My great aunt Edna is the just-so lady -- "A place for everything and everything in its place." Her home in Pasadena might be a historical museum; everything is so perfectly arranged and spotless. Not so the Kelly house -- not even the Kelly driveway. Edna came down for Thanksgiving in her new BMW convertible, and three days under the bottlebrush trees took their toll. Not to mention the thousands of greasy little fingerprints on the windows left by children eager to press against the glass and peer at the dashboard. She took it well, but I felt badly. Aunt Edna has always been generous with us, so I resolved to indulge her a bit and ordered up an early Christmas gift -- a proper detailing for her new speedster."We've been doing this for 24 years," said Steve Oropallo at Detail Works, Inc. (858-689-8989; www.detailworks.com ) in Miramar. "We know the tricks of the trade. Things like, 'Don't spray cleaners on the windows because you can blow out the switch for a power window.' 'Don't get liquid near the dash because if you get a drop behind it, you'll never get it out without taking the whole thing apart.' We know that you have to pay attention to literally every square inch of a car, down to the blinker switches and the buttons on the stereo. That's why detailing a regular-sized sedan takes six to ten hours. We definitely do it differently than most anybody else."
Prices range from $200 for an average sedan to $350 for an SUV and can vary depending on the color. "A black car starts at $255 . "Black shows everything. You see black cars driving down the road, and it looks like somebody washed them with a dirty sock. That's why you have to take your time."
When a car arrives at Detail Works, "the first thing we do is mask off all the molding, the door handles, the windshield wipers and squirters -- anything that we don't want to melt or to burnish compounds into. A Mercedes might have anodized molding, for example -- we don't want to ruin the shiny black look. Then we give the car a sponge bath, to get any dirt off. After that, we spray the car with a lubricant and rub the whole thing down with clay. If you touch a car and the paint feels rough, it's from particles on top of the paint. The clay grabs anything like that -- things like overspray from paint or tiny metal particles that might be in the air from industry. These particles stick to your car, and over time, if they sit long enough [they can do damage]. You might see a white car turn brownish."
After the clay, the car is slightly scuffed and ready for buffing. "It's a four-step process for us. First, we use a high-speed circular buffer with a wool pad. That removes water spots and takes scratches out of the clear coat -- the shiny layer on top of the paint. But it also leaves swirl marks on the car. So then we buff those out with a foam pad that takes off a microscopic layer of the paint, making it more level with itself." The foam, however, leaves "ribbon marks -- the paint still
doesn't look like a mirror. So we switch to an orbital buffer, which levels it out that much more and gives it that mirror finish."
Back to washing, with an eye toward scraping any waxes or compounds out of the car's various cracks and jambs. "Then we do the wheels, wheel wells, and engine. We'll use degreasing agents and pressurized hot water to clean the top, and if the customer wants, we can lift the car and do the bottom, along with the whole undercarriage. We usually do that when the customer is looking for leaks. Then a mechanic can put in a dye and find the leak source. It saves them from replacing parts they don't need to replace."
From under the hood to inside the doors: "We have the technology to clean any interior, even suede. Most floors just need a thorough vacuuming and a shampoo. If we run into something like gum or tar, we have products to break them down. Finally, we go through with a machine that shoots hot, chemically treated water into the carpet and then sucks it back out." Vents get pressurized air. "If there's a build-up of grime, we use baker's basting brushes."
"One of the hardest things to clean," said Oropallo, "is the headliner. It's basically a sheet of cardboard with felt or cloth glued onto it. If you get it too wet, it will sag or you'll leave a watermark. We do what I call a wet-dry clean -- it's very labor intensive, working by hand on small areas at a time."
Lately, he noted, "we've received a lot of cars that are just totally smoked out from the fires. That means a lot of smoke-odor removal. We use enzymes that eliminate odor by eating the organic material inside the car. Then we pump the car full of ozone, and it soaks into the whole interior" and breaks down odorous compounds into nonodorous elements. "It really knocks the smoke out."
Finally, the detailer "uses an air hose to blow every crack and crevice dry, so there's no water left on the car to leave spots. We dress the trim [areas] with a UV-protective coat that gives them a shine -- things like the wipers, the molding, the license-plate frame. And then we wax -- that's the fourth step in the exterior cleaning. We're careful not to leave any wax in the cracks -- a lot of shops will leave it because they're afraid of scratching the car. Wax protects the paint from the elements. For ultimate protection, you should wax quarterly."
Though Oropallo does a lot of his work on high-end cars -- Ferraris and Astin-Martins -- he noted that "every car has french fries in the seats -- and pennies."