Expert detailing tips on keeping your car fresh
Want to keep your vehicle shining like the day it was built? If not, what’s wrong with you?
Every driver knows that basic washing and waxing helps maintain the lustre of a car’s paint. It’s also common sense that simple vacuuming goes a long way toward keeping interiors fresh and attractive.
But what if you want to ensure your ride stays in tip-top condition? There’s plenty more you can do — after all, a clean, well-maintained vehicle is practically guaranteed to have higher resale value than a clapped-out hooptie with peeling clear coat and a cabin that looks like it was home to an entire family of trash-hoarding raccoons.
To help keep your vehicle looking sharp, here are 10 smart detailing tips, professional-grade suggestions from a man in the know.
10. An ounce of prevention . . .
As the old proverb goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Pre-emptive maintenance is perhaps the best way to keep your car or truck looking new. With the widespread availability of spray-on detailer and waterless-wash products, it’s never been easier to keep things clean.
Aside from a vehicle detailing expert, Mike Stoops, senior global product and training specialist at Meguiar’s, is also the proud owner of a 1974 Alfa Romeo Spyder. After every drive, he performs preventive maintenance on his Italian classic. “When I get home, I clean it up real quick,” he said, by spraying on a waterless wash product and then wiping it off. “It really takes about 10 minutes to go around the car,” which saves significant amounts of time down the road. A little effort now can save a ton of work later.
9. Don’t forget the interior
“(This) holds true for the interior as well,” Stoops said, “especially if it’s an open car.” With convertibles, the same grit and grime that pummels the paint accosts interior surfaces as well. He recommends going over vehicle cabins with an interior spray detailer, paying particular attention to leather and vinyl seating surfaces. Abrasive particulates can collect here, causing damage over time as you get into and out of the vehicle. Wipe this troublesome dust away before it ever gets a chance to damage your car’s cabin.
8. Apply products to the towel
And while you’re tidying things up inside, Stoops has another handy tip: Always apply cleaning products to a towel or applicator, never spray them directly on the surface you’re addressing. This gives you control over the quantity of product used as well as where it goes. Broadcasting these materials over large areas can create a big mess that’s time consuming to correct. For instance, if vinyl protectant gets on glass, it can be incredibly difficult to remove. Sidestep this aggravation by being smart.
7. Hand washing isn’t always better
Owners of high-end vehicles often refuse to take their babies through automatic car washes, fearing that all the flailing scrubbers will result in scratches, but these worries are often unfounded. According to Stoops, the vast majority of damage done to vehicle paint occurs during the washing and drying process, though doing this by hand in your own driveway isn’t always better, especially if you’re using an old sponge that’s loaded with years of built-up grit.
He recommends getting a microfibre wash mitt and using proper soap designed for vehicles. Yes, dishwashing detergent will work in a pinch, “It’s not going to eat your paint, it’s not going to destroy your car,” he said, but it will quickly strip off any wax or polish, leaving the paint exposed to elements. If you can help it, use the right product for the job.
6. Wax alone does not give shine
Despite what many people may believe, “Wax alone is not what . . . really imparts that high-quality shine on a car,” Stroops said. Prep work is critical to achieving a deep, rich finish. If the exterior paint on your house is peeling off in chunks, if the underlying wood is spongy and decaying, covering this mess with even the highest-quality paint won’t result in a satisfactory job. Yet, if you properly prepare these surfaces, even the cheapest coating will give good results. The same is true with your vehicle; the paint needs to be free of contaminants and properly polished in order to really shine. Spreading carnauba wax over a grimy surface is never going to work as intended.
5. Use a clay bar
According to Stroops, one of the safest ways to get a slick, lustrous finish is to use a clay bar. These have been around since the 1980s, but many drivers still haven’t heard of them. When in-the-dark folks do discover them, he said, “They think it is the most amazing invention ever.”
Clay bars quickly and easily strip off grit, grime and other above-surface contaminants that have bonded with the paint, allowing wax or polish to properly adhere, and, of course, provide the shine we all desire. He said if, after washing your car, “(It) still feels rough to the touch,” it’s probably time to get a clay bar kit. Do it and we bet you’ll be glad you did.
4. You don’t need both
Stroll down the car-care aisle of a grocery or auto-parts store and you’ll likely be bombarded by products, cleaners and protectants, soaps and sponges. But when it comes to making your car shine, you don’t need BOTH wax and polish. Either one will work, so save your time and money.
“(They’re) designed to do the exact same thing,” Stoops said. They “lock in the gloss that you created in the prep steps.” Virtually all these products available today shield paint from harmful UV rays, so that’s good. Still, Stoops said synthetic polishes tend to last a bit longer than naturally derived products, but some people claim they get a deeper, richer shine with traditional wax, though as always, your mileage will vary. Pick one and use it as directed.
3. A little goes a long way
And when you’re putting that final layer of wax or polish on, remember that less is more. Whether you apply it sparingly or with a trowel, Stoops said, “You are always going to leave the same amount of protection behind”; only so much product remains on the paint’s surface. If you slather the car with wax, it takes way longer to dry before you can buff it off, and it can be incredibly difficult to remove, so “lay it down really, really thin.” This tip will save you time and money. Oh, and probably the aggravation of getting tennis elbow from all that rubbing.
2. Avoid streaky glass
When cleaning your car’s windows, there’s an easy way to tell which side is streaked and needs more attention. Stoops recommends cleaning glass with a fresh microfibre towel. He said it’s best to fold them into quarters and then spray cleaner on a small section. Next, buff the glass to remove dirt and grit, then use the towel’s dry side to finish the job. But here’s his trick: “If you do your final wipe on the outside of the glass in an up-and-down motion, and if you do your final wipe inside the car side-to-side, you know what side the streak is.” How handy is that?
1. Bird droppings are enemy No. 1
Finally, the most important thing shared by Stoops is a warning about how dangerous bird droppings are. And no, we’re not joking. He said they’re one of the worst things that can land on a vehicle’s finish. “If you let that sit on the paint for sometimes hours, sometimes a couple days, it can actually start to etch the paint.”
If this happens, it takes lots of work to correct. He recommends you “keep a bottle of quick-detail spray and a couple microfibre towels in the car” to take care of these messes as soon as you spot them. If the neighbourhood mourning dove treats your baby like a public restroom, Stoops said, “Get to it now. Do not wait, do not wait.”