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Career Day

He’ll get your Honda clean, but he’d prefer a Porsche

A car detailer talks about sweating the small stuff

By Tracy Mayor

Cooper Schoenthaler is the founder of 0to100 Detailing, which details peoples cars in their driveways.

Your first business was cleaning people’s refrigerators. Now you detail cars. Is it safe to say you’re a clean freak?
I don’t actually super enjoy the process of cleaning. It’s the finished product that’s so great. When you’re working on a really nice car, it’s very satisfying when it’s done. It’s not just the clean look overall, but the feeling of the paint, the shade of the carpet when it’s vacuumed.

You have some high-end clients. What’s your favorite car to work on?
My favorite cars to work on are German or Italian. If you want a practical car, buy Japanese. If you don’t care about low-quality materials, buy American. But coming from a detailer, I like when a car is either a masterpiece of design and style — like Italian Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lamborghini, or Pagani — or a masterpiece of engineering, like an Audi, Mercedes, or Porsche. When you spend five hours going over every detail of a car, you really notice which ones are truly high quality.

“I don’t actually super enjoy the process of cleaning. It’s the finished product that’s so great.”  

Car detailing didn’t used to be a thing. Everyone just washed their cars in their driveways. What changed?
It really took off in the ’80s when microfiber was invented. You can’t get a vehicle truly clean without it. There are different weights of cloth for different jobs. They measure it in grams per square meter.

Then there was the introduction of clear-coat paint and automotive clay, which pulls the grit out of the paint. Those three advancements, plus a lot of smaller ones, made it so that an average person could have a car with showroom-type paint, and that created an industry.

How do you actually tackle a car once it’s time to clean it?
I start with interior, door jambs first. Then the dashboard, center console, back seat, front seat, front floor, then the vertical supports — b pillar, a pillar, and c pillar, in that order — then the trunk. Part of interior detailing is just being willing to really dig into the tiny spaces that other people are going to miss. There’s an art to moving the seats all the way forward and back, to really getting into the corners.

After the interior, I do the wheels, exterior, and glass. There are a thousand different things I can do to the exterior, depending on what people want. We can use a clay bar to pull microparticles out of the exterior paint. When you run your fingers across it, you can’t believe how smooth it is.   

You just finished detailing my 12-year-old Honda CRV. Tell me what you know about me now.
Ha, well, uh…let’s just say there’s a certain type of person, they can be sitting at a stoplight with a dusty dashboard right in front of them, and they’re just not going to notice it.

That would be me.
Yeah. There’s what we think of a “busy-mom car,” it’s not necessarily dirty on the surface, but it’s deeply soiled. A lot of long-term wear and tear, dogs and beach trips and stuff like that. And on a cheaper car like a Honda with cloth seats, there’s only so much I can do.

Who’s the worst on a car’s interior long-distance commuter, toddler, or teenager?
A toddler, hands down. They’re always dropping stuff. There are crayons and gummy things wedged into every crack, and food and toys that get stuck in the vacuum. A car seat is just a giant receptacle for trash.

Your best piece of advice for keeping a vehicle clean?
No eating in the car. Ever.

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Tracy Mayor is a writer based in Boston.


Illustration by Verónica Grech

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