You want to clay bar car and so your quest begins as to what this detailing clay is, how to use it, and which clay bar you should use.
Likely you will come to learn very quickly that not only do you have many choices in detailing clay products, but there exist endless opinions as the many questions that come up regarding detailing clay and their use. Despite the fact that this "wonder putty" has existed for decades, I find there are many people who still are unsure as to their unique properties and the amazing abilities of detailing clay when used properly.
The graph at the right shows a cut-away of the layers to your cars body panels all the way up to the top layer known as the clear coat. The various icons illustrate the various types of paint contaminants that are common place in today's world of airborne air pollutants. Unlike polishing compounds, the detailing clay when used to clay bar car is designed and engineered to remove what is commonly called surface contaminants; despite the fact that these airborne pollutants actually embed down into your cars clear coat. As these various forms of pollutants collect over time, the feel and appearance of your cars paint diminishes over time. On light colored car paint, the most common of these pollutants usually referred to as industrial fall-out will appear as tiny rust specks. On dark colored cars this fall-out will not be visible, but regardless of the color of your car, it will create a gritty, textured feel as you drag your hand across your paint (and we are not referring to superficial dirt; the kind removed through simple washing)
Let's get you up to speed and work through the myths and confusion that exist around detailing clay and what should be the simple process of clay bar car.
Q - What is surface prep or clay bars?
A - A synthetic material very similar in consistency to firm Playdoh. Usually palm size, made by most top manufacturers of car care products.
Q - How do clay bars work?
A - These synthetic bars grab and shear contaminates from the paint as it is rubbed back and forth across the paint.
Q - How do I use them?
A - Use the clay bar on a freshly washed paint surface. Used along with a spray lubricant to keep the bar moving freely across the surface. Simply rub back and forth with light/medium pressure until all contaminates have been removed.
Q - What kinds of contaminates will these clay bars remove?
A - Contaminates come in many forms: over-spray from paint, airborne pollution, tail pipe emissions, etc. All of which can be removed when you clay bar car.
Q - Do I have to clay bar car for smooth paint?
A - Yes. Normal washing and waxing will not remove these forms of contaminates from your cars paint.
Q - How often will I have to use these types of surface prep bars?
A - It will be part of an ongoing maintenance plan of proper paint care. Since every situation is different, only you can determine how often is necessary. Whenever you feel any form of surface texture to the paint, the clay bar can be used.
Q - Can you clay bar car too often?
A - This is a question that soon becomes answered once you understand why you clay your car initially, and once you have actually clayed your car. Unlike waxing your car, claying your car is simply a way to remove paint contaminants. You get no visual pay-off for performing this requirement like you do when you wax your car and it looks way better! So the compulsion to clay your car when it doesn't actually need it pretty much never exists. And for this reason, once a person actually does take the time to clay their car, they will do it as little as possible. The very first time you clay bar car, it will definitely take longer than any follow up claying that will be part of your on-going maintenance.
Q - I have a new car, is it necessary for me to clay bar car?
A - Probably. Only you will know for sure by feeling the surface of the car paint after it has been washed. Most cars will be exposed to the elements of pollution from the moment they are taken from the manufacturing plants, down until they reach the end user. Your particular car may sit on a dealer lot for months and months. So just because your car is brand new, I have yet to meet a brand new car that didn't need it!
Q - How much time can I expect when using the clay bar for the first time?
A - Depends on how much fall-out is in your paint. I have spent as much as (2) hours removing fall-out from a car on an older car that had accumulated excessive amounts of fall-out that had never been "clayed" before, to as little as ten minutes to remove very light amounts which is more common on any newer car. When it comes to regular maintenance and you use detailing clay every few months, the process might take you just a few minutes to clay your car.
Q - Will the clay bar scratch my car paint?
A - Short answer is yes. Long answer is this: all depends on what you consider scratching. The more appropriate term would be maring or abrading. Maring or abrading, and scratching are really two different issues. Use of the clay bar will indeed put very superficial scratching in the paint. The heavier the fall-out is, the more scratching will be done.
Q - If the clay bar scratches or abrades the paint, then why would anyone be willing to or want to clay bar their car?
A - Most choices in life come to trade-off's. We are constantly forced to pick what we call the winning combination which usually consists of more benefits than drawbacks. Having texture to your car paint is considered unacceptable to most people, and in order to remove this pollution from your car's paint, the clay bar is really the only option. And the type of scratching or abrading that will be done in the process will be very superficial and will be polished away in most cases by simply applying a coat of wax either by hand or a polisher.
Q - If the clay bar really scratches or abrades your car paint, why would the manufacturers not warn against this on their labeling.
A - There used to warning labels back in the day when clay bars were first introduced. Because the detailing clay has become so acceptable and the results are so welcomed, we have learned to look the other way and not talk about this fact. Additionally, clay bars were originally only available at a professional level, and it was acknowledged that if you were to use the clay bar, you would typically have to follow up by polishing the car. Of course once again, most cars don't require the use of aggressive use of the clay bar and therefore the abrading that takes place is so minimal that most people would not even have a trained eye in which to see this type of abrading.
Q - What clay bars do I recommend?
A- You can follow this link to clay bar kits to see what I recommend in the way of clay bars.
Darren's Note: In the context of complete transparency, the issue of abrading or scratching through use of the clay bar is indeed one of these topics of the detailng world similar to that of the military world with the infamous and proverbial "Don't ask, don't tell". The fact is that once you actually use the clay bar on your paint, you will immediately hear a grinding or scratching sound as you rub the clay across your paint. The more you rub the less you will hear as the pollutants are being pulled off the paint and into the clay bar. Eventually you will hear nothing and you will know your task is complete on that section of your paint. If you have excessive fall-out on your paint and much rubbing is required and if you happen to have the pleasure of owning a black or dark colored car, you will be able to see this abrading effect after you wipe away your fall-out mess. A complete application with some quality wax will prove to cover and remove any of this abrading that you find concerning. If you have a severe case of fall-out and you find significant amount of abrading, you will then want to polish your car which can be done by any complete beginner with the following car polishing kit.
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