Protecting Your Car's Plastics

By Sharon Naylor

September 4, 2013 5 min read

So many parts of a car are made of plastic. When you first buy a new car, those plastic trims, cupholders, buttons and visors look shiny and new, unblemished and in the color you picked out when you custom-ordered the details.

Over time, the plastic elements of your car can fade, dry out, crack, collect dust, dirt, grime and food particles. That can make your new car look older, or it can make the car look older than it actually is.

Plastics exist on the inside and outside of your car, such as the plastic trim found on your car's doors, bumpers and beds of many modern vehicles. Plastic on the outside of your car is exposed regularly to damaging elements, such as rain, salt, road sand, bird droppings and even berries that fall from the trees when the car is parked.

Speaking of parked cars, a great damaging factor to your car's plastic elements is the sun. Sunlight and its UV rays will quickly fade the colors of your car's plastics, with darker plastics like black and charcoal gray suffering from the quickest and most dramatic fading. Extended exposure to sunlight is the number one cause of plastic fading, and eventually bleaches the black plastic trim to white. Color changes in your plastics can also be caused by extreme hot or cold weather.

To keep your car looking its best and retaining its value, follow these tips for protective care of your car's plastic parts:

--On a regular basis, wipe down your plastic trim, bumpers or other plastic parts before they start fading. If they've started to fade a bit, be sure to remove any dust, dirt or particles. Then apply a trim sealant recommended by your car manufacturer or by your loyal mechanic, using a microfiber cloth or pad to prevent any scratching or damage to the trim. Follow product instructions carefully, and leave the product on and remove it according to recommended timing. Some cleansers can cause plastic fading if left on for too long.

--Don't scrub your plastic parts using an abrasive cleaning solution or scrubbing tools. Allow car-safe cleaning solutions to do their job, avoid acidic home cleaning recipes, and gently work dirt and grime from your plastic car parts.

--Including waxing in your regular professional car washes. According to the book "Gorgeously Green," written by eco-friendly lifestyle expert Sophie Uliano, going to a car wash uses less water than washing your car yourself in your driveway, and many car washes recycle their cleaning water. Their waxing process is also quick and easy, not backbreaking work for you, and the regular wax coat will protect your plastic parts as well as your car's coat.

If you'd like to get your car professionally detailed, an expert can use specially formulated cleaning materials to remove all fine grime from the seals of your plastics, while also applying wax that will last for many months. Experts say that car owners who regular have their cars detailed will find that the resale value is up to 10 percent more than those who don't. When potential buyers see records of your professional detailing, they know this car has been take care of.

--It is possible to have your faded plastic parts re-shaded with plastic trim dye. You can certainly take on this task yourself, but keep in mind that some plastic parts are located close to fabric parts, such as the mirror visor and your drink console. So a professional detailer may be your safest and best bet for plastic trim dye application and the resulting refreshed color you desire.

--Keep an eye on your plastic cup holders. They can get moisture and coffee stains in the bottoms of their cups, which can cause odors and reduce your car's value. Be sure to regularly clean these out.

--Don't let fingerprints on plastic parts become invisible to you. Wipe them clean with grease-busting plastic cleaning solution and microfiber cloths or paper towels.

--If dust is gathered on the slats of your air conditioning and heating vents, think twice about blasting the compressed air. That can shoot dust into the mechanical parts of your car, causing expensive damage. Instead, use an attracting dust cloth to wipe the vent slats clean on a regular basis.

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