Car Cleaning 101: Get Your Ride Shining Right
We all learned how to wash our cars from someone, right? I’ll never forget, years ago as I was washing my Dad’s car, my sisters’ boyfriend started yelling, “Yo, yo, what are you doing?!?” Casually, I said, “Washing my Dad’s car”, and continued on...scrubbing the wheels, fenders and body, all with the same wash mitt, which by then had become filthy. What can I say, I was young. I liked cars but had no idea the fundamentals of washing a car. He told me, “You have to use a different mitt – look, see how dirty this is? You don’t want that all over the body of the car.” Apparently, he was a car guy too. Which brings us to today's lesson of car cleaning techniques: Basically, you’re never too old (or young, in my case) to learn something new; that’s the beauty of it all. As enthusiasts, it’s our duty to share our passion for cars with others. With the help of our friends at Meguiar's, we’ve put together five basic steps everyone should know in order to keep their car shiny and ensure you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Before we move any further, memorize, burn these following words into your mind:
- Inspect: Clean/Prep
Perhaps the biggest mistake happens at the very beginning, while washing the car down. At Meguiar's, the most agreed upon procedure when washing a vehicle is using a “two bucket” method - that means two buckets (and two mitts!) should be used when washing the vehicle from top to bottom. Rinse the vehicle with plain water, fill your soap bucket and then in between uses of the mitt, use the secondary bucket filled with water to rinse the soapy mitt. This ensures that you’re not just pushing debris around the car, further damaging the paint. After your final rinse, use microfiber towels to dry your vehicle. Meguiars suggests their Ultimate Wash and Wax, which includes clear coat safe carnuba and synthetic polymer technology to lift dirt off the vehicle's surface.
Once the car is freshly washed and dried, it’s time to inspect the paint. Take a look at the car and look for anything that’s “left over” after washing. If you find debris, run your hand over it – can you feel anything? If you can, that’s your clue to use a clay bar. The Meguiar's Clay Bar kit includes everything you need to clay properly, including the clay bar, clay lubricant and a microfiber towel. Be sure to keep the surface completely wet as you use the clay, and fold the bar often to keep the stuff you’re picking up from further scratching the paint. If you can’t feel it but it’s definitely there, you'll need to use a compound to get the contaminants out. A compound is a light abrasive that assists with removing oxidation, fine swirls and scratches embedded within the clear coat. You can either hand apply and remove or use a Dual Action Polisher to speed up the job. Meguiar's even has a slick drill-aided (DA) power accessory that allows you to pair up their tool with your household drill to get the job done more efficiently. If you think you're ready for the big leagues - or are like me, lazy - you can pickup Meguiar's Professional Grade DA (Dual Action) MT300. The dual action ensures that you will not burn into the paint by accident.
Now that the paint is fully cleaned and prepped, it’s time to get that wet and shiny look. This step is treated as optional as it’s used mainly to achieve depth in darker colors (black/red/blue); lighter colors (white/silver/yellow) simply can’t take advantage of it. Meguiar's Ultimate Compound cuts as fast as harsh abrasive compounds but without scratching, even on clear coat finishes. This dramatically reduces the time and effort required to remove defects.
The only way to protect your paint is to create a barrier between it and the elements. This is where wax comes into play. Think of it as sunscreen for your car; it doesn’t provide anything other than protection. There is a common misconception that wax provides the luster for your vehicle, which isn’t the case. Additionally, you can’t get extra protection by adding additional coats, rather the extra coats ensure that the entire surface is covered. Some tend to equate the term 'carnauba' with wax, which is more natural compared to the man-made, synthetic polymer waxes available on the market. There are arguments for both sides, but the consensus is that as long as you wax your vehicle on the regular to protect it, you'll be in good shape regardless.
Now that your car is up to snuff, the best thing you can do to keep that shine is to maintain it. Similar to scheduled maintenance work for your engine, you want to maintain the exterior in a similar matter. Washing your car frequently will help keep debris from becoming caked in. While this isn’t viable for some of us, there are other options such as Meguiar's Ultimate Wash and Wax Anywhere, which can be used to safely wash your vehicle without water, cutting prep time down substantially. This particular product has lifting agents to help you wipe down your car safely without a formal car wash; perfect for Californians as we’re under mandatory water conservation. For touch ups, Meguiar's Ultimate Detailer is the perfect companion to battle bird poop and other spot cleanups as soon as they occur. If you’re in for more hands on instruction and live in the greater Southern California region, we highly recommend visiting the Meguiar's corporate office in Irvine, where they host a car cleaning clinic twice a month. It'll be time well spent learning how to properly clean any vehicle in your garage. Here's Dr. Stoops polishing the side of the Kolab Rocket Bunny Nissan GT-R. Michael is showing off the advantages of Meguiar's Ultimate Wash + Wax Anywhere on a new Alfa Romeo 4C. Nothing but the good stuff, provided by Meguiar's - but you have to do the work yourself! It's the only way to learn... While car cleaning is a highly skilled science that could go on and on, by simply following these five of the most basic essentials will be more than plenty to get your car shining off the bat. We'll have more tips coming soon, which will highlight cleaning and detailing wheels, interior and engine bays. I can tell you from this basic car cleaning clinic alone that I haven't used the same mitt for cleaning my wheels and car body since!