You’ve spent all day talking to The Man, haggling for the right to take her home, and finally, finally, you’re going to leave with your baby. Long, sleek curves, tight angles, that beautiful shine, and great rear end… yes, all things that made you fall in love. I’m talking about your car, of course. Many of us have enjoyed the privilege of that showroom shine and new car smell. The smell and the shine make up a large part of that new car, just-off-the-lot experience. Once you drive your baby home, there’s no reason why that new car aura can’t last. If you didn’t buy your car new, don’t fret. It’s still new to you and can achieve much of the new car allure. All it takes is some regular TLC and the proper process. What follows is a very extensive and detailed guide into the detailing and washing of one’s automobile.
The proper steps in cleaning one’s automobile.
• Always start with the interior.
Even if you achieve the glossy showroom shine, a dirty interior will leave dust and debris that will ultimately contaminate the exterior. So, first, clean everything out. This includes removing the car mats.
• After everything has been removed, it’s time to vacuum.
I use a canister vacuum instead of the small handheld car vacuum I have because it has stronger suction and the proper attachments. First, use the crevice tool, for those hard to reach seams. Next, go over your carpet with the wide-mouth brush. You have to go over the carpet several times to make sure that nothing is left in the naps. After all the vacuuming is done, it’s time to tackle other things. By the way, the trunk should also be emptied and vacuumed to prevent contamination.
• If there are any stains on the upholstery or dash, make sure to wipe with a damp cloth (100% cotton terry).
I bought a bag of terry cloths a while back expressly for auto care. I would recommend that you use terry cloths in your cleaning for a couple of reasons. First, make sure it’s 100% cotton because blends or synthetics are typically harsher and can cause scratches. It’s important that you use a terry cloth because the cloth has naps that will trap dirt away from the surface of the towel, thus allowing you to clean better and to prevent scratching. Smooth-surfaced towels, such as those made of old t-shirts do not allow the dirt to be trapped and will result in poor cleaning ability and scratching. I also keep a small amount of water on hand. Clean up small areas with a damp cloth before proceeding to the next step. For the leather surfaces, it’s a good idea to use products that are specifically designed for leather surfaces. My personal choice is Meguiar’s, but you may use whatever you prefer.
• Next, it’s time to tackle the dash.
The dash and doors are covered in a rubberlike material that I clean with cleaning wipes (purple) and then finish with the yellow protecting wipes. In lieu of wipes, you may also use a spray, such as a bottle of Meguiar’s Ultimate Clean.
• With the leather and upholstery done, the windows are next.
I have a bottle of Auto Glass cleaner. You can use whatever you want, but NEVER use Windex or an ammonia-containing product because it will ruin your windows, especially if you have tint. Some newer cars have windows with clear UV tint that isn’t darkened, so be careful. It might not look tinted, but may be tinted just the same. When cleaning, spray the product on a clean terry cloth and not the window directly so as to avoid splatter. Window cleaner is not good for your dash or trims, so keep it on just the windows.
So, carpet, seats, dash, windows, all done. What’s next? You should be pretty good on the interior now. Something is still left, but I’ll leave that for later.
Onto the exterior.
• First thing to do is clean the wheels.
OK, first of all, make sure you don’t use the wheel-cleaning water to wash the car or you’ll have a disaster. Dirt, debris, etc. from the wheels will kill your paint job. Tires are right next to the wheels. If you want, you can use a product that cleans and conditions the tires. I just use my car shampoo to clean the tires. Make sure to get the wheel banks, where all the debris gets trapped. If you do have a tar problem, you can use a bug/tar/tree sap remover product. I am more interested in protection than a high-gloss shine, but I use a product made for rubber/vinyl from Meguiar’s. (The reason I bought the product has more to do with my sunroof visor- more on that later). I have some Meguiars Hot Rims wheel cleaner. With wheel cleaners, you need to know what kind of rim you have, specifically if they are coated or uncoated. If you have no idea what this means, get Hot Rims because it is safe on both coated and uncoated rims. If you buy the wrong product, you could really ruin your rims. Just follow the directions on the bottle. Now, your wheels are done. It’s on to the rest of the car.
