Car-Care 101

SEMA News—July 2013

BUSINESS
By Chad Simon

Car-Care 101

Evolving Trends and Modern Technology Keep Product Manufacturers on Their Toes

 

Matte finishes have always been prevalent on rat rods, including this ’47 Dodge Business Coupe. However, there are few products on the market specifically designed to care for them.
Matte finishes have always been prevalent on rat rods, including this ’47 Dodge Business Coupe. However, there are few products on the market specifically designed to care for them.

   

Anyone who has ever walked into a retail store knows that the number of car-care options available can be overwhelming, even to the most hardcore car guy. It’s not much easier for the product manufacturer, either. Paints are getting harder and more durable, so car-care developers have to reformulate their products to keep up with constantly evolving technology.

Car care encompasses a wide range of surfaces, from paint to wheels and tires. Each offers several material options, such as clear coat vs. matte and chrome vs. aluminum. There are literally hundreds of products specifically designed for each type of surface. To choose the best product for the job, it’s crucial that consumers and professional detailers know the makeup and condition of the surface they’re working on. Big bucks have been spent customizing the vehicles, so products to enhance and maintain their appearance must function without causing damage. To help ease the burden and keep your customers coming back, experts recommend that retailers educate them and stay on top of evolving trends.

New Matte Finishes Create New Challenges

More finish options are available today than ever before, said Ron Fausnight, research and development manager for Houston-based ITW Global Brands—the parent company of several brands that include Rain X and Black Magic. The base coat/clear coat, which was new 20 to 30 years ago, has become the traditional finish. Conversely, consumers with a lower-gloss, matte-type paint should understand that waxing transforms it into a high-gloss finish. A good-quality car wash will work on any finish, but avoid the low-gloss paint areas when waxing and use a detailer to touch it up, Fausnight suggested.

According to Robert Dipede, global business development sales and marketing manager for Los Angeles-based Shining Monkey, wraps and matte-finish paints are all the rage. Plasti dip—a spray-on rubber coating that changes the color of the car—is another surface covering that people are using. But there are few products on the market specifically formulated to clean matte-finish paint, matte vinyls and even printed vinyls.

The matte-finish trend has made a comeback from the old rat-rod days of the ’50s and ’60s, but it has spread to luxury vehicles this time, as inspired by Ken Block’s ’06 Mercedes-Benz CLS, according to Dipede. “It makes the car look more stealth,” he said. “People customize their cars to make them different. That’s part of what the whole matte look is about.”

The look also creates new opportunities for customizers, and new problems for detailers.

“We’ve developed products that help maintain, clean and protect all of those surfaces without causing the matte finish to look shiny or change color,” Dipede said. “It makes the surface look original by leaving an invisible barrier without adding shine. You can’t see the protective barrier, but you can feel it with your hand.”

Over the past 20 years or so, the car-care market has seen a general decline, partially because paint technology has improved drastically, according to Michael Pennington, director of training and consumer relations for Irvine, California-based Meguiar’s. Base-coat/clear-coat technology has slowed the aging process, which is why cars don’t need to be waxed as frequently. However, the market has flourished among enthusiasts.

“Car guys wax their cars on a monthly basis because they want to, not because they have to,” Pennington said. “They have an emotional connection; they take pride in their cars and they want to pamper them all the time because they consider their cars as extensions of themselves. The perception is, ‘I take care of my car; therefore, I take care of myself.’ A small percentage of the market is made up of enthusiasts, but they buy a tremendous amount of products.”

Overall longevity, durability, clearness, increased color options and shine have made paints look more vibrant. Despite their longevity, clear coats tend to scratch easily, but they don’t grind out and oxidize, unlike the early lacquers and enamels. Swirls, scratches and towel marks are now the number-one complaint. Because clear coats are sensitive to abrasion, yesterday’s products don’t necessarily work on today’s finishes, so enthusiasts must always choose products tailored to their finishes.

“We have a variety of products on the shelf designed for the finishes of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and we still make them,” Pennington said. “They might work on a new finish, but we have ones that are designed specifically for modern finishes. The abrasives are different and the formulations are different because they’re designed for scratch-sensitive clears.”

As for mattes, Meguiar’s carries products that work but are not specific to the finish, according to RJ de Vera, associate director of public relations and event marketing for Meguiar’s. “People want miracle solutions for matte that just don’t exist,” he said. “Once you get a big scratch on matte, you can’t do anything about it because you change the sheen of the actual clear coat when you use a compound and an abrasive to polish it out. You can get rid of the scratch, but then you’ll have a shiny spot.”

