When it comes to your car, you leave nothing to chance. You schedule it for routine maintenance faithfully and take it in for professional treatment at the first sign of something wrong. Of course, if you are like many drivers in the country – who put off five million brake repairs each year – then that is not true at all. The truth is, vehicles are neglected all the time.
Professional car care, whether that be routine maintenance services (such as an oil change and 21-point inspection), repair procedures, or professional cleaning inside and out, is the best care you can give your car. But that doesn’t mean you can’t show it some love yourself.
For those times when you do choose to treat your car on your own, or in between professional treatments, here are a few ideas that will help to keep your car looking new without causing harm to the paint or sensitive interior surfaces.
1. Clean with car wash soap.
The best cleaning your car can get is a careful washing by hand. Unfortunately, that is only the case if done correctly, which most drivers do not. When performed improperly, what seems like a relatively simple operation, washing your car, can actually cause a lot of damage to the paint. For that reason, and because optimally a car should be washed weekly, many auto owners choose a soft-cloth automatic car wash that uses fresh, recycled water and soft foam brushes to remove dirt and contaminants.
If you choose to clean your car in the driveway, then do your car a favor and forgo the dish soap, which can have a negative effect on the paint and can strip off wax coatings intended to protect. Use a designated car wash soap instead, which is formulated for the types of contaminants that get on a car (rather than a dish) and will not hurt the paint.
While you are at it, employ a multi-bucket strategy. Rather than trying to do everything with one bucket, use two. Three is even better. One bucket is used for the soapy solution. The second is used to rinse the microfiber wash mitt after it touches the dirty car. The third can be used for cleaning wheels and wheel wells.
2. Start from the top and work down.
Beyond using the wrong chemicals to clean a car, another mistake people make is to start cleaning at random, or to begin with the worst areas first. But a professional knows that it is essential to start at the top and work toward the bottom. Use gravity to your advantage. That way, contaminants are not being reintroduced to surfaces that have already been cleaned.
Begin by rinsing the vehicle: the roof, glass, hood and trunk lid, and so on. All of that mud and debris at the bottom of the car? Rinse it off on the way down. Keep that idea in mind all the way through the process. Once you have the loose debris rinsed off, start washing with a sudsy mitt on the roof. Then rinse. Wash the glass on one side, then rinse. Continue washing and rinsing top-down in relatively small areas to prevent the soap from drying on the surface. And do not attempt to do so in the sunlight. Work in the shade.
3. Treat the tar.
Sometimes you will find that there are contaminants on your car that cannot be removed with soap. One reason that a professional service is helpful is that different car wash chemicals are needed to clean different contaminants. Car wash soap will remove some that are water-soluble. Others require a petroleum-based cleaner, a wax-and-grease remover. Road tar is an example of this. Soap will not clean it off; you need a tar remover for that.
Bug residue is cleaned with yet another chemical. Hard water spots with another. Rail dust (tiny bits of steel dust that attach to your paint and cause rust-colored staining) and some other surface contaminants require mechanical removal with a clay bar or even machine buffing.
Once your car has been cleaned with soap and water and you have identified other contaminants, it will be necessary to use the correct cleaner, remove the contaminants, and possibly re-wash those areas.
4. Lubricate the latches and hinges.
One maintenance item that many drivers never consider until their hood will not open is the hood latch. Keep the latch clean and lubricate it every so often with some 3 in 1 oil or other protectants. Same goes for the trunk latch. You can take care of your door hinges by spraying or dripping on a bit of lubricant and then swinging the door open and closed to work it in.
The pivot points on your hood hinges are not always in plain sight. But if you can get to them, a light spray of white lithium grease once in a while will keep them from seizing up later on.
While you are at it, you might want to take care of any lock cylinders on your car. These days, most vehicles feature remote locks that are activated by a button on the key fob. If your car even has a keyhole, chances are you never use it. So, use it. Insert the key and actuate the lock cylinder occasionally so that, should you ever need to unlock the door (say, if you end up with a dead battery) the key will still turn. Unfortunately, many drivers find out too late that the lock cylinder has “locked up” from lack of use.
5. Touch up the paint chips.
Finding a whitish-looking speck on your shiny black hood can be maddening. Seeing several of them, well that is just unacceptable. Of course, paint chips can happen to a vehicle of any color. Rocks in the road that pelt your paint as you drive create small craters where the topcoat has chipped off, revealing the undercoats below. Fortunately, auto manufacturers use primers that are extremely durable and usually remain in place. Still, if you want to protect your panels from corrosion (and unsightliness), you will want to “touch up” those chips.
You can usually find a color that is a reasonable approximation at the dealership or an auto parts store. But there are a couple of inescapable truths to understand before you do. One is that a touch-up is no substitute for a professional paint job. You are not going to dab on a bit of paint and expect to make the finish look like new again. Unless your car is black, the best you can expect from a brush-touched spot is to see something close to the original color where there was once a white divot and the peace of mind that you have staved off some corrosion. If you are looking for perfect, then expect to pay a good deal of money for a paint job.
Another inescapable truth is that the spot is not going to be smooth. It will probably stick up a bit. A professional painter would sand out a paint chip so that it had no sharp edges. This makes for a repair area several times the size of the original chip. The area is then filled with a sandable primer, block sanded level, and then the entire hood is refinished (with several other steps thrown in along the way, including careful color matching). You are not doing all that. You are just applying a drop of paint to a chip.
