Getting a car squeaky clean is just the start
Car detailing – it’s what happens when you get a car so clean and perfect, it’s like it’s better than when it came off the showroom floor. You could eat your meals off the bonnet, but the detailer in question, Richard Tipper, might decide to give you a good clean outside and in if he saw you.
We are talking OCD levels of attention to detail here. You might think you wash and polish your car quite carefully, but do you routinely take the wheels off? So that you can clean inside the rims as well as out? Do you use an ultrasound depth gauge to check the depth of the paint and therefore how much polishing it will take? You’re not even trying.
One look inside Tipper’s gleaming Mercedes-Benz Vito tells you what you’re getting into. Everything perfectly clean and perfectly in place. All labels facing the same way. Millimetre-perfect cut bits of foam separating every tool and device.
He used to clean cars for his father, who was a self-employed vehicle mechanic. Tipper was so good he started his own company, Perfection Detailing, way back in 1989. His big break came in 1997, with a request to clean an F50 at Ferrari Maranello in Egham. When he’d done the word went out to the entire classic and sports car community.
Since then he’s cleaned 18 of the 24 Aston Martin Vulcans before they were handed over to their new owners, and he’s also detailed all of the Prodrive collection, among the 26,000 cars he’s worked on.
We decided to give him a harder challenge, a 2006 three-door Vauxhall Astra with a lot of miles on the clock and a varied amount of paint on the body. First off out came the magnetic depth gauge. He can tell the rear has been resprayed, probably after an accident, as the paint is thicker there. He runs his hands over the paint and picks up the little ‘surface contaminents’ that even we noticed after giving the car a through clean with Turtle Wax the previous week.
This calls for soft blue clay and soapy liquid. Incredibly, after some minutes of working these two, the surface feels ‘bitty-free’. Tipper then sprays water to wipe off the clay residue, then wipes the panel with an alcohol wipe, and then sets to polishing it.
This means masking off the wing in question then using a machine polisher with a light polishing compound that will get smoother as it gets hotter. The effect is magical. As it is when he decides to clean the foggy, faded headlight lenses, so opaque you can’t see the bulbs. After a few minutes it’s clear again.
It’s amazing watching him work, seeing what hard work, skill, OCD and the latest materials can achieve. Tipper’s getting into it, but we’re aware he spent three days cleaning a Ferrari F40 the previous week, and he often spends a solid four hours just polishing. And he charges £650 a day. We decide we have to stop him carrying on.
All we have to work out is how to do that.
Detail your own car
- Use a multi-purpose cleaner on all the really dirty bits like wheels and arches, and leave to soak.
- Take all the wheels off one by one and clean both sides as well as the hubs.
- Use wash mitts to wash down the whole car, rinse off and blow dry.
- Use a clay bar to remove stubborn contaminents.
- Rinse off any clay residue, then machine polish the car with a fine cutting compound. This can take some hours.
- Wipe all the bodywork down and seal with a polish. Step away. It’s done.