When you bought your new car, you probably thought it was beautiful. Time and use might have since scribbled on your car, moving it more to the category of a utility vehicle. The paint may be chipped and faded. The interior has a couple of holes. There’s that big stain from last summer’s vacation mishap. You’re beginning to see rust where paint used to be. Like many dream boats, yours is beginning to look more like a barge. No sweat. With an investment of just a few hours and bucks, you can make your friends ask, “Did you get a new car?” Even if you’re a technical klutz, you can participate in your car’s maintenance by giving it a makeover, as described in this article, Remember Ramsey’s rule: A clean car runs better than a dirty one!
Before you start maintaining your car’s finish and interior, read the owner’s manual. It probably includes specific information on the type of finish on the car as well as how to care for it. If it doesn’t, take your car to an auto parts store that carries a wide line of finishing products and ask for a counterperson or clerk with out-of-body … oops … auto body experience. You might have to try more than one retailer to find someone who knows car finishes and is willing to take a few minutes to look at your car. If you do find such an expert and the resulting advice is useful, buy your products there instead of at a discount store. The advice and service are worth the few extra pennies.
Give It a Bath
Your car is getting beat up by the environment every day. It’s baked by the sun, pelted by elements, splashed on, and bumped into-to say nothing of what birds do to your car’s finish.
Fortunately, there is a universal solvent that can remove such items from most surfaces. No, it’s not a papaya-derivative sold on late-night TV commercials. It’s plain old water. Water, without any help from other man-made products, can clean most foreign and domestic elements from your car’s surface.
Unfortunately, car surfaces need some help. They need protection to minimize damage from the elements that gang up on them. They need a protective coating that keeps the elements from damaging the car’s surface and makes cleaning the surface easier. After your car is clean, you need to protect your car’s finish. Wash Behind Your Mirrors and Under Your Fenders Cars come clean with plain water. Most contaminants can be removed from the exterior surfaces of your car by simply washing them away. Unfortunately, a few contaminants require soap to remove them. Depending on local conditions and your pride of ownership, you should wash your car once a week or once a month.
Here’s how to wash your car:
- Find a shady spot for washing your car-either in your driveway or at a doit-yourself car wash. The sun heats up the surface of your car, evaporating the water before it can wash away contaminants. Make sure all windows are closed and your doors are firmly shut. If a door or window seal leaks water into the car, seal it temporarily by stuffing it with a clean rag.
- Start with a rinse using plain water. Run water over the surfaces of your car, beginning at the roof and working down. Don’t spray the surfaces with a hard blast of water. Instead, direct the flow of water over the surfaces by moving the end of the hose. If you’re using a car wash pressure wand, hold it away from the surface so that the pressure doesn’t scratch the paint with pressurized dirt particles.
- Wash your car. If you’re using soap, put it in the bottom of a small bucket and add one or two gallons of water. Don’t use a dish washing detergent unless you want to completely remove the old wax. If necessary, use a soap designed specifically for washing cars. Some manufacturers recommend separate products for the washing and cleaning steps. Major brands include Maguiars, Blue Coral, and Simonize. Use a sponge or soft cloth to apply and move the suds.
- Rinse your car. Just as you did before, run water over the surfaces of your car. Flush away the contaminants, suds, and any residues.
- Dry your car. Depending on the humidity of the air, you might need to first remove standing water from the car’s surfaces. Use a soft sponge (that hasn’t been used for cleaning anything else) to push excess water off the surfaces, starting at the roof and working down. You can then remove the remaining water with a chamois (pronounced SHAM-ee) or clean towel (pronounced TOU-el).
Your Car Needs Sunscreen
Car polishes dress up your car’s appearance, making it glossier. Car waxes protect your car’s finish from damage by the elements. Some car-care systems combine polish and wax into one product, and others have separate products and procedures for each. To protect your car’s finish, apply a polish and wax in one or two steps, depending on the quality of results you want and the time you prefer to invest. This process takes one to two hours every three to six months.
Here’s how to protect your car’s finish:
- Rinse, wash, and rinse your car as described in the preceding article. Make sure the car is fully dry before applying some finish products because water can mix and make the finish cloudy. Other products require a dampened application cloth.
- Apply the polish/wax to flat surfaces first, spreading it and letting it dryas directed by the manufacturer. Some products suggest that you apply and dry a section at a time. Others tell you to apply the product to all surfaces before removal. Most products suggest that you apply with a circular motion. Sadly, none recommend that you drink a beer between applications.
- Remove the polish/wax as directed by the manufacturer or a well-meaning neighbor in the adjoining driveway. Use soft cloths to polish the car, turning them frequently to minimize buildup.
Be Careful Not to Hurt the Soft Spot
Convertible car tops are fabric tops that fold down. They need special care. You can clean your con vertible top with a special cleaner made just for convertibles or a mild solution of soap or deter gent. Use as little water as possible and make sure it doesn’t leak into the car’s interior. Convertible top windows typically are made of plastic that can easily be scratched by the wrong cleaner. Your auto parts retailer or a detail shop can. sell you a cleaner made especially for convertible top windows. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions-unless it’s your brother’s car.
Vinyl was a popular car roof covering for many years because it made the car look like a convertible. It also added an accent color. Although not as popular today, vinyl roofs can still be found on many new and used cars. If your car has a vinyl roof, here’s how to maintain it. First, clean it with a soft brush and mild detergent to remove dirt and contaminants that build up in the embossed pattern. Make sure the roof is rinsed and dried well, and then apply a Vinyl roof dressing available from auto parts retailers. Products like Armor All also work well on Vinyl roofs. If necessary, follow with a car wax to protect the surface.
