Tim’s Prep School
One of the world’s top detailers offers advice on how the rest of us can get our vehicles ready for spring.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The work of professional detailer Tim McNair has been on display at Pebble Beach, Villa d’Este, Amelia Island, The Quail and many national marque-specific concours. Many people have approached him for advice over the years – most recently Hagerty’s. Here, he offers his take on some things you need to keep in mind when detailing your car after months in storage.
STEP 1: The initial exam
Before beginning the detailing process, give your car a once over to make sure everything still works. After uncovering it and disconnecting the charger, inspect for leaks. If the car doesn’t roll freely, there may be a sticking caliper or brake drum. Many a collector has taken the first drive of the season only to find a leaking wheel cylinder caused his or her brakes to fail. Check under the engine and behind the wheels as well. Open the hood/bonnet. Inspect all the fluids. (British car guys, don’t forget the carburetor dashpots!)
Once your basic inspection is complete, check tire pressure (including the spare) and refill as needed. This is a good time to inspect sidewalls for dry rot or bubbles, making sure you look at the backs of the tires. Before you move on, make a list of any mechanical issues that need additional work.
Next it’s time to start the car. As it’s warming up, test all the lights, the turn signals and the horn. Put the car into gear and test the clutch (if equipped) and reverse lights. After a thorough once-over, the car should be ready to drive with very few surprises and no rollbacks.
STEP 2: An inside job
Starting with the interior, inspect the carpets and seat surfaces for mold or mildew. Standard vinyl and leather cleaners, carpet cleaners and sunlight are all you’ll need to address mold and mildew. Be sure to slide the seats as far forward as possible and remove seat bases where you can. Lowering the convertible top (if equipped) will give you easier access to the interior, but be sure to look at the inside of the top for problems as you fold it.
Using a small, soft bristled brush, carefully clean around the seat piping and between the seams to prevent dirt from abrading leather or vinyl. Clean the seats, door panels and dash using an interior cleaner, such as those offered by Griot’s Garage or Meguiar’s. To save material and prevent overspray, spray it on the towel and then wipe. Remember to test a small area before using any cleaning product to ensure it will not discolor the surface.
If leather surfaces need more attention use LEXOL-pH Leather Cleaner. Spray some onto a wet microfiber applicator pad, then work into the leather, creating a little foam, and then dry with a microfiber towel. When completely dry, apply LEXOL Leather Conditioner and Preservative using a microfiber pad. It penetrates into the leather best if the liquid or seats are warm. Rub thoroughly into the leather between seams and pleats, covering the surface with a light film.
While this is drying, clean and polish the dash. On painted surfaces, a little Griot’s Garage Best Of Show Wax will do the trick. Use a bamboo skewer to run along switches and gauge bezels to remove residue. When dry, buff the LEXOL from the seats using the microfiber towel, and then wipe excess dressing from the vinyl.
Glass and chrome will respond well to a little glass cleaner on a towel. Plastic “glass” and switchgear can be improved with Plexus Plastic Cleaner on a new, clean microfiber towel. Any vinyl panels can be treated with Griot’s Vinyl & Rubber Dressing.
Most spots on the carpets should come up using Griot’s Garage Carpet Cleaner or Meguiar’s All Purpose Cleaner and another soft brush. Vacuum the carpets, making sure to remove mats and brush around pedal bases.
Use a makeup brush for light dusting. At this point, I clean all inside glass, and spray Plexus on the plastic convertible top window, wait a few seconds and wipe with a clean, new microfiber towel.
