To the Last Detail: The World’s Greatest Auto Detailer

keithrleadartWhen you first meet him, you might not know what to think. Slight in stature, covered in tattoos and seemingly reluctant to emerge from the dark lair of his Reseda, California, garage, a voice in your head asks the query “do I really want to hand the keys to my beloved musclecar/hypercar/high-end import/concours condition classic over to this guy?”

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Keith Richardson of Keith’s Touch Paint Correction.

But within minutes of being in his presence, you are so disarmed by him that you remember the old adage that looks can be deceiving. Because when you set aside his striking appearance, you realize that he might be the most pleasant, soft-spoken and intelligent guy you’ve met in a while. And when you see what he is capable of doing with automotive paint, trim and interior appointments, you have the answer you were searching for: darn right, I’m giving him the keys!

‘He’ is Keith Richardson of Keith’s Touch Paint Correction, and if you are currently involved in a love affair with a four-wheeled partner you need to know him, because the word going around amongst Los Angeles’ car collectors and fanatics is that he is very likely the best auto detailer in the world.

Now, everybody thinks they know the best, but trust this columnist when I say you don’t. Richardson’s attention to detail, maddening perfectionism and unwillingness to call a job done, is unlike anything you have ever experienced before. He reminds one of a mad monk of sorts: a man with a true philosophy of method that he adheres to religiously and unwaveringly.

“No matter what I quote for a job,” says Keith, “I know I will essentially go over in terms of hours by fifty to seventy-five percent. I never end up earning what I think my services are worth, because I don’t know how to stop until I’ve reached the maximum of what is possible.”

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Richardson works on every type of car from daily drivers to this 1973 Chevy Vega drag racer.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1970s (when saying you survived the place really meant something), Richardson fell in love with cars at an early age. “I used to look out the window as a kid and everything that had wheels, everything that had what we used to call ‘The Shine,’ I was intensely attracted to.” Keith moved to Florida as a teen, and started working on cars in high school, beginning with his beloved first car – a 1987 Nissan Maxima – and his friends’ vehicles. He quickly realized that he not only had a passion for detailing cars, but a talent for it too.

“I always had a vision. A picture in my head of what cars should look like. From there it was a matter of finding a way to bring reality in line with my vision,” says Keith. Remarkably, he worked on his own to devise his methodology, not once going to detailing workshops or trade classes, and never having a mentor to show him the way. Several post high-school jobs at auto body shops didn’t so much teach him new techniques of washing and buffing, as most shops didn’t hold things to the same standard that he was willing, and able, to take things to.

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Richardson works his magic on a 2015 Lamborghini Aventador.

“It was kind of shocking to me. I was ready to break my back on every single car that went through the shop. Color sanding, various steps of compounding and polishing, and so on, and at each place I worked, I was eventually told, ‘No, no, no. It doesn’t have to be THAT good. Just shine it up and let’s get it out of here.’ Well I’m not wired that way, so I moved on,” he remembers.

Richardson takes his 'wet-work' seriously.

Richardson takes his ‘wet-work’ seriously.

Moving on to Keith meant going to the world’s Mecca of fabulous cars: Los Angeles, California. After a few jobs at others’ shops, he decided he could only work for himself to achieve the level of detailing he envisioned.

He set himself up in a small garage in 2008 and never looked back. In relatively short order, Keith established himself as a go-to guy for serious paint correction on everything from daily drivers to exotics and multi-million dollar concours show cars.

His process is part alchemy, part science, and incredibly laborious. Every car that comes to him gets a careful walk-around with the client during which the condition is evaluated, and the customer is apprised of what will be involved, how long it will take and what the cost will be.

Upon setting to work, Richardson gives the car including the engine bay, undercarriage, wheel wells and door jambs a thorough pressure wash at a relatively low 1,400psi using distilled and de-ionized water, followed by a bath in super-premium, PH balanced soaps applied by foam cannon. A pressure rinse follows. “I take my wet-work very seriously, because it will in part determine how well everything that follows turns out. I usually spend about an hour to an hour-and-a-half doing it,” says Keith.

Wheels are given special attention.

Wheels are given special attention.

At no point does a sponge, mitt or even the most plush microfiber cloth ever touch the car during the wash. “I rely solely on water pressure and soap to remove the bulk of the contaminants on the paint. Applying manual pressure with a mitt can only result in grit being dragged across the surface of the paint, causing fine scratches and additional work for me later,” he said.

Once the wash is completed, Keith uses an iron decontamination product to remove airborne contaminants such as brake dust and rust particles from every surface of the car. “It’s a step that most detailers are unfortunately unaware of,” laments Keith. “They go straight to the claying stage, assuming that it will get everything out, but if you were to clay a car from top to bottom and then spray the iron remover on the paint, you’ll see that a huge amount of iron deposits will come out that the clay simply couldn’t pull.”

