Soap, wax, clear-coat finish—you can keep your car clean and looking good whether it’s old or new, expensive or dirt-cheap. And, no matter how much you know about cars, anyone can keep a car clean and apply the products it needs to gleam.
Of course, washing a car is not without its trials. Just as poor cosmetics can damage skin, a bad wash can actually damage your car’s paint. For instance, if you use a dry cloth to wipe your car, the wiping action of the dust can cause imperfections to the paint job. Also, while it might be worth the whistles to pop into that bikini to wash the car on a hot day, the metal of your hot car can actually contract when the cold hose water is applied which will even cause paint to crack.
The best way to wash a car is from top to bottom using a soft sponge or mitt and gentle car soap. Harsh detergents can remove wax and wreck your finish the same way using a harsh soap on your skin will irritate it. Hosing down the car first will eliminate surface grime and dust. Then, wash it down (not under the hood, however,) making sure to also pay attention to wheels and fenders. Finally, hose down the underbody, usually the muckiest area of the car. Special surfaces like mirrors or vinyl tops require different cleaning products appropriate for their special needs.
Mild dish soap and water will work for those vinyl tops. Vinyl hard tops will benefit from a coat of wax. A ragtop should be vacuumed, or at the very least, swept with a broom to remove dirt which can actually damage the material. If your vinyl appears faded, you can actually apply a spray to give it some rejuvenation—rather like tanning spray in keeping with our metaphor.
Once your car is clean, you may want to give it a protective wax. This is a preventative measure to ward off dirt and rust. The wax acts rather like a sealer. Wax should only be applied to a freshly washed car and be sure the wax you choose will not damage your car’s clear-coat finish if it has one. Ideally, the car should be polished first for deep cleansing before wax is applied. If so inclined, you may want to drive your car in for an electric buffing—but it’s best to let professionals with professional gear perform this task. It’s also a good idea to let a professional steam clean under the hood. Unless you’re a pro at engine-cleaning, it may be better left to one who is.
Rust is not like wrinkles—you can actually get rid of it if you get to it right away. Check your chrome for any rust spots and wax all the metal to prevent rust from occurring. As for your car’s chrome and metal parts, there are great cleaners on the market that will clean without causing scratches or abrasions. Be sure not to get any of this type of cleaner on the paint job, however.
You can keep the interior of your car looking good by removing debris and vacuuming. Interior surfaces like seats and carpets should be cleaned with products associated with each type of fabric or surface. When cleaning the dashboard, use a damp rag—not a wet one. You may also want to spray some protective silicone to the surface. Automotive centers also sell interior stain removers and products to keep your car smelling good too.