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Unwanted Thanksgiving Gift, Part 1

Someone backed into my wife’s Audi over Thanksgiving weekend damaging the bumper cover and leaving a small dent and no note. Before taking it to the paint shop to get the entire bumper cover repainted, I thought I’d see how much I could correct with buffing, touch-up paint, and with a commonly available bumper repair kit.

This is a 2015 Audi A4 with Mythos Black Metallic paint.  Working with black paint is always a mixed bag: when the car is dirty, black hides a lot of imprefections. But when it’s clean, minor defects really stand out. Audi clear coat is pretty thick so you can usually be fairly aggressive when compounding surface scratches. What you initially see is a combination of paint transfer from the other car, scratches in the clear coat, scratches through the clear coat to the base coat, and scratches through the base coat to the plastic. Before starting, I always check that the paint isn’t cracked at the point of impact. If it is cracked, you might as well skip ahead and have the entire cover professionally painted as it will never look right with DIY repairs. This one isn’t cracked, so we’re moving ahead.

Thoroughly clean the area and see how much of the surface paint transfer you can remove with your thumbnail. You would be surprised how much you can move with just your thumb and a magic eraser.

My next step is to compound and polish.  I’m using Sonax 04 06 and Fine Abrasive Paste. I start by polishing the surrounding area, then switch to the 04  06 to take on the worst areas. I make a couple of passes, checking that I’m not building up too much heat, and then finish with a couple passes of polish. What I’m left with are mostly scratches through the clear coat and deep scratches through to the plastic (and the dent circled in red).

I’m going to have to sand and paint eventually, but since I never know when I’m going to have another day above freezing before April, I thought I’d see how well I can try to hide some of the damage with touch-up paint: Paging Dr. ColorChip.

I’m a huge fan of the good doctor, but long scrapes and deep gauges are not the intended application of this product.  I’m going to be putting the paint on thick and not blending it into the surface.  The goal is to mask the problem from five feet away, not create a perfect finish. I try a broad application using the squeegee to begin (and this I do try to blend with the magic elixir.) Then I dab paint to fill the deep gauges. The finished result isn’t bad, and if this were your typical commuter beater , I’d be tempted to stop there. But this car is remarkably ding-free for a three-year old car with 50,000 miles. So it’s on to the dent repair.

The dent is actually in a fairly accessible spot. By removing some interior trim in the trunk, I can easily reach it to press on it from the inside as I try to pull on it from the outside. Before I break out the PDR pry tools, I thought I’d see how far I can get using the glue-gun external puller that you can get from Amazon.

If your paint isn’t damaged (and your clear coat is strong) you can pull many dings from the outside using just a glue tab and a puller tool. It’s a little more complicated when the ding is more like a crease as is this one, but the idea is the same. You glue a little tab to the outside and apply pressure to pull it back into shape. This actually worked pretty well. I ran out of daylight, but got most of the dent out and now just have a scratch to deal with and a little bit of prying to do from the inside to get it flush again.

That’s it for part 1.  From five feet (and especially in low light) it looks presentable. The Scratch Wizard bumper  kit has been ordered and as soon as it arrives — and I have a day off when it’s above 60 degrees — I’ll see if it does a decent job of blending with the original paint. If not, then it’s off to the pros.

Workin’ at the Car Wash

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of the foam cannon. I’m always looking for new products to feature in the store and sometimes I end up on strange journeys — this has been one of them. Strange but good. It started with a desire for a better micro fiber towel and ended up with snowy foam (and who hasn’t said that before….)

I’ve always purchased the bag of micro fiber towels at Costco, but got to thinking there had to be a better option out there that wasn’t too expensive. That quest first took me first to Alibaba, where I quickly realized two things: 1. I don’t know enough about micro fiber to make an intelligent buying decision and 2. I don’t belong on Alibaba. If you want to buy a shipping container full of towels, that’s the place to be. To re-stock my shop, not so much.

So I turned to YouTube and found Pan the Organizer. Pan (I hope he doesn’t mind me using just his first name) has 170,000 subscribers who watch him detail cars. Since that’s 169,990 more subscribers than I have, I figured he must be doing something right so I started to watch some of his videos. That led me to discover The Rag Company. TRC has a vast selection of micro fiber towels for different uses, and a very informative website to help you choose what you need. (I met with them at SEMA last week and have set up an account so I can start selling their products in the store.)

Through Pan, I found many other videos reviewing various cannon, soaps, and pressure washers by other YouTubers. It seemed to me that many of them came to the conclusion that you had to spend a lot of money to get an expensive cannon and pressure washer. So I took that as a challenge: Could I get a good result for little money?

My research took me to find the Ryobi 1600 PSI Electric Pressure Washer which is about $100 at Home Depot, and the Twinkle Star Foam Cannon (yes, that’s really the name) on Amazon, which is about $25.

