Keeping Up Appearances
Making sure your car is free of grease and grime might be the best way to ensure its value over time.
According to the folks at Kelley Blue Book, aesthetics is one of the top considerations when a person buys a car. Keeping it clean will ensure that your vehicle looks its best.
What's the simplest thing people can do to help maintain their car's value over time? Richard Griot of car care and tool supplier Griot's Garage says, "Keep all of your vehicle's surfaces — the glass, trim, paint and wheels — clean." And we agree.
Your car has many enemies — some visible, some not. Emissions from industrial plants are released into the environment, where they are transformed into nitric or sulfuric acid. When deposited onto your car, in either a wet or a dry state, these contaminants can eat paint and, in extreme cases, metal. When ignored, acid from dead bugs, bird droppings, tree sap and even fallen leaves can do the same. Even something as benign as dust can cause tiny scratches in your car's finish, which can make the vehicle look dull and lifeless.
And the longer offensive contaminants are left on your vehicle, the greater the extent of the damage they can cause to both the car and its perceived value.
So what, you say? A few war wounds are endearing, right? Wrong!
Perception Versus Reality
The reality is that people often value material items based on the way they look. According to the folks at Kelley Blue Book, aesthetics is one of the top considerations when a person buys a car. And since more people are testing the used-car market these days, it is important to keep your car looking its best so it's worth more when you are ready to sell it. A vehicle that has a pitted or stained finish or splotches of rust is a turnoff, and thus is worth less than a car that looks pristine, regardless of how you maintained the vehicle mechanically — sad, but true.
If you currently don't clean your car regularly (at least twice a month), it's not too late to change your ways. Of course, the quickest and easiest way to a sparkling clean car inside and out is to take your four-wheeled friend to a detail shop for the royal treatment. At $75 to $300 or more per visit, using a professional detailer twice a month can get rather pricey. Luckily, there are plenty of do-it-yourself products on the market that you can use to clean your car at home, saving time and money.
To help, we've compiled some advice from car-care professionals on how to properly clean and care for your automobile. Follow these guidelines and your ride will look like you have a detailer on weekly retainer.
ON THE OUTSIDE
Before breaking out the sponges and getting down to business, you'll want to park the vehicle in a shaded spot, preferably in a gravel area where the water can seep, rather than on asphalt that can cause rapid runoff. Direct sunlight can cause some surfaces to dry faster than you may want them to, leaving residue and, thus, unwanted streaks on the finish.
The Basic Wash
Now you're ready to get busy. You'll need a steady supply of water (make sure your hose has a trigger-type nozzle, to conserve water), a soft and dirt-free cloth (or a wash mitt, terry cloth towel or soft-bristle brush) and — last but not least — a proper car-wash soap.
Don't make the mistake of using dishwashing soap or a household cleaner on your car; they contain harsh detergents that can strip wax and damage paint. As Craig Burnett, chemist for Mothers Polishes-Waxes-Cleaners, puts it: "Car-wash products are designed to remove automotive dirt from cars, not grime from clothes or grease from dishes. Don't confuse your kitchen with your garage."
Also, most car-care experts recommend starting at the top of the vehicle and working your way down, focusing on one section at a time. "The bottom of your car, particularly behind the wheel wells, traditionally has heavier accumulations of dirt particles," explains Mike Pennington, director of training for Meguiar's, a leading producer of car-care products. "Washing from the top down minimizes the risk of contaminants in the water or getting caught in the wash mitt or brush, thus minimizing the chances of creating scratches or swirls in the paint as you rub the car clean."
Here's the best game plan:
1. First rinse the entire car with water to remove loose dirt.
2. Wash and rinse the vehicle one section at a time, working from top to bottom, to prevent a section from drying too quickly and leaving deposits or residue.
3. Don't scrub aggressively. Instead, rub the car's surface gently to loosen dirt. Aggressive rubbing can grind dirt right into the finish, leaving scratches and swirls.
4. Rinse the wash mitt or sponge often to prevent accumulated dirt from scratching the paint.
5. After the final rinse, wipe the excess water from the vehicle's surface to prevent water spotting. A soft terry cloth towel or a high-quality chamois are recommended. Keep the towel or chamois clean to help prevent scratching, and wipe the vehicle lightly to soak up water without abrading the vehicle's finish.
Note: If you live in a climate where sand or salt is used on the road surface, be sure to rinse inside the wheel wells, paying special attention to the lower part of the fender, where salt and sand may have accumulated. We recommend using a high-pressure hose for this task.
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.