Friday, December 18, 2009

Auto Detailing: Mirror Finish

My wife calls it OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and gives me no end as to why I don't treat her like I do the car.  I replied "the car is for you to drive with pride and you can take care of yourself but the car can't take care of itself and OCD is Obsessive Car Detailing!"


Wet sanding and using a rotary buffer needs skill and experience in order not to damage you paint.

You may have seen many pictures of cars after being detailed on the web with jaw dropping looks. There are also many people claiming to have developed products that give you a mirror finish on your paint. The reality is that the finish that you have is basically as good as your paint condition. The color will also affect the quality of the image reflected. The darker the color the more reflective or mirror like image you will have. Black will the the choice of color for the best effect.

So what's stopping us from having a mirror finish on our cars? Well its something known as "orange peel" effect. The waviness of the surface does not allow for a mirror like finish. Most of the cars that roll out from the factory has some degree of orange peel. Even the most expensive cars that roll out from the factory has some degree of orange peel. So how do you get an orange peel free car? Well its almost impossible to get a 100% orange peel free but you will get pretty close. But you can get very close to it if you are willing to spend the money and your painter has the skill to do it. Basically to get a perfect finish you need to sand each layer of paint flat and every layer of clear coat flat. Then you would have to sand your final layer of clear coat flat as well.

How did I get the mirror finish on my 1997 Honda Civic? Well the car was repainted fully and was fixed (rear, accident) for RM1800 or ~USD500. Yes that's a super cheap paint job including the cost of fixing the accident. Well you wouldn't expect a flawless finish with that kind of price would you. That was all that I had budget for. Anyway no use in having such a perfect paint job as the car will be daily driven and will be parked everywhere, going to school, shopping malls etc.

Once I got the car back from the painter these are the steps that I took to get a mirror finish. There are other smaller steps involved like masking the car, how to actually wet sand which I will not go into detail as it is too long.

1. I used a 2000 grit sand paper and started sanding away at the paint. For those who don't know. Yes you are sanding the paint! It will look like the paint has been destroyed. Just take an old unwanted cd and just sand it with 2000 grit sand papepr until it becomes blur. Yes that is how your car will look. I did it in the house and when my wife and kids saw the car they said you have spoiled a newly painted car! An example of a video can be found below.

2. Once you have finished wet sanding the car. The next step is to use a rotary polisher/buffer. Why a rotary? Because doing it by hand, orbital buffer or dual action buffer/polisher will not work as it is not aggressive enough to remove and polish the sanded clear coat.

What I used was a rotary buffer with a wool pad and the choice of compound was Osren Crystal Cut 3.0. You can use any brand you like as long as it works for the type of clear coat that you have as some clear coats are harder than others. Obviously different brands and type of compounds will work differently with different foam pads and wool pad combinations. So that is your choice and what works well with your clear coat. I used a wool pad and Osren Crystal Cut 3.0 as it cuts fast to bring the shine back with minimal swirl and compounding scratches.

3. Polishing, removing swirls and compounding scratches. In this step I used the rotary buffer with a black fine finishing foam pad and Osren Crystal Cut 3.0 as the choice of polish. Yes for those who are experienced, my cutting/compounding agent is the same as my polishing agent. The only difference is the pad. That's why I chose to use Osren Crystal Cut 3.0 as it is a really good product which does compound cutting and polishing. But the trick is that you have to be good at using the rotary buffer in order not to add any scratches and swirls, your choice of foam pad has to be fine and soft. Once you have finished the step you would have noticed by now you would have a mirror like finish!

So what gives you the mirror like finish? Yes you got it, wet sanding, cutting/compounding and polishing. Its NOT the PRODUCT! Its the skill and the proper techniques in wet sanding and using a rotary buffer/polisher properly that will give you the mirror finish. The choice of products and pad combination is really up to you and are limitless. So no product that I have seen can give you a mirror like finish. It can help you get it but it will never be close to a mirror like image because the orange peel is still there and what you need is a smooth surface and not an orange peel surface. Can you image the mirror in your house is wavy and has an orange peel effect? Will any product make it look like a regular mirror? Well I doubt it.

