Wash With Care

By Diane Schlindwein

March 1, 2018 4 min read

Automobile enthusiast Scott Cornish knows that keeping your vehicle free of salt, road debris and dead insects is key to maintaining its paint, as well as its trade-in value. Moreover, he says the warmer months are a great time to brush up on your car washing skills.

In fact, Cornish cleans up the front end of his vehicle almost every evening when he returns home from work, especially after he's been traveling on the highways. He uses a bug and tar remover, and attests this kind of car care takes only a few minutes and makes his weekly car washing easier in the long run.

When weather permits, wash your car often. As Cornish says, washing is critical because it removes substances that accumulate on and can eventually damage the paint. Remember to use products meant specifically for automobiles. Don't use dish soap, laundry soap or ammonia-based window cleaning products on the paint. Instead, choose a PH-balanced product that will loosen the dirt but won't strip off the wax.

When you are preparing to wash your car, take the nozzle off the hose so the water will flow more freely. Hose the entire vehicle down first to soften and loosen the debris. When washing the entire car, Cornish says it is best to use two buckets: one with clean water (that you might have to dump and refill a few times) and one with soapy water. The water-only bucket should be used to rinse the sponge and keeps dirt out of sudsy water.

Work from the top of the car to the bottom, using a large sponge, microfiber towel or lamb's wool mitt. Microfiber towels are gentle to the paint finish and can be used for washing and drying the car and even for applying and removing car wax and other car care products. Move the sponge or towel lengthwise across the panels or the hoods of the car. Don't forget to clean the wheel wells -- where grease and road tar naturally accumulate -- with a bug and tar remover. Finally, wash the tires and rims. Remember to rinse the entire car well.

Trevor Johnson, a law enforcement officer and Mustang Club member, takes pride in caring for both his squad car and his show vehicle, a convertible Mustang Cobra. If you have a convertible, Johnson recommends switching from the sponge or microfiber cloth to a soft bristle brush to clean the top, always washing it with soft circular strokes.

"While washing your car, make sure to keep all parts of the car wet, even those that you've already washed, until you finish the rest of the vehicle," he says. "This prevents water spots until you can dry it with a towel. This is most important when it is very hot and sunny. The same goes for the glass. If it dries before you're able to dry it yourself, you will get a lot of water spots. Of course, if your car is a darker color, this becomes even more of a problem."

Cornish says some of his car-show acquaintances have invested in hand-held automatic car dryers that they use to quickly dry hard-to-reach spots on their vehicles. "They look kind of like a leaf-blower. I don't use one myself, but they seem to work really well," he says.

Finally, wax your car at least every three months. Use a liquid or paste wax, following the directions on the packaging, to provide the longest protection. As Johnson says, "You don't have to spend a lot on professional detailing as long as you aren't afraid of applying a little of your own elbow grease to your vehicle."

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