STEP 3: Outer appearance
Next come the wheels. If they’re dirty, use a good quality wheel cleaner; otherwise any spray detailer will suffice. On wire wheels, I clean them first, getting between spokes with a number of tools, including Griot’s Garage Detailing Stick System. Then I spray them with S100 Detail + Wax (typically used for motorcycles) to really make painted spokes shine. Polish knockoffs and/or lug nuts as well. For Borrani wheels, I use a steam cleaner and polish the aluminum rim to a very high gloss. Scrub the tires with Westley’s Bleche-Wite or Griot’s Garage Rubber Cleaner to remove mold releases and film. This allows the dressing to set up and last longer. I always use a very low gloss dressing on tires. Meguiar’s Gold Class Endurance is one good choice.
Cloth tops should be brushed and vacuumed. If there are any stains, use interior cleaner. Wipe vinyl tops with cleaner on a towel, dress with a good vinyl dressing and let dry.
For the body, I use Meguiar’s Quik Detailer to remove light soil and dust. If the car is muddy or dirty, I recommend a hand wash, but a properly stored car will only need Meguiar’s Quik Detailer. Griot’s Garage Spray-On Car Wash is a good alternative.
Once the paint surface is clean, I like to use a clay bar to remove paint contamination. There are many good ones on the market, with offerings from Griot’s Garage and Meguiar’s being some of the best. For the Healey 100/4 shown in this story, I used Meguiar’s mild clay bar from its professional line. Although it comes in different “grits,” I always start with the mildest product first, whether it’s a clay bar, polish or cleaner. You always can increase the strength if necessary.
Spray the lubricant – in this case Meguiar’s Quik Detailer – liberally, working about a two-foot section at a time. Flatten and knead a piece of clay to fit your hand. Use short strokes and light pressure going in the direction of the car, front to back. If grit does scratch the paint, the short stroke will enable you to polish it out more easily. Listen carefully to the clay bar riding against the surface; you should hear it getting smoother. A sharp “sssst” may mean a scratch. Turn the clay often and knead it to renew the bar. If you drop it, pick out the debris and set the bar aside to use on lower panels. If the debris can’t be removed, discard the bar. Wipe panels dry with a microfiber towel.
Once the paint feels smooth, it’s time to polish. There are many good cleaner/waxes on the market, but I still prefer a two- or three-part method. Before starting, I cover the wiper arms with towels (hard to clean). To protect cloth tops, be sure to tape the edges and cover them with towels or plastic drop cloths.
Using a foam pad and a good orbital buffer will save time and produce better results. I used the Meguiar’s orbital and Soft Foam Applicator Pad for the first step. The Griot’s Garage or Porter-Cable orbital will work, too. Set the speed around 4 to 4.5 and apply Griot’s Garage Machine Polish 3 to the pad in a “dot” pattern. Before switching the machine on, smear the polish on the panel to evenly coat the pad and to reduce “sling.” Move slowly, going back and forth and side to side. Remove polish with a clean microfiber towel, remembering to turn frequently.
The next step is to apply a good wax such as Griot’s Garage Best Of Show Wax. Do one panel at a time, and the hood, roof and trunk in quarters. Allow it to dry to a haze before buffing off.
STEP 4: The finishing touches
When the wax is removed, start on the detailing. I usually sit in the front of the car and move from corner to corner. I use the $100 Detail + Wax on lower rocker panels and valances. It leaves a waxy finish to which dirt and road grime won’t adhere. Polish chrome and apply a little wax to finish it off. For bare aluminum and stainless steel, use a good quality metal polish, such as Nuvite NuShine II, with a cotton flannel cloth.
My favorite detailing tool is the bamboo skewer. It gets into places a toothbrush can’t, and doesn’t scratch. Use it around trim and emblems, or wrap a towel around it to get between grille spokes. Small soft bristle brushes from a craft store are great, too. Use paintbrushes with the bristles cut down and the metal ferrules wrapped in tape for cleaning hard to reach places. I also have cotton swabs in many sizes and shapes to help with the final details.
For more of Tim’s product suggestions, including ratings and commentary on what makes these his go-to choices, visit hagerty.com/healeydetail.
To see this article in its original format, view the pdf version of the Spring 2010 issue of Hagerty magazine.