If you're really interested in keeping a car looking new, invest in a good-quality random-orbital buffer. The Porter-Cable 7424 is an excellent choice. Stay away from those cheapie things on Ebay that look like a big wood sander. IMO, you'll end up doing more marm than good with one of those. Having a good random orbital around will help keep the fine scratches / swirls at bay and truly keep your paint flawless.
The pads I use on my buffer come from Lake Country (sourced from Autogeek.net). I keep a variety of pads on hand so I can take care of whatever needs attention.
For the level of scratching / hazing I've had on my cars (caused by previous owners or car dealerships washing and drying with the wrong materials), I've never had to use anything harsher than a fine swirl remover. It's always better to start with something light and work your way up. Starting with a harsher polish than you need is a waste of clearcoat. I use Pinnacle polishes.
After you've returned your paint to a flawless shine, it's then time to protect it. I've used just about every brand of wax on the planet, and to be honest....they all produce nearly the same visual result. The key is to find the one that lasts the longest. Synthetic waxes / sealers are typically the best at resisting being stripped, as they're not as easily washed away by detergents and the chemicals that exist in street water.
What I don't have any use for are the harsh 'cleaner waxes' on the market that are designed to help you save time. If you've already gone through the trouble of using an orbital buffer on your paint, there is NO reason to use a wax / sealer that's full of cleaners, abrasives and solvents. You've already cleaned your paint with products that were spefically designed to clean it....don't clean it again.
My personal preference for sealing is a coat of NXT, followed by a coat of pure carnauba. The result your're shooting for is a surface that beads water tightly. That's how you know it's there, doing its job to protect the clearcoat. This combination (so far) has proven to give me the best longevity when compared to everything else I've tried.....and I've tried nearly everything this side of Klasse.
The final step is actually coming full circle with your detailing: What you use to clean your car. Never use bath towels, hand towels, face towels, paper towels, or any kind of terry cloth to wash or dry your car. As soft as you think they are, they put fine scratches into your clearcoat. Use microfiber EVERYTHING. Wash mitt, drying towels, detailing towels, wax applicator pads, wax removal cloths, etc. The clearcoats on late model cars is SO easily scratched because most of the chemicals that paint chemists once used to make it durable have been outlawed by the EPA. Microfiber is your friend. One other thing to stay away from: Dishwashing soap. Use a car wash soap that was specifcally forumlated to wash your car without stripping the wax. "Dawn" will take you right down the clearcoat with repeated use. I highly recommend Meguiars Gold Class.
If you insist on dusting your car off between washes, make sure to use a detailing spray to avoid dragging a dry cloth across the dusty surface of your paint. You can even scratch your clearcoat with a California Duster! Detailing sprays lubricate the gritty substances and help prevent them from leaving scratches. I recently discovered Meguiar's Ultimate Quik Detailer, and it really works well to get rid of dust while protecting from fine scratching.
Good luck keeping your car looking new. There's a lot of stuff in the outside world working against you. :-)
Last edited by CorsaKoup; 02-23-2011 at 12:52 PM.