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Detailing Work

Updated 30 Oct 2010

When I bought my first 996 in Basalt Black Metallic it was in really good shape generally speaking but the paintwork being black showed up swirl marks quite badly in bright sunlight or halogen light. From 5 ft away it looked great but up close it didn't look good at all. Years of 'normal' washing had left their impression - but I knew this could be fixed. I'm no paint whip by any means at all but I have seen others do remarkable things with paint. I have tended to shy away from dealing with paint problems in the past in case I make them worse. However with this car (02 996) I decided to figure out how to do it properly. So I did a bunch of research and took my time (lots of it), I used a tentative approach and I invested in a variety of paint polishes and other products and in the end it all worked out really well. To be honest I am amazed at how well many paints can be made to look really good from a really bad starting point.



I had done some homework on paint correction and detailing but have always been a bit weary of the idea of taking to my Porsche with a power tool and an abrasive polish. However in the end I saw some good results being obtained by amateurs who were using the right equipment with the right products and the right techniques so I thought I would give it a go. That being said I wasn't prepared to have at the 911 right away. I had an old rover that I used for my very first attempts and then I started working on a spare 996 engine lid that was painted in the same paint as my car. My logic being that any gross mistakes on the Rover didn't really matter but at the same time the Rover paint characteristics are different from those of my 996 so it was important to have a 996 panel and paint to work on too - but since it was a spare it didn't really matter if I messed it up either. In fact it would be an opportunity to see just how much I could over do it before I would damage the paint. In the end I never did - even though I progressively started from very light polishes and soft pads all the way up to multiple passes of aggressive compounds on firm pads.

There in lies the basic secret - when working the paint, you start with a light combination and try it to see if it corrects the paint appropriately, if not you increase the aggressiveness of the pad or polish another notch and try again until you find the combination that just manages to correct the defect. This approach is the safe way to eliminate the defect without removing any more clear coat than is necessary.

So here's some basics.

With our 996's we are dealing with a paint system which comprises a colour coat overlaid with a clear coat.

Common washing practises are pretty bad and trapped grit which gets picked up off the car abrades the clear coat surface to produce swirl marks like in the pic above which are ultra fine scratches.

In the detailing world the terminology for the next level of scratches is "Random Deep Scratches" or RDS These are scratches in the clear coat which are still pretty well all over the car but they are deeper than swirl marks and they tend not to be quite so circular as swirl marks. These are the marks that can still be seen when you have polished the paint just enough to remove the swirl marks. Essentially these marks can still be eliminated but will require more aggressive compounds to do so.

Lastly there are the real deep scratches that penetrate right through the clear coat into the colour coat - these can only be treated by re-spraying.

Power tools for doing this work include rotary polishers (like big angle grinders) and dual action (DA) polishers. Rotaries work faster but tend to be used more by professionals because they can also harm the paint faster if your not careful. DA polishers tend to be a bit slower but more forgiving and suitable for non professionals.

Polishes come in a variety of grades from light paint cleansers through to swirl removers, polishes and compounds (each increasing in aggressiveness)

In addition to this the pads used on the power tool to apply the polish vary in firmness. Finishing pads are soft and used with finishing grade polishers or paint cleansers, then there are polishing pads which are medium firm and used with medium grade polishes and then there are compounding pads used with compound grade polishes to aggressively cut. Having said this though, it is common practise to use a stepped approach to increase the aggressiveness a little bit at a time ie something along these lines:

step 1 finishing pad and finishing polish

Step 2 finishing pad and light polish

Step 3 polishing pad and light polish

step 4 polishing pad and medium grade polish

Step 5 Compounding pad and medium polish

Step 6 Compounding pad and compounding polish

As you can imagine each step is a bit more aggressive than the last.

You would try these steps on a small portion of the car until you found the combination that eliminated the swirl marks and random deep scratches and then you would use that combination to go over the entire car (assuming the entire car paint was in a similar condition)

Since you can't always rely on having bright sunlight when you need it, it is very helpful to have some bright halogen lamps that can shine on the paintwork to highlight the flaws whilst your working on them. You also only work a square foot or two at a time and mask off things than don't need to be polished - not only to keep the polish of them but also to stop the polisher dislodging any dirt trapped in the crevices and then rubbing that into the paint.

Hence before starting polishing it is important to thoroughly wash the car. I pressure wash it, to remove coarse dirt and then I may snow foam it to soften and lift the grime type dirt and then I go ahead and wash it using a two bucket method (google it), Prior to doing a paint correction (ie eliminating swirl marks & defects) it is necessary to clay the car, this will remove waxes and bonded contaminants. Claying the car is nothing more than rubbing it over with a  small disc of flattened clay lubricated with water or a detailing spray. If you have never clayed a car before you will be amazed at what a difference it makes. After properly washing the car run your hand over the surface and you will feel a certain amount of roughness. You then clay the car and rinse it off and feel that same area again and it will feel glass smooth. By claying it you have removed the bonded contaminants that would have come loose and acted like abrasive agents if you had gone straight to polishing. During the washing and polishing process it is very important to keep your washing and polishing pads, cloths etc free of dirt and grit which could introduce more scratches while your using them.



