1) Swirl marks are very troubling and I can understand the pain of seeing them on your vehicle. My personal opinion is that swirl marks are inevitable on some level. I've never seen a regularly driven vehicle that had no swirls. A lot of times you can't see the swirls unless your paint is in direct sunlight or under florescent lights and different colors make them more evident. Generally darker and flat paints show off these imperfections more. Now lets talk about how we can prevent more swirl marks from occurring.
First off, never go through a car wash that has any kind of bristles, cloths, etc. touching your paint. These will add large sweeping swirl marks that are sure to dull the clear coat. Swirls are most commonly added during the washing and drying process so make sure your washing mitt/sponge and drying towels are as clean as possible. Contaminates get lodged between your mitt/sponge and the paint and they get grinded into the clear coat. Your washing tools should be replaced as they become saturated with debris, contaminates, etc. The safest and best washing tool I have is a Sheepskin Wash Mitt because of its ability to safely break up contamination and release contaminates when dipped in water. Its also very thick so itís less likely to grind in contaminates as it breaks them up. I dry with two microfiber Waffle Weave Drying Towel, because they are paint safe and absorb so much water. I donít really like cotton and other materials because they arenít always paint safe. I only dry areas that have been washed thoroughly (I donít use them to clean door jambs, panels underneath the vehicle, exhaust tips, wheels, etc.). Keep these towels as clean as possible. Do you use the two-bucket method? Basically one bucket has water another with water and shampoo. Dip your sponge and mitt in the shampoo and water mix and start washing some panels. After washing some panels, dip the sponge in the bucket with just water to release contaminates and then dip it back in the water shampoo mix and keep washing.
To prevent more swirls from occurring, apply a durable layer of protection with a sealant. When your looking to apply the maximum protection for your vehicle you will want to use a sealant. Sealants are synthetic materials that are engineered chemically to replicate the characteristics of a wax. With improved technological advancements most sealants offer longer lasting protection than traditional waxes. Contamination tends to come off with a simple wash and dry when your vehicle is properly protected so make sure you paint has a proper coat of sealant on today.
2 and 3) I would never bring my vehicle to any car wash that has bristles and people who dry your vehicle. I don'y really like the touch free washes too much either, but occassionally when the roads get really salty/snowy and its below freezing for an extended period of time I'll get one.
4) I honestly recommend you care for your vehicle yourself. Its very difficult if not impossible to find someone who will care for your vehicle as you would. I also think doing it yourself is very rewarding when you understand the process and are able to get professional like results yourself. If your looking for someone else to do your vehicle here are some things you can look for or ask about. Whats their washing process? Do they use a dirty mitt, dirty towels, etc? What is their exact process (polish, wax, clay bar, etc)? A lot of times places use products that have lots of silicone or glaze in them so it hides a lot of imperfections and looks great initallly. However this look doesn't last too long nor does the protection. Ask them for the name of the products they are using. I would ask what kind of buffer are they using (rotary or orbital), if they use rotary I hope they know what they are doing.
I think your best bet is to look for referrals in your area. Just talk to someone at the detail shop for a few minutes. If they have good answers to some of those questions we asked before it should be apparent they'll do good work. Feel free to post what their answers were and I can let you know if the process looks good. In general I would also let you know that you generally get what you pay for. If its $99 for a clay polish glaze sealant wax you know the offer is just too good to be true. Expect to pay atleast $100 for a good base exterior.
Hope this all helped, let us know if you have any questions.
Greg @ Detailed Image