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The AutoCon Guide to Show Car Shine (Step by Step)

By June 9, 2016How-To's

Here is the AutoCon complete professional car detailing step by step guide.


This process is proven and used by many car detailing professionals. This is the same process we use when detailing anything from a truck, to a daily driver, to a super car.

The graphic below presents the process in a very easy and straightforward step by step list. Keep reading past the graphic for more in depth text explaining each step in further detail. Here we go!


Now let’s look at each car detailing step in a little more detail



The first step in any car care project is always washing. Car washing removes the loose contaminants sitting on top of the finish. Dishwashing detergents are not recommended for this as they are formulated to strip everything, including wax protection, off the surface leaving it unprotected from the elements. Wash your vehicle using the 2 bucket method to avoid scratching your paint. The best way to wash your vehicle, is to start from top to bottom. If you decide an engine compartment detail is needed, do this first. Be sure to cover all electrical wiring in the engine compartment.



There are a few methods and techniques to drying your car, but we found that the following method works best. You can start off by drying the vehicle using an absorber. Absorbers are capable of drying your vehicle quickly and efficiently without scratching your vehicle’s paint surface. Another alternative to drying is to use micro-fiber towels designed specifically for drying. These towels have a different structure that help absorb water better. To get to those hard to reach areas, you may opt to dry your car using a blower or air compressor. It is also a good idea to use detailing spray with a high quality micro-fiber towel while drying to achieve full gloss and protection.



Washing only removes loose contaminants sitting on top of the finish. Surface prep removes stubborn/bonded above surface contaminants and sub-surface defects that washing cannot remove. It is absolutely critical to use a clay bar product or a gentle formulation to ensure a defect free lasting shine. You’ll know you need to clay your car by simply rubbing your finders along the paint surface. If it feels rough and like sandpaper than you definitely need to clay. If it’s smooth as glass than there is no need for it.

Clay the car using a good quality, clean and new clay bar. Make sure to use plenty of clay bar lubricant. Quick detailer works really well for this. Remember, you should also clay the windows, headlamps and tail lamps. Same thing goes for the door jambs. Be thorough. If you happen to accidentally drop the piece of clay on to the floor, discard it immediately. You do not want to run the risk of getting paint damage or added swirl marks from the contaminates that the clay picks up from being dropped on the floor.



Wipe each section you clay down to remove any leftover residue. A good idea is to further clean the paint of any residue with a post-clay sprits or quick detailer. Some people like to wash again after claying.



At this stage you must decide if the paint needs correction or swirl mark removal. For below surface defects like swirls, minor scratches, and oxidation use a clear coat safe compound. Simply roll your car out into the sun to see if the paint has any of these issues, if so it is important to use a clear coat safe compound to restore your paint. Furthermore, a dedicated Xenon or powerful LED detailer’s lamp comes in handy at this stage to help you see any imperfections in the paint and locate swirls.



It is important to note that ‘cleaning’ your surface with a clear coat safe compound is different from ‘polishing’ your paint. Cleaning refers to ridding the paint of swirls and defects while polishing is used to create added brilliance to your vehicle’s paint finish. In other words, pure polishes are specifically formulated to create high gloss. This is a great step to add depth and gloss to dark colored paints but not necessary on light colors like white and silver. If you decide paint correction is needed, this is the part where a dual action polisher comes out to play. Depending on the paint type and how much work it needs, you need to choose your polish compounds and buffing pads accordingly.



The next step is protection, which involves the application of a good quality wax. Waxes provide durable, long lasting protection against the harmful elements.  After the application of polish, an easy-to-use wax should be applied. For an even longer, lasting shine, a ‘top coat’ sealant may be applied after waxing. For a weekend-only car, or a show car, layering carnauba wax alone is fine. For a daily driver, paint sealant is best because it lasts much longer.



At some point during the process you need to clean and protect the interiors. A good idea is to do this while you wait for a wax layer to cure. A good vacuum and carpet shampoo can go a long way depending on how dirty the interior is. Use a good quality interior trim protectant that does not leave a sticky residue or is overly shiny.



Leather seats require care during the interior detailing stage. Use a high-quality leather cleaner, but spot-check for color fastness first. After the leather has been cleaned and has dried, finish it off with leather conditioner. Keep in mind that some leather conditioners don’t play well with vinyl or pleather. Identify what type of leather you have. Many times seats have sections of real leather along with sections of vinyl. If you have cloth seats, clean and protect accordingly.



For best results, a great idea is to remove the wheels and clean them inside out. After cleaning, you can use older detailing clay to prep the wheels. Note, never use that clay on paint again as it could potentially cause swirl marks and scratches. Using a polymer sealer for the wheels will help keep them clean longer. At this point you should also dress your tires.



For the windows, headlamps and tail lights you clayed earlier, you can now treat them with a good, non-abrasive sealer recommended for glass and shiny hard plastics. Using the right products will add UV protection, make the surface slick and help keep them clean from the weather, road grime and other contaminants.



Tiny details go a long way. Take the time to seal and wax the door jambs as well as the edges under the hood and trunk – the hidden areas you clayed. Sealing these hidden painted surfaces is a great idea as they will stay clean longer. Plus wax in these hidden areas lasts a long time. Using a rubber and plastic protectant for exterior trim is a good idea. Be careful not to get any on the paint.


  • Continued maintenance of any vehicle is necessary in keeping that lasting show car shine. Contaminants are constantly landing on our car finishes, attempting to bond to them.  If you ignore them, you will have a serious build up of bonded contaminants and a lot of work ahead of you. That’s where quick detailer sprays come into play – the missing link between washing and waxing.
  • Make sure not to cross-contaminate surfaces. Microfiber towels should not be mixed between products or surfaces – even after they have been washed. Also make sure you have plenty of them.
  • Use painter’s tape to mask off trim to avoid getting wax and sealant on it. Most waxes don’t play well with plastics and rubbers. This is specially useful if you are layering wax using an orbital buffer since you can’t be as precise around the edges as you can by hand.
  • An intensive detail job like this can take anywhere between 16-40 hours depending on whether paint correction is needed. Be patient and fall in love with the process. In the end, your vehicle will feel as good as when it was first purchased brand new.

That’s it! Follow these steps regularly and your car will look like a show car every day, and contaminants will never have time to undo your work. Good luck!