Words: Don Cheng
Photography: Don Cheng
Published: May 31, 2016
As summer sixteen heats up, Canadian Auto Review has been busy gearing up for some pretty sizzling cars. With all that work going on, readers have asked if we had forgotten about Project 1. Fear not, as we have been busy with our first update. Something that transpired after coming home and seeing a particularly large piece of bird dropping on the trunk. As any enthusiast knows, taking care of your car stretches far beyond doing general maintenance work. While many may not be so inclined to modify their cars with go-fast bits – cue Brian O’Connor’s Nissan Skyline montage in Fast & Furious – most still care about making their ride look clean.
Weekend warriors are happy to attack the task of detailing their car. But automotive paint technology has changed so much in the last 50 years and Grandpa’s secret spit shine formula that worked on his Cadillac just won’t cut it on today’s vehicles. To demystify some of the voodoo magic behind automotive paint maintenance, we teamed up with Smart Detail in North York for a full makeover on Project 1. Joseph Helstab (owner) is an incredibly knowledgeable guy on all things related to auto detailing and the family has long been in the automotive industry.
A quick primer on the history of automotive paint (pun intended); in the past, the biggest challenge was the ability to create finish that can withstand the environment. Certain types of paint such as acrylic lacquers, while capable of creating beautiful metallic finishes, struggled in durability against harsh chemical solvents like gasoline. Repeated spills then would wreak havoc on the finish. Likewise, enamel based paints formed a very strong durable film against chemicals but was weak against the powerful UV rays of the sun and would fade (oftentimes within weeks of application).
The biggest advent in automotive paint technology is the Clearcoat: a clear Urethane based finish that goes on top of the pigmented paint underneath that protects the paint and gives it a nice gloss under sunlight. Thus, as you use your car, it accumulates dirt, dust, and contaminants. As you wash it away, it causes all of the contaminants to work like sandpaper, marring up the surface with very fine abrasions. As sunlight hits this finely scratched Clearcoat, it causes it to disperse unevenly in every direction.
The ultimate effect is a cloudy haze over the paint of the car. On Project 1, years of neglect has ruined the finish. After washes, the car still looks rather “dirty”, and the black hue isn’t as deep anymore.
The cure for any weekend warrior is to wax and polish the car. These products only temporarily restore the finish however.
“But it’s 2016, and we have the technology to make this entire process easier for everybody,” says Joseph. He’s an authorized dealer and installer of the Optimum Car Care line, a company founded by Dr. David Ghodoussi – an organic and polymer chemist. Smart Detail uses Optimum’s entire line of car care products infused with advanced chemical know-how to detail his customer’s cars. “It’s not just detailing, it’s Smart Detailing,” he says.
The hot topic that’s shaken up the detailing industry over the last few years has been the advent of silicon based protective coatings. Think of it like a second Clearcoat, only stronger and more durable. There are many on the market right now: Ceramic Coat, CQuartz, Glass Coat, and Optimum’s solution, Opti-Coat Pro and Opti-Coat Pro Plus.
The majority of products on the market are variations of a standard formula. A percentage of silicon dioxide (more commonly known as “ceramic”) is suspended in a nano-particle resin that sits atop the Clearcoat. Optimum’s solution is a bit more scientific: they use a silicon carbide compound (typically used in gem quality diamond simulants) that is formed when their product chemically bonds with the Clearcoat of the car.
The result? A hydrophobic, harder coating that lasts longer as it becomes “one” with the paint (like in Avatar when the humans meld minds with the Na’vi). This translates into a car that’s easier to clean, and a super glossy coating that doesn’t fade over the lifetime of the product. So strong is Optimum’s product that they warrant it from fading up to 7 years from the date of application – by a certified Opti-Coat technician of course.
To experience everything first hand, we had Smart Detail dress Project 1 to the nines and apply Opti-Coat.
The process begins with a quick hand wash of the vehicle. We took full advantage of Joseph’s offer and brought the car in looking as filthy as possible. The wheels are addressed first with a wash and cleanse with a large fluffy brush. The next step is a full hand washing of the vehicle itself using a special Optimum No Rinse Wash Solution. The product doesn’t create any soap suds (yet cleans just as well, if not better) thus eliminating the need to wash potentially environmentally harmful soap suds down the storm drain.
After towelling off the car – an integral step to avoid the formation of water spots on the paint – paint correction begins. Joseph painstakingly goes through every panel of the car decontaminating the surface, before matching a compounding agent with the right pad to cut the Clearcoat. This step is what makes paint correction different from your weekend regiment of wax and polish. While wax fills in the fine scratches and polish brings out the shine, paint correction involves grinding down a microscopic layer of Clearcoat to even out the surface. Using massive floodlights, each panel is lit up to reveal all possible scratches.
The overall process can take days depending on the quality of finish the customer wants.
He taped off a portion of the hood to showcase a 50/50 split of just what the difference is before and after a paint correction. Simply put, the results are staggering. The swirls are gone, and the surface was completely reflective. So much so in fact, the camera struggled to focus.
The final step of the process is the actual application of the product. I was bewildered to know that it takes a tiny amount to coat the entire car. Bottled in a syringe, a few squirts were all that was needed to coat entire panels of the car. The bonding takes place almost immediately and you can see the Opti-Coat flash over the paint as it begins the curing process. Speaking of curing, the process takes 7 days to fully cure. To minimize downtime, a top coat is applied protecting the car while the Opti-Coat finishes curing. Thus within 24 hours, the car went from a shoddy looking mess to an almost brand new shine. Incredible.
Maintenance becomes a cinch too. The harder more resistant coating means less scratches from wiping down the car with a microfiber cloth, and for the lazy enthusiast, fewer washes in general. After a few weeks with the coating on the car, I only had to wash it once, and when I did, the hydrophobic coating whisked water off the surface like a dry-fit shirt. It was magnificent, I firmly believe I could literally dry the entire car with a hair dryer.
With all of this new fangled technology making long car washes a thing of the past, I can’t help but ask Joseph how this might affect the lifetime value of his customers. To this he says, “It’s true it hurts the CLV a bit, but at Smart Detail we’re about more than just detailing. We care about the cars, and it’s worth it to see a super happy customer”.
Photo Gallery (Before):
Photo Gallery (After):