The Ultimate Guide!
Car Restoration: What To Expect
Welcome to our guide on car restoration! Whether your completely new to restoring any vehicle, or seeking to learn how, we have everything you need right here to restore a car! Please note, this guide is assuming no dents/rust, this guide is for a vehicle that is seeking a brand new shine. Body work and repainting methods will be introduced later.
Do not do any of this in direct sunlight!
Car Restoration: Plan The Job
It’s no doubt that when it comes to restoring our vehicle. We’re going to need some detailing supplies and tools to achieve that new car look. Lets take a look at what we personally recommend to get the job done right the first time. Each product listed below will go further into explanation when it is introduced.
Here are all the supplies and tools you will need to perform proper car restoration:
Clay Bar Kit
Car Wash (Aggressive)
Top Layer Wax/Sealer
Dual Action/Orbital Buffer (Optional)
Bucket Or Container To Store Soap/Washing Mit/Tool.
Vacuum (Wet Vac is better)
This is the first step you should ALWAYS take before tackling a restoration job. Always plan ahead before tackling a intensive job like this in order save your self time and the headache of having to constantly run back and forth to a auto store. If you don’t plan, you plan to fail. Write down or take note of the list above because these are all of the products we are going to use to restore a decent condition car.
Car Restoration: Remove Contaminates!
You’ve done your planning! Great job! Now it’s time to remove and surface contaminates and ensure we have a clean surface to work with. To begin this step you are going to need your cleaning brush/mitten, your car soap, and your clay bar.
Start by doing a touch less wash. You can use a power washer on a light setting here or spay down your car with a hose to wet the surface. Using your brush or a spray bottle with soapy water, wash the entire car without touching it first. This will soften surface contaminates and release the top layer of dirt/grease. Rinse the car down like normal and move onto your touch wash.
With surface now clean, now we need to do a “touch wash” on the vehicle. This is where you will be scrubbing your vehicle from head to toe. Wash the entire car down thoughtfully using any soap specifically for cars.
An important note in this step that should NOT be missed: When you thoroughly wash your vehicle. Have a clean rinse bucket and a dirty wash bucket. Keep them separate and wash the car from the roof down. This will prevent you from accidentally hitting anything dirty with your mitten/brush and helps keep the panel completely clean.
With your car officially now clean to the eyes, it’s time to kick it up a notch and ensure nothing but a clean panel is there. This is where your clay bar comes in. Your clay bar is a small bar of specific clay that you will use on a moisturized surface which will grab and pull all dirt/bug/tar particles off of the paint and add them to the clay bar instead.
Knead the clay bar with your hands and keep the panel wet at all times during this process. What you are doing here is moving the clay bar in horizontal and vertical positions going back and forth at a moderate speed. Some clay kits will come with a conditioning spray to keep your clay bar nice and smooth so it can travel freely.
Again you will want to repeat this process from the hood down to ensure a clean surface. When you use the clay bar, continue to knead it and fold it to hide the dirt on the surface of your clay bar. The whole purpose of car restoration is to keep your panel as clean as possible.
Phase 3-1: Show Room Shine!
Time to retire the buckets and water and restore our paint. This is where you are going to need the following: Rubbing Compound, Polish, Dual Action Polisher/Orbital Buffer/Your Hands With Microfiber Towels.
If you are new to the detailing step and don’t want to use your hands. We highly recommend a dual action polisher, they work much more efficient and have a much harder time going through your layer of clear coat. Proper car restoration involves heating up the paint slightly and cutting it to remove scratches and blemishes.
Rubbing compound is basically a pasty version of a super high grit sandpaper. This is so fine it wont actually leave scratches, it actually removes them and restores color. Your vehicle may look completely different when you have finish this step due to a much deeper color depth in the paint.
When this is applied to your microfiber towel/dual action/orbital buffer/polisher, the disc will spin up and heat the panel you are working on. This in turn softens the clear coat just enough to be able to pull/fill and or remove minor scratches and defects.
