an Enthusiast or Professional Grade product. If you can buy it by the gallon then it probably narrows it down to a Professional Grade. Most Enthusiast Grade products are Professional Grade strength, but because they are using the finest in chemicals and formulations, they tend to be fairly expensive when you start dealing with larger sizes. Some of the Enthusiast Grade products are sold in small 30ml glass bottles in fact. And if you can’t tell by the location of the product or the size of the product, then look into who manufactures it and how much information they are able to give. You can usually tell who it is meant for by that description.
The purpose of this article was to help define some terms that I frequently use. These are my own definitions and not industry standards. To my knowledge I am the only one who uses these specific terms to categorize products, but I’ve been using the terms for several years and it has caught on. However, since I also don’t believe there are too many unique ideas out there, someone may have different definitions. Mine is in no way meant to be the final word on the topic. As with everything I write, your results may vary and all of this is just my own opinion based on experience and study. 🙂 Take it for what is is worth.