Bathing Your Car’s Engine
Engines get dirty. Although there are currently no engine laundromats, you safely can wash and dry your car’s engine yourself. Not only is a clean engine compartment more aesthetically pleasing, it’s also safer. Accumulations of oil and grease can be the starting point for a dangerous engine fire. You can do this job in your driveway, but it will make a mess. Consider taking your car to a do-it-yourself car wash, where there’s a pressure washer and adequate drainage for the job.
Here’s how to safely clean your car’s engine:
- Start and run the engine for 15 minutes or until it reaches normal operating temperature.
- Turn off the engine and open the hood. Remove the engine’s air cleaner housing. Use plastic trash bags and tape to cover the carburetor, fuel-injector unit, and electronic components that can be damaged by water (distributor, alternator, coil, and so on).
- Spray other components with a can of engine degreaser to loosen grease and oils. Let the degreaser stand for the time recommended by the manufacturer. On a warm engine, the standing time ranges from 15 minutes to an hour. The degreaser is breaking up petroleum buildups so that they can be rinsed away.
- Carefully spray the engine compartment with pressurized water to rinse away the loosened grease.
- Remove the trash bags from the covered components. Reinstall any other components you removed, such as the air cleaner.
- Start the engine. If it doesn’t start, water has probably entered the distributor; carefully open and dry the distributor with a clean cloth.
If your car needs more attention to renew the color and finish, use one of the polishes that include a rubbing compound. These compounds remove oxidation from the paint, renewing the color and even buffing out light scratches. They shouldn’t be used on cars with a clear-coat finish because they will damage it; instead, use a polish that says it’s safe for clear coat. Rubbing compounds also should not be used on finishes that are nearly worn off because they will take it down to the metal. It’s time for a paint job. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, printed on the container, for using rubbing compounds or polishes with a rubbing compound in it. What can you do between wash jobs to maintain your car’s appearance? You can use a soft, wet rag to carefully wipe away bugs, dirt, and bird messages. There are also sprayon products, such as Maguiar’s Quik Detailer, that clean the surface and replace the protective coating. I use it and recommend it.
Chrome Is Chrome Is Really Plastic and How to Clean It
Car chrome isn’t what it used to be. It isn’t metal! Chrome used to be an electroplating of nickel and chromium on metal parts. Today’s chrome is a silvery finish on plastic parts. Even so, both types are cleaned in much the same way. The only difference is that plastic chrome doesn’t stand up to abrasive cleaners very well.
If your car’s exterior metal chrome is pitted with some rust, clean it with an abrasive chrome cleaner to remove loose flakes and the rust. Then apply chrome paint to the exposed metal to color and protect it. Finally, apply a protective coating of wax to seal the surface and minimize future damage. If the chrome is gone, check the telephone book for a chrome plating service that can rechrome car parts. If the exterior chrome is actually painted plastic, use a household surface cleaner to clean it. Touch up any chips with chrome paint made for the job (available from auto parts retailers). When the chrome is dry, apply wax to seal the surface. Clean Wheels Go Faster Well, okay, they don’t go faster, but they do look better.
Soap and water do wonders toward cleaning and maintaining your car’s wheels and tires. Use a soft brush to apply the same solution you use to wash your car. Then rinse it well with plain water. Perrier is too expensive for this job. White walls and red striping can be cleaned with a mild bleach solution or with spray cleaners made for the task. The black surface of tires can be treated with Armor All or similar products to seal and shine them. A black tire paint is sold at auto parts stores for really gussying up the tires for a special date.
Permanent Makeup for Your Car
Your car is a projectile in a world of projectiles. As you drive, road rocks strike the front of your car. As you park, posts reach out and bite your car. The world is tough on car paint. You can fix the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with handy-dandy touchup paint. Browsing through your favorite auto parts retailer’s store, you will probably come across a rack of spray cans or mascara-type bottles identified as touchup paint. These little products can work wonders on your car. They come in assorted colors such as “Ford Motor Co., White, 1995-1986.” They may also be cross-coded to the car manufacturer’s paint code (in this case, “9M, YY”) to make selection easier. You can also check with your dealership’s parts department for exact match touchup paint.Select touchup vials (with abrush in the cap) for fixing scratches and chips. Use spray cans for touching up larger areas, up to about one foot square.
Here’s how to use touchup paint:
- In the auto parts store, look for the touchup paints and especially for a chart that shows which paint color to use for your car. If possible, take a painted part of your car, such as a gas cap, into the store for comparison. If your car has been repainted since it was manufactured, you may have to guess. If you can’t find a single color that matches your car’s paint, select two that you can blend. I’ll tell you how.
- Purchase one or two cans or vials of touchup paint, one of scratch filler/primer, and a small package of very fine steel wool. If your car has a clear-coat finish, also purchase clear-coat touchup.
- Find a chip or scratch on your car in the least obvious location so that you can practice your touchup skills. Smooth the surface around the boo-boo by carefully rubbing it with the steel wool. Make sure you remove any rust. Clean the surface.
- Carefully apply the filler/primer to the scratch or chip area as directed by the manufacturer. If the paint is sprayed on, protect adjacent areas with masking tape. Let the paint dry the suggested amount of time. You might need a magnifying glass to read the instructions on the paint container.
- Test the touchup paint. Shake the container to mix the paint inside. Apply the touchup paint to a small piece of glass or a mirror. Then hold the glass in front of the car or the mirror beside the car body to compare the touchup paint with the car’s current paint. If the color isn’t acceptable, mix a secondary touchup paint color with the first one until you get the color you want.
- Apply the touchup paint. Shake the container vigorously, and then carefully brush or spray it on as directed. Let it dry. If your car has a clear-coat finish, apply clear-coat touchup paint.