Caring for the Exterior
We cannot all drive a 1962 Facel-Vega Facel II as there were only 180 of the car produced. Nor, can we all aspire to have our vehicle professionally cleaned, we can’t always. If you are one of those who ask your gardener to wash your vehicle, you may be asking for trouble in the long run. Few locals seem to know how to properly care for a vehicle, as is visible by simply taking a look as you drive around town. While you may see the occasional older vehicle that looks like it has weathered the time well, upon closer look you realize that is certainly doesn’t look like new.
It may seem like the only impact of overlooking regular washing and external vehicle maintenance is your vehicle’s appearance. This is far from the truth. Paint damage can be an unwanted side effect of neglecting regular care. Instead of risking this pricey outcome, try a few DIY tips to achieve a perfect shine. Even if your schedule is jam-packed or you’re working within a budget, there is always a way to get your investment looking its best, which is also important for vehicle maintenance.
If you still want your gardener to wash your vehicle, the information in this article will assist you in instructing them as to what is really needed to preserve the value of your investment in your vehicle.
While we are on the subject of allowing others to clean your vehicle, you should be very careful of allowing those at intersections attempt to clean your windows. First, you should never clean your vehicle’s windows in direct sunlight or very hot conditions, if possible. It is more easily scratched when the glass is warm. The rags and window squeegees that are used in the street are never cleaned and have a buildup of dirt that will easily scratch your window. Keep your windows clean and pay attention to those in the street wagging your finger no, as they approach. There is more about cleaning your windows in the next section.
Clean the exterior of the vehicle and once it is dry, cover it to protect the paint and finish. Store your vehicle in a garage if possible and under a carport or away from the elements if a garage is not available.
If you’re looking to get the most out of your clean, you’ll want to look a little deeper than just your exterior. After all, most of your time (and therefore mess!) is spent inside your vehicle. The damage can often be found on the carpet, which is why you should start with compressed air and stiff scrub brushes. First, get your air compressor going so that you can blow out the deep-set dirt from the floor onto the middle of the carpet.
From here, you can easily vacuum up the debris. If you still find the dirt difficult to remove from the carpet, work with a stiff brush. This will loosen the particles. For those with leather seats, you’ll want to nourish the leather with an aloe conditioner.
Every time your tires hit the pavement, they pick up unwanted grime and dust. Before you bring out your acid-based cleaners, think twice. If there is acid in your cleaning product, you could cause your alloy wheels to oxidize and pit. The result is color damage or clear-coated wheels, which will increase your vehicle’s maintenance costs. Make sure to clean your wheels before washing and protecting the paint!
While hand washing is a pro tip, it certainly shouldn’t be executed with dishwashing soap. While this may come as a surprise, about 60 percent of the population uses this not-so-great method of cleaning their vehicles. While it may initially look clean, you’re actually stripping the wax coating and exposing your vehicle to nicks, scratches, and stains. Instead, use a car wash solution. Immediately after washing your vehicle, be sure to get it dry with a clean and nick-free rubber blade squeegee as water residue can leave minerals and dirt on your vehicle.
Finally, it’s time for protection. You’ve put so much time and effort into cleaning and vehicle maintenance, now you need to make sure your clean lasts! Wax allows your paint to fend itself against the elements. A pro tip is that anything more than one coat is a waste.
Regular vehicle maintenance is the key to having a safe and reliable driving experience for you and your family. Regular washing is one of the biggest steps you can take when it comes to maintenance because when your vehicle looks pristine and luxurious, you’ll want it to drive the same way.
Cleaning Your Windows
The windows of your vehicle take a beating from dirt, bugs, bird droppings and other debris. But with a few simple techniques and a little know-how, you can make even the dirtiest windows sparkle. Here’s a list of helpful glass cleaning tips to get your windows brilliantly clean – without leaving behind streaks, scratches, residue or lint.