To do so, consider throwing away the little brush that comes inside the bottle of touch-up paint. Use a pointy artist’s brush instead. And (contrary to your Crayola experiences) try to stay inside the lines. Keep the paint within the boundaries of the chip and you will find that it is less noticeable when it dries. For maximum protection (from a touch-up anyways) use a product that also has a clear coat to go over it.
7. Apply wax or sealant.
Washing and waxing a car seems almost as American as apple pie and Chevrolet. But the truth is, there was far less damage that you could do to a car when washing and waxing in the nineteen-fifties than can be done today.
Not only is it possible to severely scratch the high-tech clearcoat finish by washing it the wrong way, but you can do damage while waxing as well. That does not mean you shouldn’t wax your car; you should. But keep these things in mind:
- Start with a clean car. If the car has a layer of dust on it when you apply the wax, you will work that dust (ground up rocks) into the clearcoat and create tiny scratches that dull the paint and wear away the finish.
- Work in the shade or in the garage. You should never wax a car in the sunlight.
- Apply evenly (follow the directions).
- Be extremely careful to avoid allowing the wax to seep into jambs, cracks, along moldings, etc. you can add hours of work to the job if you have to try to clean out the wax from all of the crevices because of a careless application.
- Be especially careful about getting wax on any matte black plastic parts: moldings, mirrors, trim, etc. Wax will stain matte black components and require special cleaners to remove. Sometimes the damage is permanent. Keep wax away from flat/matte black parts!
- Remove with a clean microfiber towel in long strokes that flow with the vehicle, not against or across it. This eliminates “swirl marks” that make the job look streaky.
Now, some auto enthusiasts consider Carnauba wax to be the best product to apply. And that is an excellent choice. The higher the content of Carnauba in the product, the better. Others prefer a synthetic sealant instead. Whereas wax is a naturally occurring substance, a sealant is made artificially in a lab. Both are great options. Better to begin with a layer of sealant and follow up with a couple of coats of wax.
8. Care for the carpets and upholstery
When it comes to the interior, experts differ on where to begin. Some say start at the top, just like the exterior. Others suggest getting rid of the heavy dirt and debris in the carpeting before trying to treat the more sensitive skins on the dash and electronic displays. In any case, you will want to take care of the carpet and upholstery at some point. Here are some thoughts.
Vacuum up the dirt in the carpeting with a shop vac. Loosen the dirt with a dry scrub brush while you do so. Automotive carpeting can hold a great deal of dirt, so this can take a while. If you have access to an air compressor, using an air blow gun to loosen up the dirt can also help. Just make sure to wear a pair of safety glasses when you do. Pay special attention to under the seats and in the cracks.
Use a carpet and upholstery shampoo to treat stains. Spray on a small amount of shampoo followed by a coating of clean water from a spray bottle. This helps to wet the surface without adding too much shampoo. On the carpet, you can use a scrub brush to work in the shampoo, and a clean, dry rag or towel to blot out the moisture. On upholstery, it is better to use a microfiber towel to wipe the stain; a scrub brush is too aggressive for fabric. The headliner is exceptionally delicate and requires great care when cleaning.
You can also use a deep cleaner to treat the carpet and upholstery. If you have an extractor, such as a SpotBot or other carpet cleaner, that has a hose and hand-held attachment, you can use it in your car the same way you might clean up a mess left behind by your pets in the house.
9. Buy a set of brushes
A professional detailer understands that, just as there is an array of chemicals to treat all of the different contaminants on a car, there is a tool for every job. Part of the toolkit of a detailer – as should be your car care kit at home – is a wide assortment of brushes. On the outside of the car, you use one brush to reach into the holes in your aluminum wheels and another to clean the wheel wells or the engine bay, or perhaps the rubber on the tires. Inside, you will want a scrub brush for the carpet. You will also want a toothbrush for the cracks and crevices around the door handles and dash displays. A small 1” paintbrush comes in handy for cleaning out the vents. Use a can of compressed air or a vacuum at the same time for better results.
Of course, if you plan to touch up the paint, you will also want a fine-tipped artist’s paintbrush. Nothing expensive. Just nothing bulky or blunt.
10. Clean the glass like a pro
Finally, the last item on the car care cleaning list is the glass. This is often the number one complaint of customers when not done correctly. And, simple as it may be, doing the job right is tricky.
For starters, use an automotive glass cleaner. Household glass cleaning products often contain ammonia, which can cause streaks and fog. It can also wreak havoc on glass tinting.
Use a microfiber towel instead of sponges or cotton towels that can be too aggressive for automotive surfaces. Or use newspapers, a favorite for years. Just be careful that you do not use paper with too much ink – that ink can leave stains in light-colored upholstery.
Save the glass for last, since cleaning other surfaces can splash materials on the glass and force you to do it over again anyways. And do it in the shade.
Spray the cleaner on the cloth to avoid overspray on painted (waxed) surfaces. And when cleaning the door glass, remember to roll the window down a bit to get the top edge that often has a layer of scum attached to it. While you are at it, you might consider a set of new wiper blades to clear those newly-cleaned windows (because you know that it is sure to rain now that you washed your car…).
Now, if any of these operations leaves you feeling like it is more hassle than it is worth, or that you are not comfortable with them and might want help from someone with more training and experience, by all means, seek out professional car care. A modern automatic car wash does a great job of getting most of the contaminants off of your car. The add-on car wash extras, like Rain-X Surface Protectant or Armor All Extreme Shine Wax serve to add a layer of protection to your paint in between hand wax applications. Even wiper blades can be difficult to swap out sometimes. Of course, it is also necessary to wash underneath your car, which is nearly impossible at home.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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