How to detail your car like a professional – Exterior

Home detailing is extremely rewarding. While you don’t have to get your hands dirty if you take your car to a professional, you also don’t experience the same feeling of pride and achievement once the job is done. Within this section we will take you through our step-by-step guides for detailing the exterior of your vehicle, so you can achieve a professional detailing finish.  You might also want to check out our interior detailing guide here.

Detailing the exterior of your car


A well-detailed exterior keeps your car in top condition all year round, which also shows that you take pride in your vehicle. From washing and waxing to maintaining your wheels and exterior trim, this section breaks down the essential steps you need to follow when detailing the outside of your car at home.

Washing your car

Washing and drying your car forms the basis of every exterior detailing job, whether you’re simply maintaining the vehicle or carrying out a more rigorous process. When a car is washed incorrectly, imperfections such as water spots, scratches, and swirls can develop on the paintwork.

Firstly, park your car in a shaded area and wait until it is cool to the touch. Prepare the vehicle for washing by gliding over the paintwork with a deep-pile terrycloth, as this will pick up small fibres that would otherwise be ground into the car’s surface. If your car is particularly dirty, you might also want to use a pre-wash degreaser, for instance Poorboys tar remover and pre-wash solution to help break up impurities like tar, sap, or bird droppings.

We recommend using the two-bucket method for washing your car: one should contain diluted car wash soap cleaner such as Carmour car shampoo, and the other water. Always wash your car with specialist car soap, not dish detergent, as this will strip layers off the paintwork and speed up the oxidation (rusting) process. Working from the top down, dip your cloth or sponge in the soapy water and clean a section of the car. Then, dip the cloth into the bucket containing water to clean it.

Throughout this process, you should work efficiently and thoroughly so that the soap does not dry on the paintwork. Once you have covered the length and breadth of the car, rinse with a hose (not on the spray setting) to eradicate the chance of any soap spots occurring. Finally, use a leather chamois cloth to dry.

Using a clay bar

A clay bar is used in the detailing process to remove any stubborn grime that remains after your car has been washed. Sometimes surface contaminants are virtually imperceptible, but using a clay bar produces a clear difference in the overall finish and shine of your paintwork. A clay bar is also a good way of prepping for an exterior polish or wax.

You can choose either a traditional clay bar or a liquid clay bar for this process. While a liquid clay bar will get the job done quicker, we recommend using a traditional clay bar for more effective results. If you do opt for a traditional bar, you will also need to spray some clay bar lubricant over your working area, as this creates a glossy surface to glide your clay over. Allow the clay to cover the areas of contamination, then wipe clean with a microfibre towel.

Polishing and waxing your car

The processes of polishing and waxing your car’s paintwork can make a huge difference to its overall appearance. Polishing is done to create a glossy look, while waxing is a protective measure. Remember that polishing should always be completed before waxing. At Autosessive we stock a range of car polishes and waxes that produce a professional finish.

You should only polish as and when required, usually during a full detail once or twice a year. We advise using a buffer for quality results, as this distributes pressure more evenly than a manual pad. A buffer also achieves optimal polishing results as you can change the speed depending on the different areas of the car you are working on.

Waxing helps to protect your car’s exterior from everyday weather conditions. Results from a single wax should typically last approximately eight weeks, however you can add multiple layers to prolong its effectiveness. Always remember to add a new protective coat before the last one runs out. A good tip for spotting when this is due is to look at how water runs off your paintwork: if the water pools instead of beads when it lands on your car, then it is time to apply another coat of wax.

To apply your wax, use an applicator pad and spread a thin layer of paste across the car’s surface. Move the pad in circular and up-and-down motions, ensuring that you spread it thinly and evenly throughout. Allow the wax the settle, and after approximately ten minutes proceed to buff off with a microfibre towel.

Cleaning car wheels

The appearance of your car wheels in one of the first things people will notice about your vehicle. For an effective detail, you should start by cleaning any obvious dirt from your rims with a wheel brush. You should then apply a wheel cleaner to remove any harsher grime that has gathered in hard-to-reach places. You can browse Autosessive’s full collection of wheel cleaners here. Leave the cleaner to take effect for one minute before brushing off.

You should also wash your tyres with a quality tyre cleaner as this will remove any ground-in dirt from the tread. Once they’re clean you can then apply a tyre dressing to create a professional finish. To achieve a high-gloss look, you should leave the dressing to soak in. Alternatively, wipe off with a cloth for a matte effect.

Your exterior detailing checklist

Below is a list of the things you will need to detail your car exterior effectively at home. Check your items off to make sure you’re not missing anything before you start.

▢ Polish and wax
▢ Clay Bar
▢ Clay Bar lubricant
▢ Buffer
▢ Car wash soap
▢ Deep-pile terry cloth
▢ Degreaser
▢ Hose
▢ Microfiber towel
▢ Sponge or cloth
▢ Chamois leather cloth
▢ Wheel brush
▢ Wheel cleaner
▢ Tyre cleaner
▢ Tyre dressing

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