Snow foamed prior to washing

Here I have masked off the sunroof and polished it free of defects so the swirl marks on the adjacent portion of the roof provide a good before & after shot.

Above - This is what it should look like once swirl marks & RDS are eliminated






Products I used -

Car wash - I like zymol

Snow foam - I just used what came with the snow foam lance that I purchased.

Clay bar - Auto glym (no real preference), Lube - Dodo Juice Born Slippy (very popular)

I used two main polish product ranges - Meguires (Swirl remover / speed glaze / Dual Action Cleaner Polish) and 

Menzerna I bought their sample pack. The sampler kit contains the following in 250ml sizes:

- Menzerna Power Gloss S 100
- Menzerna Power Finish PO85RD3.02
- Menzerna Super Finish PO106FA
- Menzerna Final Finish PO85RD


These (menzerna & meguirs) are all diminishing polishes where the abrasive agent breaks down the longer the polish is worked until it more or less goes clear.

I liked the 3m polishing pads in 4 & 6"sizes, the meguires pads that came with my kit were too big in my opinion.

Wax - I used purple haze for the dark paint & liked that.

I used Zaino Grand Finale as a final sealant over the wax.

On the wheels (after I had them powder coated) I used a high temp paste sealant FK1000p -

A point worth noting is that the labelling and terminology can be pretty confusing regarding the purpose of each product. However most of them have a scale of some sort to indicate it is aggressive (like a compound) or used for final finishing work (like a finishing polish or paint cleaner). Basically read the product descriptions and read some user reviews.

WARNING - Meguires Wheel brightener is highly acidic, spray it on and watch things rust within 30 seconds if you use it as too strong a mix. It absolutely must be used diluted (a lot) - start at 10% by vol wheel brightener if your going to use it. This would not be my first choice of wheel cleaners.



Here (above) the same defects are being shown on a different part of the car before starting.

Above pic shows RDS still evident after swirl marks have been eliminated

Above - After using a compound on polishing pad the RDS have also been eliminated

After the paint has been polished like this I went over it with a finishing pad and finishing polish to remove any marring, then waxed it and applied a sealant over the wax.

This is my practise panel complete with real scratches and rubbed in rubber along the bottom edge after an incident with a tyre wall. Things to note are the scratches above the C in Carrera and those extend towards about 5" of the left edge. There are also deeper scratches under the line of rubber along the bottom. I started by washing the panel down and then wiping it down with a tar remover to get rid of the caked on rubber.


The above pic shows the eextent of the scratching

I began to work on the panel (Left side only) so that I could compare progress and use other techniques and products on the other side if needed. This was a great panel to work with since it had all sorts of defects in the paint.

As can be seen from the pics above and below, it is possible to get rid of some pretty bad marks - and I am happy that my incremental approach took off the absolute minimum clear coat to correct the defects. So the trick now of course is to protect the paint with wax/sealer and wash it properly so that it never needs such a polishing again. An annual claying and going over with a light 'paint cleanser' grade of polish and re-wax (quarterly) should be all it needs.

The pic above shows the Meguires DA polisher that I use, in the pic it is fitted with a 3M 4" finishing pad. The bulk of the work tends to be done with 6" pads when working typical bigger panels.




To me the trick with detailing boiled down to how to work the polish with the DA so that the polish was having the desired effect, breaking down until it went clear and not clogging up or drying out and destroying the pad. It takes a bit of practise to get on top of this but it is certainly achievable. Different polishes, pads and weather conditions temp & humidity) will all influence how well the polish transitions from 'just applied' to 'properly broken down'. More often than not the polish seemed to have dried without breaking down and so a periodic spritz of water whilst using the DA brings the polish back to life. As I mentioned elsewhere it really helps if you can practise this on a spare panel so you can work fearlessly. In the end, even though I tried some pretty aggressive polish/pad combinations and quite a few passes over the same area, I never did break through the clear coat. In contrast to that I found my wife's MX-5 had a non clear coat paint and so the pad immediately turned red even though I had started with a low abrasive polish & finishing pad (that's normal when polishing non clear coated paint).


Before I got started on my car work I decided to clean up my garage because it was a dark and dingy hole. not very conducive to doing any work out there - and seriously with poor lighting it is very difficult to do a decent job of paint detailing.

Much nicer with some paint to reflect the light around and seal the floor (2 part epoxy over sealed concrete)

I hung a pair of halogen lights each side of the garage to provide serious lighting while I am actually doing paint detailing work. Being hung as such they dont clutter up the floor either, but can be put down on the floor if needs be to get the light at the right angle when working the front/rear of the car.

Here is some more of the stuff that I use (pretty happy with the menzerna polishes, Zaino sealer & purple haze wax)


Clay bar how to

Detailing world - how to use a DA Polisherf<<< Highly recommended as your next step into detailing

Youtube DA polisher videos

Zaino Europe

Clean your car (uk supplier)


C4 Trim revitaliser


Oz 951



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