4. You finally have your mirror finish and you are amazed by it. Now you have a mirror finish which is unprotected. So this step is all about your LSP product or Last Step Product. Here again it really comes down to personal preference. You may like to take the natural route of using carnauba. Or you would like to take the synthetic route. It really is up to you.

Here is my opinion. If you think about it for a second you have a mirror finish. You would want to protect that finish as much as you can from evil and deadly bird droppings, tar spots, unidentified stains which appear from god knows where acid rain etc. So logically synthetic wold be the wiser choice and the synthetics outlast and protects better than the natural carnauba. Unless your car is going to be a show car or a weekend car or a "perfect weather" car than carnauba will do just fine. But mine its going everywhere and everyday so carnauba ain't going to cut it. I did try carnauba and other synthetics on my car but it didn't make the reflection any better, just the color was deeper. That also tells me that what I'm looking for in a product now was durability and not a "mirror effect" as the stuff I tried didn't make it any better than it already was. Just to name a few, I did try Meguiars Klasse, Turtle Wax, Eagle 1. I tried from carnauba to polymers, to resins to acrylics. All more or less faired the same in terms of making the surface more reflective. Ask yourself this question. Can you really make your mirror shine more? So my goal was to look for durability and looks came second.

My choice of sealant is a new player in the sealant game Pompanazzi 880-X. Quartz crystal SiO2 with a hardness of 9H. This product is NOT for everyone as it takes a hell of a long time to fully cure! 7 to 10 days! Best if the coating does not come into contact with water for the first 3 days. Trying doing that in an Asian country during the raining monsoon season!
Well what I did was to buy 20mls. 20mls is plenty. Believe me! So what I did was to first apply 10mls. This is a 2 part mixture product. 1st is the active ingredient 2nd is the hardener. After mixing up my first batch of 10 mls. I started to apply in very thin coats. How thin? One dap from the bottle on a very fine micro fiber cloth is enough to coat 1/4 of the bonnet of the Civic! Now you know why 20mls is plenty. With 10mls I could coat the car 3 times over.

I applied the first coat then let to dry then buff to a shine. Then wait for a while then the 2nd coat then the 3rd. You cannot allow it to dry completely, if it does, the part which is took thick you will not be able to remove it unless you compound it off! That is how hard this stuff is. For the users who have used Klasse High Gloss Sealant. If you think removing that was difficult you don't want to let the quartz stuff fully dry before you buff. Yes! You would have to compound or polish it off! Then you would have to start all over again. So after 10mls I let cure for 10 days. Then same goes for the 2nd and final 10mls. You can watch this video of applying it here:

After letting the full 20ml or about 6 coats fully cure. The feeling of the the product is just unbelievable. Regular 2K or 2 coat paint systems usually have this plastic acrylic feel to it. But once this Pompanazzi 880-X quartz stuff fully cures it does really feel hard and smooth, more like real glass. Well the shine? This is the only product currently I have tried which has brought the shine one step further. The reflection looks much sharper, more crisp and the colors of the reflection looks much more richer. Brings the mirror finish closer to a true mirror finish. Not to mention the surface feels much more like glass and is hydrophobic as well.

In my opinion an excellent product and best product I have used so far, provided you can bear with the curing times and the application procedure.

5. Finish off with a Quick Detailer of my own formulation for everyday maintenance of the mirror finish after washing the car. The Pompanazzi 880-X quartz coating is suppose to last 2-3 years and life time with maintenance. Well I want my mirror image to last a life time so I decided to add a weekly or biweekly sacrificial layer on top of the Pompanazzi 880-X. Moreover my formulation is also hydrophobic and it adds slickness to the Pompanazzi 880-X (which it doesn't really have) which will help reduce scratches to my mirror finish even though the coating is claimed to be 9H hardness it still can be scratched easily in the "real world" with everyday driving. Below is the video of my car and its hydrophobic / water beading or water sheeting effect.

Here are some pictures of my car. The products used in the pictures are only used to illustrate the mirror finish effect and I am in no way directly or indirectly promoting or endorsing any of the products being displayed.

Image below are from the roof.


Image from the bonnet.

Image from the boot lid.