In case you missed the paragraph about the street window washers, it is included again. You should be very careful of allowing those at intersections attempt to clean your windows. First, you should never clean your vehicle’s windows in direct sunlight or very hot conditions, if possible. It is more easily scratched when the glass is warm. The rags and window squeegees that are used in the street are never cleaned and have a buildup of dirt that will easily scratch your window. Keep your windows clean and pay attention to those in the street wagging your finger no, as they approach.
The first step is to choose an auto glass cleaner. Make sure your glass cleaner does NOT contain ammonia, alcohol or any ingredient that could produce toxic fumes. Beyond the obvious health concerns of inhaling these fumes, consider the impact your automotive cleaning products have on the environment.
Any product containing ammonia is a definite no-no when it comes to auto detailing. Ammonia and ammonia fumes cause plastic, rubber, vinyl, and leather to dry out, and will damage any tint your windows may have. Do your homework and you won’t end up destroying your vehicle’s interior while you’re trying to clean it!
The type of towel you choose to clean your windows with can make all the difference. Choose a high-quality, glass cleaning microfiber towel of at least 300 GSM. Microfiber towels can hold up to eight times their weight in water, are lint-free and will not cause scratches. An electrostatic charge causes dirt and debris to be lifted up and away from the surface, rather than dragged across it. Old t-shirts, towels, socks, and newspaper are not the best choice when cleaning your vehicle’s glass, and will likely cause scratches, streaks and missed spots.
If you are cleaning the entire interior of your vehicle, save your windows and rear-view mirror for last to avoid getting stray spray from other cleaning products on your freshly cleaned glass. You can also avoid stray spray by spraying your window cleaner (and other applicable interior auto detailing products) onto the microfiber towel – not directly on the surface.
Another factor to keep in mind is the buffing motion you use with your microfiber towel. While a circular motion may appear to be actively buffing away any streaks from your windows, a straight back-and-forth and then up-and-down motion will ensure that the entire surface has been cleaned and wiped down, and with a non-ammoniated glass clearner, there will not be any streaks left behind.
Remember when cleaning your windows or mirrors to use one towel (or one side of a towel) to wipe the surface clean, and a second to buff the surface to a residue-free shine. Not only do you need two clean towel surfaces per swipe, but per window. The last thing you want to do is spread the dirt and dead bugs that you wiped off of your windshield onto the next window you clean. Make sure you have enough clean towels to avoid contaminating one window with the last one’s mess.
Avoid cleaning your vehicle’s windows in direct sunlight or very hot conditions, if possible. This is especially important if you are using a window cleaner containing harsh chemicals. When the liquid evaporates, the fumes left behind could easily be inhaled, posing a serious health risk. Evaporation can also mean a spotty residue before your towel even hits the glass.
The easiest place to overlook when cleaning your vehicle’s windows is the small edging area at the top of the window. Often, this area is especially dirty from build up in the rubber lip. Be sure you roll each window down several inches to clean this area on both the interior and exterior of the glass.
Ever get a build up on the edges of your windshield wipers that causes blurry areas on your windshield? Wipe down your blades with a damp cloth and a bit of white vinegar. The vinegar will remove the debris that’s stuck on the blades and allow them to make full contact with the windshield again. If after a wipe down, your windshield wipers haven’t improved any, you may be due for a new pair. And don’t forget to clean out your wiper cowl once in a while! The wiper cowl is the area at the base of the windshield where your wipers lay when not in use. Keeping this area free of grime will greatly reduce the amount of debris on your wipers.
If you have a tough spot on your windshield, here is short list of problems and solutions:
Bugs, fingerprints, bird droppings – An all-purpose cleaner and degreaser will easily remove most problem spots.
Stuck-on bug – Find an all-purpose cleaner and degreaser. Saturate the spot and then wipe away with a microfiber towel. Follow with Window Clear for a brilliant shine.
Greasy spot – An all-purpose cleaner and degreaser, followed by a non-amoninated window cleaner.
Tree sap – Use mineral spirits if the sap has dried, if it has not, use an all-purpose cleaner and degreaser. Spray directly on the spot, then very gently wipe the sap up and away from the surface with a microfiber towel.
