Car Corner
Mothers Clay Bar System and Car Detailing Tips

December 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

My sister came to visit from New York. It is the first time I have seen her in 7 years. My Camaro is 6-1/2 years old. I wanted it to look its best when she saw it. So it was time for a major cleaning and a little detailing.

I have not waxed my car in about 3 - 4 years. I know this is not good, but it is kept in a garage and I park in a garage at work. So it is not exposed to the elements very much. I had read good things about "MOTHERS California Gold Clay Bar Paint Saving System" (what a mouthful), and wanted to give it a try.

The Clay Bar Kit comes with the clay bar, and a bottle of their "Showtime Instant Detailer." The instant detailer is used as a lubricant to the clay bar. It is simple enough to use. Spray a small area with the detailer then rub the surface in a back and forth motion to clean it. Periodically fold the clay bar in half, covering the dirt it picks up, and knead the bar to a good size to continue.

Mothers claims that you can use the bar for three cars. But what is it supposed to do? Their web site claims it "safely and easily removes paint damaging contaminants such as embedded metal particles, tree sap, paint overspray, dulling haze and more." The box says, "You can feel the difference." I read an article in a car magazine that claimed it is supposed to remove contaminants in paint that even compounding won’t remove.

I can tell you this much... you can feel the difference. At least from before using the kit and after. It does leave the surface with a smooth feel. I personally think this is due to the car detailer and not the clay bar. As a separate product the Showtime Instant Detailer provides, "The perfect show car shine in just seconds! Removes surface dirt, and brings out the natural beauty of your paint."

Although I saw some dirt on the clay bar, it did not clean the car very well. In fact, it did a poor job of cleaning the exhaust residue on the rear bumper of my car. As a test I cleaned half the bumper with the clay bar kit, and the other half with Meguire’s Mirror Glaze. The glaze is supposed to be the most mild of a buffing cleaner. It is like a really mild compound. In fact it is typically used to remove the swirl marks left by compounding.

The glaze left the paint looking excellent. All the clay bar kit did was remove a small amount of the residue. It still looked dirty. Another test was a big black mark on the right rear corner of the bumper. It looked like some one hit the car. I had tried to get it off the last time I waxed it (a long time ago), and thought the clay bar would work (one of the reason I bought it). It did not. However, the MeGuire’s glaze removed the black without a fuss.

I should mention that the bottle of MeGuire Mirror Glaze I have is about 10 years old. I bought it when I bought my last car, a 1989 Honda CRX, back in December 1988. It has separated in the bottle, and came out as water and a funky paste. It should have been a creamy liquid about like lotion. It still worked just fine. A testament to MeGuire’s product.

Overall, the clay bar kit to sucks. It didn’t do what it claimed, and if I ever find the article I read about it I will write the author (if possible) to complain about his poor ability to write the truth. I looked all over the box for a statement like, "If not completely satisfied return it for a complete refund." No such claim existed.

I went to their web site to complain, but they have no place on their site for comments. (As long as I am bashing their web site... there "site map" has the exact same items as their navigation on every page. It is a waste of time to have a site map that doesn’t map the site.)

I have been a huge fan of Mothers waxes for years. But I am now thinking about switching to MeGuire’s products permanently. Where is their web site?

Tips on detailing

I will not bore you with the standard tips about cleaning the paint and wheels with separate sponges/cotton mitts. I will not tell you about using a toothbrush around the edges of trim. I will not tell you about tips that you can get anywhere.

What I will tell you is a couple of tips I have developed over the years for really good results.

Tip #1. Clean your tires with a tire cleaner before you use Armor All (or other protectant). This may seem like an obvious tip. It is not. In the last 6 months I have tried to find a tire cleaner with no such luck. Every auto parts store, auto department of a department store, and every auto isle of any kind of store only has cleaner/protectants as a single product.

To get truly shiny tires... and I mean ones that look like someone "licked" your tires (as my wife says), you need to get all the dirt off first. Most people clean the tires with soap and water then hit them with Armor All.

This is not good enough. The product I use is Eagle One Tire Cleaner. This product does not put any kind of shine on your tires. It cleans them. And it is the best tire cleaner I know of. I have their largest bottle, and it is just about empty. I can’t find it anywhere, and will be trying to contact the manufacturer soon.

First clean the tire while washing the car with soap and water. To clean the tires themselves do this: quickly wet the tire, spray Eagle One cleaner all over the tire (it goes on looking blue/black, almost purple, then starts turning brown), use a brush to scrub around the tire, and finally hose it off. You will be impressed at the difference. In fact if you do it again you will still see it gets more dirt off. This product really can clean a tire.

It is very easy, but it is one extra step most people don’t take. The Armor All folks have a new version, Armor All Ultra Shine. And it does give an ultra shine. However, if you don’t clean your tires like I do, it will only look good the day you do it. By cleaning the tires with a proper tire cleaner the shine from the Armor All will last three to four times longer.

Tip #2. Use two rags to take off the wax. Put the wax on the usual way. Don’t wait until it comes to a full haze. Just before it hazes (it will look like it is starting to dry) take the first rag and give the area a quick wipe down. Then use the second rag to buff it to a shine. Do not mix up the rags. Once you have decided which is the first, always use it first.

This tip does two things. 1) It gets a fair amount of the wax off the car that would have turned to dust if you let it come to a haze. 2) It will make buffing much easier, since the second rag will have minimal wax buildup that slows the buffing process and increases the dust.

Tip #3. Always do the windows last. This one is a little obvious, but no one ever tells it. Also, never roll down the windows the day you wash the car. Water is trapped in the doors when you clean the car, and you will just put water streaks and spots on the windows when you roll them back up. Wait until the next day to roll the windows down.

Those are my unique tips to car detailing. I am sure there are thousands of tips out there, but these are mine, and I give them to you.