Keeping Up Appearances
When cleaning a car, it is important to know that many automotive cleaners and soaps may damage specific types of metal wheels. Only use cleaners and cleaning utensils designed for your type of wheels.
Wheels and Tires
One of the most dramatic ways to improve the appearance of your vehicle is to keep its tires and wheels (or rims) clean. Address the wheels first.
Have you ever noticed that the front wheels of many cars appear dirtier than the back wheels? This is caused by the accumulation of brake dust shed by disc brakes, which are on the front wheels of virtually all cars these days. A number of car-care products on the market do a good job of removing it. You simply spray the cleaner on and rinse after 30 to 60 seconds.
Be careful, however, to use the right kind of cleaner for your type of wheels. If you don't, the results could be devastating. For instance, a spray-on product designed for premium alloys will begin to strip off a typical wheel's protective varnish if left on too long. It can also damage plastic wheel covers. So read the directions and warnings carefully before you apply any wheel cleaner.
After the rims are spick-and-span, focus your attention on the tires. Many tire dressings simply spray on and require no wiping. They are formulated to produce a clean, slightly glossy look.
Wax On, Wax Off
At least 97 percent of today's vehicles come from the factory with some type of clear-coat finish that contains stabilizers, ultraviolet light blockers and UV light absorbers that help keep a vehicle's paint looking new longer. While they do provide great protection, clear-coats are not a panacea.
"Clear-coats can give drivers a false sense of security by appearing to protect the underlying base coat," says Matthew Broderick, group vice president of marketing at Turtle Wax Inc. "They are fragile and susceptible to scratches, abrasions and swirls that make the paint look dull."
Waxing your vehicle will help remove paint oxidation and surface dirt, while adding another layer of protection against grease and grime. Wax will also improve or remove minor damage such as surface scratches or light contaminants and will provide a high-luster finish.
Most automakers recommend that you wax your vehicle twice a year to protect its clear-coat from damage and maintain the car's color and shine. However, some auto-care suppliers recommend monthly waxing. "Ideally, a vehicle should be waxed three to four times per year," Pennington says, to maximize the protection provided by the wax. "A good strategy is to start right before the winter and get into a three-month cycle."
When waxing your ride:
1. Wash and dry the vehicle before applying any product.
2. The paint surface should be cool and not in direct sunlight. The outside temperature should be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity should be low.
3. Apply the wax in small sections with either a foam pad or small terry cloth towel using overlapping strokes or circular motions.
4. Wait for a section to dry to a haze before wiping the wax off with a terry cloth towel or cloth diaper. Wipe in both directions, turning the towels often. And remember to shake them out often to remove accumulated wax that might scratch the finish.
5. When completely finished, wipe the entire vehicle again, paying particular attention to the edges of trim pieces, doorjambs and moldings where excess wax may have accumulated.
For additional shine between wax jobs, several manufacturers offer spray-and-wipe products to quickly enhance a vehicle's shine.
ON THE INSIDE
Now that you have finished the exterior, it's time to tackle your car's interior.
First, thoroughly vacuum all carpets and upholstery to remove loose, dry dirt. Don't forget to vacuum under the seats.
Specialists recommend using lint-free towels and clean water to clean the dash area and seats. Cotton swabs are helpful for getting dust out of tight spots, and a clean, stiff-bristled brush is indispensable for removing caked-on dirt and grime in carpets and floor mats.
As far as solvents are concerned, Pennington suggests you always use a product that is designed for the surface you want to clean, whether it is leather, vinyl, plastic, wood, simulated wood or upholstery. Each product is specifically formulated for a particular surface and will not work effectively on other surfaces. In fact, the wrong cleaner may even do damage.
Even with right cleaner, don't use too much of it. "The biggest problem with interior cleaning is that many people overuse the cleaning products or saturate the carpet when they shampoo," Pennington says.
Also never use a product that leaves a shiny, slick finish on the dashboard or steering wheel. A shiny dash reflects light, which can be a major safety hazard while driving. Same goes for a slippery steering wheel.