Armed with my low-cost rig, thought I’d try three different foaming soap products, representing three different price-points. At the high end is the one-two foamy punch of Griots Foaming Surface Wash ($49/gal) and Foaming Poly Gloss ($69/gal). Splitting the two is Adam’s Ultra Foam Shampoo ($59/gal). And as a control, I used Griot’s Brilliant Car Wash which I already had in the garage and is about $11/gal.

Since I’m washing the same car four times, I’m not going to find out how well the actually clean, but rather how well they foam. The idea behind foaming soaps is that by dwelling in their foamy goodness, they’ll lift and clean without the need for as much scrubbing which causes most paint defects. The more foam — the more lifting and lubricating. Or so that’s the sales pitch. Keeping in mind that you’ll also use more product and spend more on soap, you realize the manufacturer’s aren’t entirely altruistic.

For each of the soaps I used 2 oz of product mixed with 24 oz of warm water in the cannon. This is about half the recommended amount of soap from the manufacturers, but I figured it might give me a better idea of how each performs for someone trying to stretch their detailing dollar. I played with the two adjustments on the cannon (aperture opening and water volume) to maximize foam thickness for each product. The order of testing was Brilliant Finish Car Wash (control); followed by Adam’s Ultra Foam; then Griot’s Surface wash; and finally Griot’s Poly Gloss.

For each, I tried to capture three data points: 1. How thick was the foam when first applied? 2. How well did it cover the car once you got it on each surface? 3. How much remained on the car after 5 minutes of dwell time? That last test probably wasn’t a fair assessment.  By the fourth wash the car was so clean that I’m surprised any foam stuck to the surface so I may need to re-run that test with it on a dirty car each time. This first photo gives you some idea of how dirty the car was before the first wash.

Here’s the control (Brilliant Finish Car Wash).  This is normal, not too expensive, concentrated car shampoo. I usually put 2 oz of this stuff in a 5 gal bucket to wash a car. Any foamy soap should be better than this or it isn’t worth the extra cost.

It actually foamed better than expected. It provided good coverage, but was fairly dissipated within 5 minutes.  This is probably a good choice for a moderately dirty car that you know you’re going to wash with a wash mitt after this step anyway.

Next up was the Adam’s Ultra Foam Shampoo. I got several sample packets while at SEMA, plus a 20% off coupon (“GETSHINY” good through 11/15/18) so I was eager to try it out.

It had thick and snowy foam that provided good coverage and better dwell. Clearly a product that was better designed for this type of application. This is probably good enough for a maintenance wash without a wash mitt.

Griot’s Surface Wash. Griot’s took a lot of criticism for being slow to get into the foam market, but this is generally held as the gold standard.

This was the clear winner when it came to foamy goodness and coverage. Since I had used it before, I knew how well it normally performed in the dwell test, but because it dissipated so quickly, that got me to thinking that the test wasn’t as relevant on an otherwise clean car, something that was further demonstrated with the last product tested below. For a really dirty car, this is the best choice.

Finally: Griot’s Poly Gloss. Griot’s intends for this product to be used after the Surface Wash, so you really need to buy both.

Initial coverage was actually very similar to the much lower cost control. It does have a nice finish when dry, but not that different from using a hydrator or detailing spray while drying. I’ll have to do some more testing to see if this is really worth the extra cost compared to the other products.

So what did I learn from all this? Griot’s Surface Wash makes the best foam and smells like a piña colada. I think it will be a good choice for really dirty cars and winter applications given the salty roads around here. The Poly Gloss was a bit of a disappointment. It smells better than the Brilliant Finish Car Wash, but really didn’t perform that much better to justify the added expense. For this cannon and this pressure washer, I think Adam’s was the winner. I liked it so much I decided to buy some and was able to find a gallon on sale for less than $40.

Meet the Shadow

We didn’t expect to be in the car market so soon, but life tends to throw you curveballs every once in a while. We certainly got one last week when our daughter totaled her Jetta. Fortunately, she walked away with only a minor airbag burn, but the Jetta was a total loss. So we decided to get my wife a new car, and hand down the old one.

We were on our way to see a 2012 Audi when the dealership called to say it had sold already. Starting the search anew over lunch, we ended up at Rockville Audi. Alex, our salesman was a great guy, and took us on a tour to find the 2013 car we had seen in the ad. We didn’t find it (it was out for a test drive with its eventual owner) but we did find this 2015 CPO car with 27,000 miles. Amazingly it had only the features we wanted (nav, powered heated leather seats) and no extras. It had only been in service for 12 months but was only 58% of the new price. So we took it. We weren’t in the market for a black car, but this one is gorgeous.

When Alex was explaining how the car achieves maximum cooling, he mentioned that the car figures out the best combination of vents to use for maximum effect. When asked how it knows, he said it just knows. That’s when the name was born, because The Shadow knows.