Last month we discussed the proper technique for washing a vehicle to prepare its surface for polish and wax. As we mentioned in that story, appropriate exterior prep is a must to prevent minor scratching and swirls caused by dirt and other contaminants being ground into the paint during the polishing and waxing process. Good surface prep will also allow the wax to better adhere to the painted surface for a long-lasting, high-gloss shine.

Should I Clay Bar My Corvette?
Using clay on your vehicle might seem odd if you’ve never heard of it before, but to the car-care enthusiast, claying is an essential step in achieving that perfect finish. The clay we are talking about is not the same kind found at your local art-supply. Rather, it is specially formulated for automotive use and is not water soluble.

After your car is clean and dry, lightly sweep the flat of your hand along the paint surface. If it doesn’t feel as smooth as glass, there are surface contaminants embedded in the paint. A clay bar can safely remove those invisible particles without damaging your vehicle’s finish.

It is recommended that you use a clay bar once or twice a year, depending on the level of contamination to which the car is subjected. Contaminants may be both manmade (as in the case of industrial emissions and acid rain) and natural (e.g., tree sap).

Using the right lubricant is extremely important when claying a vehicle. This helps the clay glide gently across the painted surface without causing damage, while also helping to pick up debris. Be sure to use a lubricant that is specifically designed for clay-bar use.

Once the clay-bar process is complete, you’ll be left with a surface that is smooth as glass and ready for polish and wax.

Using a Clay Bar
1. Start with a clean, cool vehicle and work in a shaded area.

2. Break off a small piece of clay and knead it in your hands until it softens. Next, shape it into a flat surface.

3. Working in small, 20 x 20-inch sections, spray the clay-bar lubricant over your working area until it’s covered in clay lube.

4. Gently glide the clay bar over your working area using overlapping passes, moving left to right or up and down (see “Clay-Bar Application” photo, p. 22). Do not rely on downward force to clean the paint, but instead allow the clay to absorb the contamination. Stubborn contamination can require several applications.

5. Continue working on your selected area until all contamination is removed. You’ll know this has occurred when the clay slides quietly and effortlessly across the paint.

6. Wipe off the excess clay lube with a microfiber detailing towel.

Reshape your piece of clay after each section so that a clean, fresh surface is exposed. If the clay is too loaded with contaminants, break off a new piece.

Understanding the Polishing Process
Polishing is an often misunderstood—and commonly omitted—step in the detailing process. Polishes and glazes add luster but do not protect the finish, so using them is optional, especially on vehicles with oxidation-resistant clearcoat finishes. You’ll find, however, that polish can produce a deep, wet-looking gloss, and a superior finished product.

Polish is used to remove small amounts of the paint’s surface on a microscopic level. It’s unlike waxing because it’s most effective when the polish is worked in using friction and/or heat to help break down its integral abrasives. This can be accomplished by hand, but a machine buffer is much more effective.

The cutting ability of the polish will determine the amount of paint removed as well as the resulting finish. A fine polish will create a deep, wet-looking gloss, while a coarse polish may cloud the paint’s surface. Always use the least abrasive polish necessary to get the job done. Each polish is designed for a specific purpose, so make sure you purchase the one that best suits your needs.

In this article we’ll describe how to polish a vehicle at home without a buffer. (We’ll cover buffer polishing in next month’s column.)

Polishing by Hand
1. Start with a clean, cool vehicle and work in a shaded area.

2. Work in small, 20 x 20-inch sections.

3. Apply a nickel-sized amount of polish to your microfiber or foam applicator pad.

4. Use a circular motion to apply the polish to your working area using overlapping passes, moving left to right or up and down until the polish breaks down and becomes clear.

5. After the polish becomes hazy, remove it with a microfiber towel. 5. Don’t allow it to dry completely: Trying to remove dry polish will almost certainly cause scratches to the paint.5. 5.

6. After you have wiped off the polish residue, check your work under proper lighting. If you are unhappy with the result, repeat the process using a different pressure and speed until you achieve the desired appearance.