Keeping Up With Modern Finishes

 

Know what type of surface you’re working on. If you have a delicate finish, don’t use a regular wax. Instead, use a detailer or spray wax, which provides shine without being aggressive toward the finish.
Know what type of surface you’re working on. If you have a delicate finish, don’t use a regular wax. Instead, use a detailer or spray wax, which provides shine without being aggressive toward the finish.

   

In caring for modern clear coats, today’s waxes should contain mild polishing agents so that they are gentle and don’t cut into the paint, suggested John Nemec, who oversees new-product development and market research for ITW Global Brands.

To keep pace with these changes, Shining Monkey anticipates market trends by developing products three to five years out. The problem here, according to Dipede, is getting newly developed products to retail, because retailers tend to react slower to trends.

“We develop products that are growing with the trend, and retailers take a long time to react and get the products to the shelf because they’re so new,” Dipede said. “For example, we have a matte and vinyl cleaner we’re trying to launch in a few of the larger national chains. The retailers are hesitant because they don’t know how popular matte cars have become. They are out there, and there are no products on the market for them, so the problem is getting retailers to listen to what’s happening.”

Limit Confusion

There are hundreds of pre-waxes, cleaners, glazes, polishes and rubbing compounds on the shelf that all say the same thing, and it’s confusing to the consumer, according to Dipede.

“We try to explain to the average guy—because he doesn’t know the difference between a wax, a polish or a glaze—the different uses and how to apply them,” he said. “In our packaging, we tell consumers they don’t need to do three steps on their cars. If they want to, great, but they don’t have to, especially with modern finishes. As long as you have a good maintenance program, you’re using a good soap and you’re not going through no-touch car washes too often, the paint will last 15–20 years without looking weathered or torn.”

Andy Marocco, owner of Route 66 Speed Shop, suggested that manufacturers keep it simple. The company recently developed Rat Wax, which Marocco says is the first product on the market specifically designed to clean and protect rods and custom cars with flat, matte and satin paints.

“Consumers are inundated with decisions,” he said. “They don’t want several different products. They want one product that they can use on everything, including windows, seats and chrome. The key to connecting with consumers is to get out and talk to them and understand what they need. The market tells you where you should be, so it’s important to respond quickly to new trends.”

Right Tool, Right Technique

 

Using a drill-activated (DA) dual-action polisher system on this ’07 Porsche 911 TT will get rid of scratches and swirls that washing alone can’t remove.
Using a drill-activated (DA) dual-action polisher system on this ’07 Porsche 911 TT will get rid of scratches and swirls that washing alone can’t remove.

   

Education is key in Meguiar’s effort to build a relationship with the consumer. Pennington stressed teaching consumers about three key points: Evaluate the finish, choose the right products and use good technique.

“When you go to the doctor, he evaluates you and writes a prescription,” Pennington said. “It’s your responsibility to read the directions and follow them. What happens if you just start popping pills randomly? They don’t do the job, or you may die. Think of all the different brands of car care as medicine. If you don’t know what’s wrong with your vehicle, there’s no way you can choose the right products, and if you don’t follow the directions, you’re not going to get good results. The best way to get good results is to understand what you’re working on and where you want to go.”

When choosing the right product for paint, there are five steps consumers should follow: wash, clean, polish, protect and maintain. Every car needs to be washed frequently using quality microfiber towels and clean mitts, because if they don’t remove the dirt, it’s going to bond and get etched into the finish. According to Pennington, the majority of Americans use dishwashing liquid, and it works, but it strips the wax protection off. He compares it to using an all-purpose cleaner on your hands all the time. To stay ahead of the game, use a pH-balanced, non-detergent car wash designed for automotive finishes.

People often wash and wax their cars and consider it detailing, but Pennington believes they’re missing the boat. Surface prep, or cleaning, removes bonded contaminants and defects, including scratches, swirls, stains and fallout that washing can’t remove. Not everybody does this, even though it can easily be performed using a drill-activated dual-action polisher system with specialized microfiber pads.

“This is what makes a car look really good,” he said. “Think of it as exfoliating your skin. A lot of companies make compounds or clay products. Whether the surface is rough and you want to make it as smooth as glass, or you want to get rid of swirl marks, that’s where this is done.”

Polishing creates gloss and is an optional step, comparable to putting lotion on your skin. The next step is protection, similar to applying sunscreen, which slows down the effects of Mother Nature. The disconnect is that most people don’t know how to protect their vehicles, according to Pennington.

“They see swirls, so they wash and wax, which leaves them with protected swirls,” he said. “If you put sunscreen over grease and grime on your hands, you get protected grease and grime. Not to mention that the wax doesn’t work as well and it doesn’t wipe on or off as easily. If you’re evaluating your car for the first time, you need to wash, clay, compound, wax and maintain your car.”

