Spring-cleaning

By Sharon Naylor

January 22, 2010 4 min read

Winter weather can wreak havoc on your car. All of that sand and salt from frozen roads can damage your car's finish and reduce your car's value over time.

"Metal and paint technologies have improved leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades, and cars don't rust as rapidly as they used to," says Aaron Gold, an automotive journalist for About.com, "but there's still a lot you can do."

To start off your spring right and overcome those winter woes, follow these tips on how to make your vehicle shine:

*Wash your car. Wipe off the winter with a good old-fashioned washing of your car; it will need it. According to Gold, you only should wash your car once the temperature is higher than 32 degrees. "Salt doesn't do as much damage when it's frozen in snow and ice," he says. "It's when the snow on your car begins to melt that the salt begins to attack your car's surface. If temperatures are above freezing, wash your car once a week."

*If you're going to an automatic carwash, avoid establishments that use recycled water. Remember that your car isn?t the only one that is coming out of a harsh and salt-filled winter. "All you're doing is spraying salt and grime from other people's cars all over yours," Gold says.

*Use proper detergent, not dish soap. Gold says that many people mistakenly think that dish soap is a good alternative, but because dish soap is designed to attack grease, it has the same effect on the wax that protects your car's finish. Some car brands, such as BMW, offer their own lines of car-cleaning products that they advise you use for your self-cleaning efforts.

*Use two buckets as you clean your car. "When you use one bucket to rinse your wash mitt and reload with suds, you're basically wiping dirt and salt all over your car again."

*Remove stains and droppings right away. Tree sap, bird droppings, bugs and other debris can eat away at your car's paint, so keep an eye out for these messes, and wash them off as soon as possible.

*Use the right protective tools. A soft, clean sponge is essential for cleaning the car, and Gold says that a sheepskin or microfiber wash mitt is even better. "Using a towel to wash your car is a mistake because towels will pick up dirt and salt and cause scratches all over your car."

*Now that your car is spring-fresh, keep it that way with a good waxing. For both new and older cars, road dirt and salt are the enemy. They cause corrosion to your paint and the metal car body, so a coat of wax is going to be your primary protective goal. Yet waxing your car is only advisable when the temperature is higher than 50 degrees, according to the experts at Turtle Wax. So spring is the perfect time to add a new protective coat. Remember to apply some on a day when the sun shines and temperatures reach the 50-degree mark. "Don't rely on the spray waxes available at most carwashes," Gold says. "A proper waxing job should be done by hand." Wax regularly, though not too often. Gold says that if you live in a cold and snowy region, you should wax your car twice yearly, just before and after winter. In warmer climates, wax once a year. New synthetic waxes make the job easy, Gold says.

*And finally, for interior shine, use proper leather cleaning wipes for your leather seats -- or vacuum your cloth seat covers regularly -- to remove debris. Window cleaning sprays provide a streak-free shine. Time your window cleaning to late afternoon or early evening, when the sun isn't shining directly on your car. Microfiber mitts and towels will provide a lint-free finish to your interior and exterior windows, unlike most paper towels. Wipe down your mirrors and dashboard with these microfiber towels to remove dust and your car will look like new.

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