TECH TIP Technical Index

Cleaning and Detailing
Your VW Ė Article #3

by Mike C. -

Now you stand back and look at what youíve done so far. Missed any spots? Nooo, youíre so good that you could wash your VW in the dark with sunglasses on and still not miss anything, right? Thatís what I thought! Wow, itís beginning to look like something. Itís time to get out the wax and rags, and get to work on the shine-up. This is where all the hard work starts to pay off. You will need the following items:

Pre-Wax Cleaner

Auto Wax

Soft Terrycloth

Round Wax Applicators


Tire Shine

Clay Bars (Optional)


Evaluate Your Paint

First of all, get a real close look at your paint. How dull is it? If you know it hasnít been waxed in 10 years and there are small rust spots all over or there are several chips that have already gotten the finish, you probably will not be able to save the paint. If you turned your sponge or wash rag the color of the car during washing, you may already be at the repainting stage, but maybe not. If there is a slight haze or just a few spots, or just some faint hairline scratches, you are probably alright. If you see a scratch that looks the worse for wear, run your fingernail across it. If your fingernail catches, the scratch is deep enough that you will not get it out without causing more damage to the surrounding paint.

What type of paint is it?

If you know who painted your car, you can pretty easily find out. Older finishes will be single-stage(color top coat only) lacquer or acrylic enamel. Newer finishes will usually be single-stage urethane or two-stage (basecoat/clearcoat) urethane enamels. The acrylic lacquer and enamels tend to be easier to polish and wax than the urethane paints. Urethane paints are much harder at the surface and require more effort as a result, but they weather better than the older paints. Some old enamels that are otherwise in good condition (original German paints, for example) will "chalk up." This chalkiness can often be removed with a good cleaner/wax and look really spectacular until they chalk up again in a few weeks. Use clay bars on the new clearcoated paints, where the clear coat doesnít oxidize much, but starts to feel "gritty" when you run your fingers lightly over the finish. You can also use the clay on well-kept single-stage paints. These bars really make the surface silky smooth and easy to wax. If there are water spots or light haze, use the pre-wax cleaner like you do regular wax, which I will describe below. This will also smooth the surface and remove swirl marks, as well. If you garage your beloved VW and have stayed on top of the paint for years, maybe all you need is just a good coat of wax. Use the Q-tips to apply cleaner or wax in and around lettering and trim that is not practically or easily removed.

Start with the roof.

Get a round applicator and dampen it with water. Squirt some wax or cleaner on it and start applying. Some instructions say apply in a swirl pattern. Others say to wipe it in long, straight strokes. Either way, follow the directions on the bottle or can. They are usually right. If the applicator gets loaded with oxidized paint, turn it over and use the other side. Let the wax or cleaner dry a few minutes and then take the terry cloths and wipe all the stuff off. If you arenít satisfied with what the first coat did, put on a second and repeat until you are happy. Donít worry about buildup of wax. Contrary to popular belief, wax wonít build up the more coats you apply. The topmost coat strips the layer underneath every time. It only gets shinier because you are removing more of the oxidation that dulls the finish. By the way, be careful how and where you apply the wax. Donít go overboard with a thick application, or you will just have a harder time removing it all, and there will be a lot more mess. Go slowly around rubber or flat paint or you will stain it and wax will not remove easily from either of these.

Do one section of the car at a time. If you are waxing in the sun (again, something I donít recommend) then do the job in even smaller sections and donít let the wax dry for too long or it could actually stain the paint. It is always better to let the paint cool to the touch before waxing.

How about those bugs that were left from the wash?

Remove them with a good cleaner/wax. Small tar stains also come off easily with the cleaner/wax.

What about the other things?

Wax the glass? You canít hurt it, and it keeps dirt from sticking to it. Careful around the black trim! Chrome? Definitely, unless it is rusted through. I wax paint, chrome-plated steel, glass, plastic taillights, and headlights. When you wax the taillights, try not to get too much wax in the lettering around the lenses, as this wax is hard to remove and takes away from the "detailed" look. A delicate touch with a toothbrush will get the wax out of the lettering.


After you get through with the body, take some tire dressing and apply it to your tires. If you have a spray can, try to keep as much off the rims as possible. If you go non-aerosol, get an old rag and soak it with the dressing and apply it with the rag. Now wax your rims. This way, any overspray or drips get wiped off with the wax and the wheels/tires look really keen. If you want to get trick, take some dressing on the old rag and apply it to the rubber trim around the windows and bumper brackets, being careful not to get any on the paint or glass. This stuff will deepen the look of the trim and make it look new and will help keep it looking new. The downside to doing this is that when it rains or when you wash the car next time, the dressing will wash off the trim and get on the glass and streak it. You might want to ask Lester Goldsmith how he does his, as I have never seen his glass streaked with the dressing and he applies it almost daily.

Wrap Up

Most waxes and dressings are far better today and will do a very good job compared to the ones years ago. There was a time the brand made a real difference in ease of use and final finish, but that is not as much the case anymore. Paint technology is also light-years better than before. I still personally like to use Meguiarís waxes, especially their car cleaner/wax. I do my tires with Armor All Detailerís Choice. I personally donít like the new tire gels that are available. They just donít seem to look right. For show, I like to use a resin glaze or show-car glaze to hide swirl marks. It makes the paint look absolutely wet. Whatever floats your boat and you know you get good results out of a particular product, by all means, use it. Your VW will love you for it. Most cars will run faster after a good wax job, anyhow! At least you will feel better about having a clean VW to drive, knowing you did it yourself. Keep on shininí!

See ya at the next meeting!

Your VW maniac and Tech Specialist,
Mike C.