Three to four months later, it’s time to reevaluate. The vehicle’s finish shouldn’t be rough and have swirls, so a wash and wax would be all that’s necessary.

“So you know how to care for your car now,” Pennington said. “You’ve used the right tools and you haven’t put scratches back into it. It’s like cleaning your house once per year or vacuuming every weekend. If it already looks good, you never need to do a deep clean.”

Matte care is slightly different, but always be critical with washing and drying, wax and protection, Pennington suggested. Don’t use cleaners (compounds and clay) or polish, because they are designed to take out swirls and scratches by leveling a little bit of paint. Never use an abrasive, and do all the work by hand. For protection, a non-
abrasive spray wax works best. For maintenance, quick detailers can be used.

Evaluating the finish and choosing the right product is just as important for wheel care. If you choose the wrong wheel cleaner, you can damage a set of wheels. Understand what you bought, the surfaces you’re working on and, more importantly, the types of brakes and suspension components you have, Pennington suggested. When you spray a wheel cleaner, it goes all the way through and hits all the components. For example, if you have chrome wheels with high-performance brakes, you would not use a chrome wheel cleaner because it’s aggressive. You would choose an aluminum wheel cleaner or the weakest and safest product from a pH-balance perspective. Whether you’re a detailer or a consumer, take the safest, least-aggressive method.

Developing Eco-Friendly Solutions

 

Know what type of surface you’re working on. If you have a delicate finish, don’t use a regular wax. Instead, use a detailer or spray wax, which provides shine without being aggressive toward the finish.
At the 2012 SEMA Show, LINE-X and West Coast Customs unveiled this customized ’13 Camaro 1SS Coupe dressed up in the LINE-X Body Armour spray-on protective coating. This unique coating presents another challenge and opportunity for the car-care industry.

   

Over the past decade, the push for developing “green” products across most industries has become a trend of its own, but the car-care industry has yet to fully embrace it. ITW Global Brands has reformulated its washes to ensure that they don’t contain any Prop. 65 components, which require companies to put a warning label on the bottle that informs consumers of potential cancer or birth defect risks. The company also uses organic compounds across its product line.

“These products are normally just as effective as traditional ones,” Fausnight said. “They may be a little more difficult and expensive to formulate, but usually you can get your performance to where you need to be and still be environmentally friendly. In the personal-care industry, there’s a real push for organic green products. We haven’t seen that so much in the automotive industry. Consumers are more concerned about performance and price. While they don’t want to harm the environment, it’s not their major motivation behind making a decision on what to buy.”

Shining Monkey’s Ken Block 360 product is 100% natural. “We don’t play it up in our marketing because, typically, environmentally friendly products in the automotive market do not sell,” Dipede said. “You’re trying to protect your car, which is treated with a chemical, with something that’s natural. For car people, I don’t think they see the correlation. The mentality is, ‘I have paint on my car; I want something that’s going to protect my paint. I don’t think this plant-based natural product is going to do the trick because it doesn’t have the stuff in it that it needs for my paint to be protected.’

“We’re not saying that’s our stance as a company. We want to try to save the environment as much as everyone else, and we try to come out with products that have an eco responsibility to them. But again, we have to listen to the consumer and ensure that we deliver products they will purchase. Right now, green products are not selling to car enthusiasts. If you talk about waterless car washes to anyone at a retail store, they’re not even going to want to listen to you because typically no one buys them.”

Meguiar’s has a different stance regarding the industry’s reaction to environmentally friendly products. Pennington believes that, while they can’t completely replace the traditional car wash, there’s a slight movement with rinseless and waterless car washes due to wastewater regulations enforced by various cities and towns and the fact that many apartment dwellers don’t have access to a hose. Also, certain regions prone to droughts impose water restrictions on their residents. These consumers are prime targets for marketing these products.

A waterless car wash is applied much like a spray detailer. It allows the user to remove dust and dirt from a car using several towels. A rinseless car wash uses about a gallon of water. According to Pennington, the DIY market is fairly new and is just coming on, but professional detailers have been doing it for years.

Paint is also heavily regulated, which is why many are now water-based instead of a traditional lacquer. Some companies still make earlier-generation products because they’re still being used on early-technology paint.

“As a trade person, pay attention to your town’s regulatory situations,” Pennington suggested. “Even some of the chemicals in detailers fall under volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations. Body shops have to follow city and state regulations on the VOCs they are allowed to have. We worked with Mothers to educate the California Air Resources Board on VOCs and come to a mutual agreement. Many of our products are VOC free, and some contain VOCs, so we’ve had to adjust some of our formulations.”