If you are using your hands to apply compound, remember this simple rule. Wax on, wax off. Using a nice amount of elbow grease work in small sections 4″x4″ roughly. Apply about a dime sized of rubbing compound and then spread it as evenly as possible in that section you are working on. You will begin to nice the paint takes on a “dull” look and this is what you want. Continue to buff this compound into the paint the best you can. After each pass and when the panel starts to feel smooth, wipe the excess away with a SEPARATE microfiber cloth to remove the residue. DO NOT ever mix your towels to prevent getting unwanted leftover product on the surface.
Now if you are willing to invest a little bit, and are utilizing a dual action/orbital buffer than follow these steps. The dual action polisher we utilize we purchased from chemical guys as a detailing kit. This comes with the compound, polish, dual action polisher, and all the other supplies needed to get a show room shine. If you are using a dual action/orbital polisher, start by applying about 3-4 dime sized drops of rubbing compound to the pad of the buffer. Make sure you are using a “cutting” compound pad to ensure maximum results. After product has been applied to your polisher, lightly press the pad in a couple of close spots near the area you are working to put some on the panel.
Once you have applied the compound to the panel you are working on, turn your buffer on to a low speed setting like 2. Move a little quicker to evenly spread the product across the area you are working on evenly. Once you have applied it in an area, go ahead and turn your buffer up to about 4-5.
Move the buffer/polisher in horizontal/vertical positions ONLY. Take your time and move slowly while applying very little pressure to the panel. You want to just “guide” your buffer/polisher across the surface and watch it as it removes. Since you are using an electrical tool this time around, you may notice the color depth comes back instantly as you move over the panel.
For those not using a Dual Action Polisher and using a traditional orbital buffer. PLEASE BE CAREFUL! Spending too much time in one area can burn through the clear coat causing damage to the top layer. This is why we recommend a Dual Action instead, it almost completely removes this risk.
Phase 3-2: Show Room Shine(POLISH)!
From here we are now on the shiny part of things. Get ready to grab your polish, it’s shining time. Polish follows the same method as compounding only this time it’s going to restore the gloss effect to the vehicle. Before starting ANYTHING, swap towels or pads to prevent cross contamination of polish and compound. Each product has it’s own unique differences and we want each product to perform at it’s max!
Start by doing the same thing as you did with your compound. Apply 3-4 dime sized drops of product to your polishing pad. Apply the pad to the surface you are working on and once again start on a low setting in a small section. Once spread evenly you will notice a dulling effect again. Once you notice this dull go ahead and amp it up in speed a little bit and move slowly watching the gloss come to life.
The important note to take away here is to take your time. You may have to complete a couple of passes in order to achieve the maximum effect. If you still see scratches and swirls, do another pass of compound, if some spots look glossier than others, do another round of polish.
When you have finished compounding and polishing, come back through one more time with a new clean microfiber towel and HAND buff the surface clean, the end results after you are done with both should be a scratch free, swirl free, deep rich glossy shine. It looks good, so now lets keep it looking good.
Phase 4: Protect The Investment!
Your vehicle should now look like brand new. You’ve removed scratches, swirls, contaminates, etc… and restored your vehicle to a glossy slick shine. We now need to take the steps to protect it correctly so we don’t get those same contaminates/scratches in the paint that we had before.
To do that you will grab a sealer wax to apply to the surface in order to protect your paint. We utilize the Chemical Guys Butter Wax. This stuff applies on super easy and gives you a streak free glossy finish. Let’s get started!
You may apply your wax either by a electric tool or by hand. I personally prefer to do this step by hand with 2 microfiber towels/pads. Take your wax and give it a good shake, once product is mixed well, take about a nickel size drop and apply it to the center the pad that you’re using.
When you’re ready, apply the wax in a swirling motion towards the right. This is the “wax on” motion, continue to move in circles all the way around putting a film on evenly all the way around the vehicle.
If you are applying via buffer, the same rule applies as compounding/polishing spread it evenly across the surface, let it sit and buff of on a SLOW setting rather than a high setting. You’re end result should be a smooth feeling streak free shine! Nice job guys and gals. The outside is officially new!
