Unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that’s warm all year round, chances are your vehicle’s taken a beating this winter. Corrosive road salts, loose stones and road debris wreck havoc on your car’s body; masking the shiny bright paint that lies beneath it. Running your car through the car wash may get most of the winter road grime off your paint, but if you’re a perfectionist like me, you probably don’t mind a little extra TLC to get your ride looking its absolute best.
Start with a thorough Wash
The first thing you want to always do is remove all the loose debris on the surface. Start with the wheels, as they are usually the dirtiest and the last thing you want is to splatter brake dust on your freshly washed paint. Use a soft, dedicated wheel brush and cleaner for the wheels, and an all purpose cleaner with a stiff brush for the tires and wheel wells.
Next, using the two bucket method, fill one bucket with your car wash solution and your other bucket with clean water.
Always wash your car in the shade!
This will keep your car wash shampoo solution from drying on the car before it is rinsed off. Starting from the top of the vehicle, glide your wash mitt in a front to back motion. After each panel, rinse the mitt in the clean water bucket and continue to the next panel. Leave the sides and lower portions of your vehicle last, as they are usually the dirtiest.
Finally, rinse the soap solution from the car and dry with a leaf blower or soft microfiber waffle weave towel.
Remove the Contaminants
Even after a hand wash, your paint isn’t necessarily 100% clean. Airborne particles, paint overspray, and other contaminants embed into your paint that normal detergents don’t remove. A claybar, in combination with claybar lubricant, effectively removes these contaminants leaving a smooth, slick surface, ready for polish or wax. Simply mist the area you are working on with the lube and glide the clay over the paint with little to no pressure. After each panel, fold the claybar to reveal a clean portion of the clay and dry with a microfiber cloth. If you drop the claybar on the ground anytime during the process, chuck it into the trash and grab a new piece.
Polish out the scratches
Now that the paint is free of dirt and contaminants, it’s time to remove scratches and swirl marks to achieve maximum gloss and clarity from your paint. Polishing your cars paint fixes damage caused by the sun, contamination, foreign objects, and washing and drying with poor quality wash mitts and towels. For this step, a dual action polisher such as the Porter Cable 7424XP is recommended for the do-it-yourselfer, as it allows you to achieve results not possible by hand. Generally you want to work in a 2×2 area moving the polisher horizontally and vertically during 6-8 overlapping passes. If this is your first time behind a polisher, it’s always a good idea to practice on a friends beater or a scrap panel before hand. Once done polishing, re-wash the vehicle to remove any polishing oils and dust left behind.
Protect the surface
The final step is to lock in the shine with a wax or sealant. This provides a protective barrier against environmental contaminants and UV rays and helps keep the paint cleaner while sealing in that shiny paint.
There are two basic types of paint protection:
1. Car Waxes contain some kind of naturally occurring wax, for example carnauba wax or beeswax.
2. Paint sealants are made from synthetic or all man made ingredients. They typically offer greater durability, but lack the warm glow of a wax.
Whichever you choose, a quality sealant or wax makes future washing easier and provides a shield against the day to day elements your car is exposed to.
The final touches
Dried out tires and dirty windows take away from the shiny paint you’ve spent hours on. Apply a protectant to faded and dried out tires and trim to restore a dark black sheen. Clean the windows with a window cleaner and microfiber cloth and a second cloth to wipe away any streaks. Now is also the time to wipe away any remaining wax or polish residue left in the cracks and crevices.
Maintaining the shine
Washing your car on a weekly or bi weekly basis is the best way to maintain your cars perfect shine. Dirt, pollen, bird poop, and other environmental contaminants that come in contact with your vehicle can damage the paint if allowed to sit for extended periods of time. Washing your vehicle on a normal basis ensures these abrasive particles do not accumulate and bond to your paint.
A quick detailer after the wash restores that just waxed look and removes any remaining streaks. Car washes tend to use harsh chemicals and abrasive brushes that can damage the finish and remove waxes, so it’s best to set a little time aside to give your ride a good old fashioned hand wash. And hey, some people even find cleaning their car slightly therapeutic, especially after a long week at work. Give it a try, perhaps you will too!