Future Trends

ITW Global Brands sees more customization, especially in Asia, where enthusiasts change the color of their vehicles with polymer film. “This is very niche, probably less than 10%, but they’re willing to pay for it, so it balances out,” Nemec said. “The other side is the convenience. We saw the evolution of paste wax, liquid wax and now spray wax. People want that waxing property, but they’re not willing to spend 2.5 hours outside waxing their vehicles.”

Dipede believes printed vinyls and unique graphics are starting to trend. “Multi-layered, almost sticker bombing your car, on both interiors and exteriors, is also happening,” he said. “We also see subtle modifications on the exterior with heavy modifications under the engine and powertrain. We’re trying to develop products that make the car look as original as possible from a gloss perspective inside and out. We don’t want our products to alter the surface as products have in the past, with the exception of our wax, polish and detail spray. These will give you a nice shine and texture.”

Though most people want quick results, there will always be those who want to spend hours pampering their vehicles.

“Oftentimes you see technology moving into simpler ways to remove scratches, apply wax, clean windows and solve problems, such as dirty wheels and water spots,” Pennington said. “That’s where the industry is headed—easier and faster. This invites more people into the hobby and shows them how easy it is.”

PPG’s Perspective on Paint Care

Fresh clear coats shouldn’t be waxed because they need to breathe, and wax actually creates a film or barrier, according to Chris Springer, refinish marketing applications specialist for PPG Automotive Refinish. Detail sprays are more effective. On custom finishes, Springer recommended using nothing.

“If you’re using multiple layers of clear coat or putting cover-up stripes or graphics or any type of artwork, that product will gas 60 to 90 days after the car has been painted,” he said.

Matte finishes are similar, and more matte care products are slowly being introduced, whereas gloss care has been a washed-out market for some time.

“Matte is more of a niche, and the OEMs are driving that,” Springer said. “They tell us that by 2015, almost every OEM will have a matte vehicle in its standard offerings. It’s a market that’s not flooded with care products, so when the matte finishes first came out, there were no care guidelines for them. For instance, if you rub too aggressively on a matte finish, you could raise the gloss. Some matte finishes are more durable than others. It could scratch if you don’t use a good-quality wash mitt.”

Springer acknowledged that he has been seeing matte finishes on modern cars for the past couple years at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and companies need to continue developing products that will help clean and protect mattes without creating shine.

“Most consumers are steered away from matte because of the preconceived notion that it’s going to be harder to care for, but honestly, it’s no harder to care for than a shined car,” he said.

PPG often works with aftermarket car-care companies to help them develop products for their new clear coats. “We welcome those relationships,” Springer said. “We have a full-functioning body shop in Westlake, Ohio, and those guys come in and test out their products on clear coats and other products that haven’t even hit the streets yet.”

PPG also develops product-selection guides for consumers that walk them through the entire process.

“Are you fixing a damaged vehicle, or are you doing a restoration on a custom vehicle?” he asked. “We have products tailored to those applications. The same rules apply to car-care finish companies. If I walk in and have this entire bank of Meguiar’s Gold Class in front of me, how do I choose what’s right for me? Help the consumer by providing information that calls out the product’s different uses.”

Springer believes old-school trends are coming back, including the big glitter glamour-style low-rider flakes. “You see it in the bike industry. Harley-Davidson is launching six PPG colors that are driven on that big old-school flake look. Guys are taking their grandma’s tablecloth and laying it on the hood of their car and spraying pearl through it and laying candy on top of it.”

One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is adhering to VOC compliance, according to Springer. Some companies had to convert from petroleum-based waxes to water-based, which he said is difficult to use on a finish that is more technologically advanced, harder and shinier.

Common Car-Care Terms

Carnauba is the hardest natural wax on the market. It comes from a palm tree that grows in Brazil. The leaves excrete wax to protect them from the sun and keep the plant from drying out. The leaves are harvested from the palm, and the wax is removed from the leaves and purified. Manufacturers add carnauba to synthetic waxes to add durability and protection; however, the higher the carnauba doesn’t necessarily mean better protection.

Polymer is a synthetic wax that provides better protection and longer durability than carnauba.

Hydrophobic means afraid of water. Wax makes the water want to get off the surface, making it bead. Beading doesn’t necessarily mean there’s wax protection. It just means there’s something on the surface. One part of the water molecule bonds to the glass, and the other is water repellent. The surface tension of the water holds it together.

Nanotechnology is good for making hydrophobic surfaces. A nano surface can reduce the contact between the water and surface itself. On a molecular level, the nanoparticles form little dots, almost like a bed of nails, where you’re pushing on the surface but you’re only touching on the points. This reduces the contact between the water and the surface and allows the water to bead up even higher.

 

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