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When people see Tom Mangert’s ’69 Mustang Mach 1 they ask where he got the paint job and how much it cost. They’re pretty surprised when he tells them the price. It seems low today – but then they find out that Tom had the car painted nearly 20 years ago. The Mach 1’s factory fresh appearance is a credit to the painter he chose and to Tom’s skill in washing and waxing collector cars.
Tom has been detailing cars for 38 years. Four years ago, he decided to work at it full-time and started Tom’s Auto Detailing in Waupaca, Wisconsin. Since then, he has beautified everything from a ’29 Packard straight eight to a ’67 Chrysler 300. He also refreshes modern iron from sports cars to minivans. “Some modern cars are pig pens on wheels,” Tom joked. “They should have a drain in the floor to let the dirt out; collectors take more pride in their cars.”
According to Tom, washing, waxing and detailing a vehicle is a full 7-8 hour process. Most customers drop the car off at 9 a.m. and he tells them to pick it up at five. “To do a car right, you have to give it your full attention,” he explains. “The ’29 Packard was clean, but I worked on it for eight hours straight without taking lunch; those big ‘bicycle’ wheels were a challenge to clean.”
Most jobs start with a complete hand washing of the vehicle to get the loose dirt off. Mangert uses an exploded-tip brush with a 48-inch-long handle. The exploded-tip brush has ultra-soft bristles that won’t make small scratches in the paint. “Stiff bristles will scratch the paint and all the little scratches will have to be buffed out later,” he points out. “The exploded-tip brush doesn’t scratch and it can also get into all the hard-to-reach corners.” Tom says the 48-inch handle allows him to do all the nooks and crannies from one side of the car.
Tom uses store-bought Zip Wax for washing. He describes it as a “soapy wax.” It puts a nice sheen on glass areas, has nice sudsing and sheeting action and dries without water marks. After washing the car with this product and the exploded-tip brush, Tom uses a pressure washer. He recommends pressure washing the entire vehicle, door jambs, trunk lip and engine compartment.
“The pressure washer sprays stuff right off,” says Mangert. “For bugs I use a 50/50 mix of cleaner and water, which softens up bugs and road tar.” According to Tom, the cleaning solution loosens up dirt and the pressure spray knocks it off the car. He also rinses with the pressure washer to totally remove soapy residue.
For cleaning the windshield, windows and backlight, Tom uses a home-brewed mixture of ammonia, rubbing alcohol and water. “I wipe it off with a moist chamois and it leaves the glass clean with no streaks,” says the detailer.
Tom cleans the interior of the vehicle with an industrial wet-vac. “It has to be of the 2-inch-inlet variety,” he explains. “Then, it has the power to pull sand and dirt out of the carpets.” Tom also uses an air compressor to blow out insects, food crumbs, beach sand and other types of dirt that get inside a car.
To shampoo carpets and upholstery, Tom brews up his own 50/50 blend of industrial carpet cleaning solution and water and puts it in a trigger-spray bottle. “This works really well,” he advises. “You vacuum to get the main dirt out, then a light spray of water and a scrub brush are used to really work at getting things clean.” According to Tom, vacuums can’t get into corners as well as a scrub brush. He says the spray of water won’t hurt carpets that have a rubber backing. “But if the spray goes right through the carpet, stick to the vacuum cleaner,” he warns. “The carpets in older cars may have a more open weave.”
Before waxing the vehicle, Tom details the tires. He uses a Bleech-White product, then lets the tire dry. Next, he applies a concours dressing that he puts in a pump-type “hair spray” bottle. “This is really a vinyl protectorant with anti-static characteristics,” says Tom. “It’s not like ‘wet look’ sprays that sand sticks to the first time you drive the car.” Tom checks the air in all five tires. “You’d be surprised how many people drive around with a flat spare tire,” he warns.
Tom’s favorite wax is a 100 percent carnauba wax with a name that indicates it originates in Brazil. “I’ve used other products, but this one works well and lasts,” says Mangert. “I try to stay away from silicone-based polishes and waxes, since they are a problem for body shops if you have a fender-bender.” Tom’s view on this agrees with that of Waupaca High School body shop instructor Bill Kroseberg, who tells students that silicone products can become imbedded in metal and cause “fish eyes” in paint if the panel has to be refinished.
When asked if he applies wax with a buffer, Tom answered, “No, I don’t. Most people use too much wax and using a buffer to apply wax promotes this practice. I use a micro sponge that puts a blotch the size of a quarter on the metal. I use this much to do areas as large as half of the hood on a typical car.”
Tom waits about five minutes after applying wax. He then goes over the waxed area using a foam “waffle” pad on his buffer with the buffer set at 2,000 rpm. “You do not have to use a new pad every time, but when it gets ‘gunky,’ pitch it,” Tom advises. “The foam pads don’t last a long time because they catch on sharp corners and bumpers and tear, but they do a really good job.” Tom proceeds waxing one panel at a time and buffing it using foam pads.
If the paint on the vehicle has been exposed to weather for a long period, Tom recommends using an extra-cut rubbing compound on a wet surface and buffing at slow speed, with a wool pad on the electric buffer. He suggests keeping the paint surface wet by applying water with a trigger sprayer and working small areas (about 2 x 2-feet wide) to prevent scuffing the paint. If further shining is desired, Tom recommends the use of a polishing glaze that is less abrasive. In some cases, this may be all that’s required before final waxing.
According to Tom, car waxes have cleaning agents blended into them, while polishes do not. “Polish is good stuff, providing you’re using it on clean, high-quality paint,” says the detailer. “But most paint is dirty, so you want the cleaning agent.” Tom says that many car dealers prefer a “cleaner wax” over a conventional wax because they expect the car will be sold within 30 days. “Products with heavy cleaner content make the car look great, but they don’t give the lasting protection of products with less cleaner and more wax.”
When his customers want a car to have what Tom calls an “ultimate shine,” he recommends waxes that use a new “nano” technology. According to Tom, such products use ingredients that are smaller than “micro” size so they can fill in the finest scratches and swirl marks. This leaves a smooth surface that doesn’t diffuse light rays. But, Nano wax is more expensive than other wax.
After the car is waxed, Tom uses a micro cleaning cloth – a cloth with a special weave that lets it get into little cracks and crevices -- to clean up leftover wax. “This is very important for removing the wax that gets into corners or picking off wax residue,” he explains. “I even use my older micro cleaning cloths to pick the wax out of grained vinyl dashboards, which is very hard to do.”
After finishing a car, Tom advises the owner to take the vehicle to a brush-less car wash about once every two weeks. “At first, the basic wash should do,” Tom believes. “Later, the full wash-and-wax treatment is probably a good idea. If the detailer did a good job, the car wash wax will work fine to maintain the finish, but most people – at least those with modern cars – don’t do a thing.”

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