For extra credit, take a set of detailing brushes and get inside of the small cracks so you don’t leave behind ANY residue!
Phase 5: Cleaning The Inside! Car Restoration Almost Complete!
Clean That Fabric!
It’s time to move onto the inside! The Products you are going to need here are: Dash Cleaner, Fabric Cleaner, Interior Conditioner, Towels, Vacuum, and your Detailing Brushes.
To start with your interior, we need to tackle those carpets. Car restoration doesn’t only happen on the outside you know! Start off by vacuuming everything up on the inside, dispose of leaves, papers, etc… once this is done it’s time to restore any cloth materials.
Start by wetting your carpet with a spray bottle. Use a cleaner such as Tuff Stuff, we personally use Chemical Guys Fabric Clean which we dilute in spare spray bottle they gave us. Mist the fabric to the point where it’s wet but no soaked.
Once you have misted/wetted the carpet, seats, etc… let it sit for about 1-2 minutes. After which it’s now time to SCRUB! You can scrub all the fabric by hand or to make things easier use a drill with a soft thistle brush attachment to agitate all the dirt/grease in your fabric.
Scrub away and you will begin to notice the cleaner will lift stains after extensive scrubbing. Using a wet vac (if you have a normal vacuum then let air dry) suck up all the cleaner that you used along with the grease/dirt. It may take a couple of passes but eventually your seats/carpets will look like new. Be gentle with them now and let them dry.
Don’t Forget The Panels!
When moving onto the interior panels such as your dash or plastic door panels, make sure you have your dash cleaner and detailing brushes here. We’re once again using a Chemical Guy’s Product: Nonsense All Purpose Cleaner.
This stuff is amazing, once again we recommend diluting it if you are using this, tough stuff or a Meguires cleaner will work too!
A lot of people make the mistake of spraying it all over the inside panels, wiping it off and calling it good. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS! Instead, apply the product to a new CLEAN microfiber towel and then wipe the product into the panels, almost like hand buffing the car exterior.
Once you have applied the cleaner to the main panels, let it sit for a few minutes, during this time grab your detailing brushes and spray the cleaner on the thistles ONLY.
Use these small brushes to clean vents, hard to reach cracks, etc… if using the chemical guys product it will make the dash look like “new” rather than a wet glossy look. Once you have scrubbed your small crevices and detailed every tiny crack in the car, you’re now ready to “set” your cleaner.
Take a new clean dry microfiber towel and repeat what you did on the outside go all the way around your dash panels and buff off the cleaner you put on, the result should be a clean dry non dirty/greasy surface. You’re interior is nearly complete!
Phase 5: Interior Clean, Restore!
Welcome to the final phase, this is where we are going to restore the small little things that make our car look great! Everything now up to this point should look like new, now just like the outside, we need to preserve it on the inside as well.
The final step is simple, once again you will need a microfiber but you will also need a vinyl/leather/plastic conditioner to keep those dashes/panels moisturized. Simply take your conditioner and apply a small amount to your microfiber towel again, making sure it is a clean one. Apply the conditioner all the way around the inside and let it sit for about 5 minutes, afterwards come back through with once again another dry clean microfiber towel to seal it in there moisturizing the dash panels. This will keep moisture in and prevent the dash from cracking/peeling over time.
Final Touch ups!
To help prevent getting any unwanted cleaner on anything else, spray it directly onto your towel/rag and then wipe the glass clean with that wet towel. Immediately after come through with a dry towel that is clean to remove any residue and leave a streak free reflective shine!
The journey is over guys and gals! You’ve taken a dirty car and turned it into a shining showroom quality piece of metal! You should take this time to pat yourselves on the back. You guys and gals have completed a large chunk of your car restoration projects. Many more soon to come!
Detailing and restoring a vehicle to this level is just the tip of the iceberg. We will move onto the more intense repairs here shortly such as body work, panel installations, etc… If you liked this post give us a share! Let the world see what they can do! Have a pretty cool trick that we didn’t cover? Leave a comment below!