Progress on the hood of a 2015 Corvette.

Progress on the hood of a 2015 Corvette.

Next comes another thorough rinse to prepare the car for claying, which Richardson prefers to do while the vehicle is still wet. “I use a clay lubricant with either red or blue clay depending on the level of aggressiveness I need, and keeping the car wet during the clay stage just gives me that added amount of lubrication to ensure no contaminants are dragged across the paint.” Everything is subject to the claying, including windows, plastic trim and wheels.

“I don’t believe in using wheel cleaner solutions unless it is absolutely necessary,” he said. “If a wheel doesn’t come clean using a soft brush and the same soap that I use on the paint, then, and only then do I consider a cleaner. I also don’t like cleaners because they tend to put you in a mentally rushed state of mind. You are relying on a product to do the same work you should be doing manually, which goes against my philosophy. I mean, is it really worth saving twenty minutes with something like that if I’m prepared to spend a total of twenty-four, fifty or even a hundred hours on a job?”

Richardson often spends days correcting paint such as on this 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392.

Richardson often spends days correcting paint on a single car, such as on this 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392.

After claying, yet another wash is performed and then Keith dries the car using a portable air blaster, once again to spare the paint from being touched by chamois or drying cloths that could cause swirling and spider-web scratches. “Less contact, less problems,” he asserts.

One of Keith's custom 1" polishing pads.

One of Keith’s custom 1″ polishing pads.

A more thorough evaluation of the paint is performed and the most crucial stage, paint correction, begins.

Depending on the condition, Keith may wet sand serious problem areas, and then do a light or heavy compounding to level out the paint. These days he prefers to use a Rupes dual-action polisher with microfiber cutting discs, but if the job requires it, he will pull out the old-school orbital buffer.

“There isn’t a lot you can’t do today with a dual-action using the right pads once you’ve modified it to make full rotations like I have, but every so often you run into a situation where generating a touch more heat is necessary,” he said.

Unlike many detailers who will hand polish tight areas such as pillars and vents, Richardson goes a step further. “You can’t match the level of clarity in the hard to reach spots that you achieve with large panels if you’re polishing them by hand. That’s why I make my own one-inch and two-inch pads for the DA. I cut them out from larger pads.”

Not a single swirl or scratch remains when Richardson is finished, as evidenced by the door of this 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Not a single swirl or scratch remains when Richardson is finished, as evidenced by the door of this 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Once the intense cutting work is complete, Keith does a three-stage polish to get the scratches out that the compound left behind.

He’ll use a variety of foam pads and polishes with the Rupes to “jewel” the paint back to life. Another wash follows, as does an evaluation with the car in the sun. More polishing may result depending on what Richardson sees. “You’re hoping by this point that you are close to flawless, but for me everything can always be improved upon.”

Nothing escapes Keith Richardson's attention.

Nothing escapes Keith Richardson’s attention.

He said, “If what I see at this point isn’t automotive perfection, then back in the garage she goes.”

Keith’s final step is of course to protect the paint. While he will use any wax that the owner prefers, and has applied $1,000 jars of carnuba to some cars, he is now a devotee of quartz-based protectants that provide a super-hard shell such as Gyeon Q2, Beeds or cQuartz.

“They provide the ultimate in protection from UV and the elements. Best of all they are hydrophobic and can last as long as a year or more.”

Richardson aims not to impress a client when his or her car is finally presented, but to render them speechless.

A finished McLaren MP12c.

A finished McLaren MP12c. 100 hours of work went into perfecting its paint.

“The ideal reaction is when they just fold their arms and say nothing. Only then do I achieve a sense of completion or accomplishment. I never rate myself 100% though. At best, I’ll give myself 98% because there is always more to learn. If I say I’m the best, or I rate my performance at 100% because that’s what a client is telling me or that’s how the car might look in a photo shoot, then I’ll become arrogant, and there will be nothing to shoot for.”

Flawless muscle by Keith's Touch Paint Correction.

Flawless El Camino muscle by Keith’s Touch Paint Correction.

Keith’s practice is to also provide the client with instructions as to the proper maintenance of the vehicle from the time that it leaves his shop. “I really don’t like to see the car back a year later covered in swirls and whatnot, so I advise them how to hand wash the vehicle,” Keith said. Once a car finally does leave his garage, there is almost always another one pulling in. “I rarely have time to relax or rest on my laurels. There are just too many cars that need my help.”

Such is the life of a mad monk detailer.

Keith’s Touch Paint Correction can be reached on Instagram at keithstouch1977, on Facebook, and by phone at (818) 984-2902.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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