Perfection pays when you’re detailing cars—or Air Force One

Yasir Waqaar’s pursuit of detailed perfection

Perfection pays when you’re detailing cars—or Air Force One
Yasir Waqaar

Photograph by Ben Rollins

Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is detailer Yasir Waqaar, as told to Julianna Bragg.

When I was a little kid, I grew up with my dad and grandfather owning old cars, like a 1971 El Dorado and a 1964 Chevy Impala. Both of them kept the cars’ condition immaculate through cleaning and painting. My dad encouraged me to help detail the tires because I could get down low and keep the white walls in pristine shape. It was always the beautification process for me: preserving the materials, keeping them clean, and maintaining them for as long as possible. And that’s when the hobby started turning into a profession.

I started detailing cars full-time in 2003, but I got tired after a few years and decided to stop. As soon as I quit, I had old clients begging me to come back to work on their cars. So I realized detailing must be my calling. That’s when I started working for Red Clay Detailing.

I attended a training by Renny and Diane Doyle called Detailing Success. Once I completed it, I became eligible for the Detail Mafia—who are the most accomplished and technologically advanced team of automotive detailers in the world. And while I was really only going for the technical skills, I quickly realized how important the business side was. Team members are all over the country and world, including Costa Rica, Tahiti, and the Caribbean.

One of the coolest aspects of the organization is that my colleagues and I have the ability to work on the Air Force One project [maintaining a Special Air Mission 970 jet used by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon and housed at Seattle’s Museum of Flight]. This past session was my fifth year as part of the process. I’m on the finishing team. We polish all the aluminum on the aircraft, and we’re responsible for getting it restored back to its mirror look. Since this aircraft was built in the ’50s, we can only do so much, so it’s mainly about preserving as much of its authentic design and look as we can.

The same goes for dealing with customers’ prized possessions: their cars. Sometimes I have to explain to people that I’ll do everything I can to make your car shine more inside and out, but it’s not always possible. One instance was a woman whose Tesla was sitting under a condo that was being painted, and her car had splatters all over it; the car was blue, but it was so destroyed from the paint it looked white. I was able to get all of the paint off that I could, but Tesla itself had to take the car apart to thoroughly clean certain areas that were not fixable by me.

Aside from loving the world of detailing and restoration myself, I also try to spread the wealth of knowledge on my YouTube channel, Red Clay Detailing. I post a lot of variety on the channel, including one of my favorite segments, “Today’s Tip.” It may be a particular pointer on cleaning, taking care of your vehicle, or even a new gadget or accessory that I’ve found that you might want to put on your car.

Now, I can’t reveal his name, but I do have one high-profile celebrity, and I do work for the client and his father. The best part is, I’m not super into pop culture, so I didn’t even realize how big of a deal this customer was until my wife freaked out when I told her. But he has some really nice cars, and, as a matter of fact, one of his cars even has bulletproof windows that are two inches thick.

At the end of the day, a lot of people want their cars to be pristine and shiny, but they don’t realize how physically demanding detailing is. And most people don’t realize that the interior of their car is important for their physical health. We transfer so many germs on our shoes or hands, and we probably don’t clean it for a year or so, which helps the bacteria grow and spread. I always say, just like we need to get the flu vaccine for ourselves, get the flu vaccine for your car by disinfecting it.

It’s essential that everything I do is intentional and safe for the clients I work with. I won’t do any type of work on seat belts because there is always a possibility you can damage their efficacy, which could hurt the customer in a crash. My happiness with my work comes from seeing the joy and gratitude when I show the big reveal of a vehicle, and knowing that I gave it my all.

This article appears in our November 2023 issue.