• Shampoo the car.
Shampoo’s not just for hair, but this is car wash shampoo that I’m talking. You can use whatever brand you want, but NEVER dishwasher detergent- it will strip the clear coat right off your car and dry out your paint. Always start from the top of the vehicle and work your way down. First, wet down the car with water and then, using a terry cloth, begin washing the car. I think you know this part, so there will be no need for in-depth descriptions. After you’ve washed all exterior surfaces, it might be a good idea to use a product to clean the windows (same as interior) in case there is still bug splatter on the glass. As an option, you can apply a product such as Rain-X after this step.
A step that I’ve omitted is the engine compartment. Most people overlook this in washing their car. It usually only takes 10 minutes and will improve the life of your car if you take care to use a rubber/vinyl protectant on the hosing, which often dries out and breaks because of oxidation. This should be done before or after you wash the exterior, depending on how much dirt is trapped here.
• Dress your trim.
Now, after the major parts have been washed, you should take a look at the rubber trim. The same vinyl protectant I used on the wheels and hoses can be used on the rubber trim around the windows and doors of your car. You don’t have to do this, of course, but over time, the trim will also get damaged without protection and you will find your doors/windows don’t seal as well. It’s a good idea to spend just a few minutes taking care of this detail. Now, the sunroof visor I have has clearly begun to show signs of oxidation in its rubber trim so I got the vinyl product specifically for this, but it can be used on your tires and engine hoses. So, now we’ve vacuumed, sprayed, washed, what’s next?
Well, that all depends. I did say I was detailing. So, next is the waxing- right? Not exactly.
• Before waxing, the car’s surface needs to be prepped.
Prepping the surface allows the wax to properly adhere and thus provide longer-lasting protection and shine. It also removes any remaining bugs and tar. A great product for this step is Meguiar’s Quik Clay. It’s a really great product that can help get rid of things sticking to your finish.
The remainder of the products I use is all Meguiar’s. You can use whatever you want. I tend to think that it’s better to stick to one or two lines so as to ensure that there won’t be some unforeseen chemical reaction taking place (just an opinion). Most of my interior is AA, and except for the bug/tar and car wash, the exterior is all Meguiar’s. Meguiar’s and Mother’s seem to be two good brands. Both companies now have products that can be readily found at a Wal-Mart or some non auto-specific store.
I use Meguiar’s Deep Crystal Paint Cleaner, followed by the Deep Crystal Polish, and am currently finishing with the Cleaner Wax, which is where the actual waxing takes place. You can use whatever you want. Before I finish the prep step, though, I am using Scratch-X, from Meguiar, to remove scratches and swirl marks.
• Follow the prep step with the actual waxing of your car.
I also have Quik Detailer (which can be used with Quik Clay in the prep step) and Quik Wax. The Detailer can be used as a regular part of prep, but it and the Quik Wax (spray) are used to maintain the work done. So whenever the finish gets dirty or is looking dull, you can spot treat with these products. An important thing to note is that the clear coat on today’s car finishes is approximately two pieces of newsprint thick. If you rub too hard, you’ll rub the clear coat right off. Since you’ve been careful to clean and prep the car, there’s no reason to apply unnecessary pressure. Just follow the directions and don’t work too hard. After the waxing, you are done! You just need to put everything back where you found it and relax.
With all the products I own, I wanted to get a piece of Meguiar’s, but they are a privately-held company that has been around for over a century. Oh well… there’s goes that idea. Maybe I should open a detailing place? I’ll begin taking cars now and charge appropriately depending on the work that needs to be done. Any takers? Just kidding. You’ve now all the info you need to maintain that showroom smell and shine all by yourself. Get to detailing!