Old sticker – Allow a white vinegar to completely saturate the affected area and then remove the sticker off using an old credit card. Avoid using anything metal to help remove the sticker, as you will likely scratch the glass.
Caring for the Interior
Step one is identifying the materials needed, including both tools and cleaning products. Microfiber towels are a must-have item, and dirty interiors will require quite a few. Dedicated microfiber towels should be used to clean glass (and clean glass only, to avoid picking up grit that can potentially scratch the inside of a windshield), and it’s best to use a microfiber towel designed specifically for glass cleaning (usually with a finer nap than an all-purpose microfiber towel). Bristle brushes are needed to dust vents and scrub things like leather seats, door panels, and steering wheels; it’s best to have one “dry brush” dedicated to dusting only, with a second brush that can be used for wet scrubbing. A vacuum is a must-have item, and while a plug-in vacuum will provide the most suction, a rechargeable or 12v outlet-powered vacuum is better than no vacuum at all.
As for chemicals, an auto glass cleaner and an interior cleaner are must-have items, while a rubber preservative is highly recommended. For vehicles with leather seats, a leather cleaner and a separate leather conditioner are needed, while cloth upholstery can generally be cleaned with the same spray used for interiors (though specially-formulated upholstery cleaners are available). Spray-on plastic and vinyl preservatives for the dashboard are a matter of individual tastes; if you believe them to be beneficial, just remember that a little goes a long way.
In fact, the “glossy” preservatives generally contain silicone oil, and instead of protecting surfaces can actually do more damage by accelerating heat transfer in vinyl dash material, which can cause cracking over time. A better option is to simply keep the dash clean and avoid parking in direct sunlight (if possible); for those desiring a sheen on their dash top, some detailers recommend using Pledge furniture polish.
Step one is cleaning interior glass. Follow the directions on the automotive glass cleaner of your choice, using the previously mentioned glass-specific microfiber towels to wipe the glass surfaces dry. If there’s heavy film (generally caused by the outgassing of plastics in a vehicle’s interior) built up on the inside of the windshield, it may be necessary to repeat this process two or even three times. To verify that a streak is on the inside of the glass and not the outside, vary the direction used to wipe the glass; wipe interior glass in a side-to-side motion while using an up-and-down motion to wipe exterior glass surfaces. Never use abrasives or harsh chemicals to clean the inside of a windshield, as many use a layer of plastic film on the inside that can be susceptible to scratching. When cleaning the rear window, be particularly gentle with defroster elements on the glass, as these can be damaged by harsh scrubbing.
Next comes a thorough vacuuming of the vehicle’s interior. Start by removing and vacuuming the floor mats first, paying attention to stains and ground-in dirt; if vacuuming doesn’t get the mats clean, carpet cleaner with stain remover is your next step (but be sure to test for colorfastness first). If you have access to a carpet steam cleaner, this can often be the best way to get heavy soil out of floor mats, but it’s probably not worth renting a steamer just for this purpose. When vacuuming the interior, don’t forget to get between the seat cushion and seat back, and don’t neglect the area under the seats (the realm of the errant french fry). Use the dry bristle brush to sweep dust from vents and controls before vacuuming, and the same technique applies to other interior nooks and crannies (like shifter boots, handbrake boots, instrument pods and such).
Once the full interior is vacuumed, take a moment to assess the next steps. If the seats are stained and dirty (regardless of material), scrubbing with a cleaner and a bristle brush will be necessary. For minor cleaning, spraying leather or vinyl seats with the cleaner of your choice, then wiping with a microfiber cloth, may be all that’s necessary. Generally speaking, always follow the cleaning product manufacturer’s directions, and when scrubbing use as little pressure as you can to obtain the desired results.
The wet soft-bristle brush is an excellent way to clean the leather of steering wheels and shift knobs. Spray the brush with cleaner, then use it to work up a lather on the leather surface, working one small area at a time. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe away the lather, making sure the foam (which carries the lifted particles of dirt in it) isn’t allowed to dry.
Leather upholstery requires one more step for proper care, and that’s the use of a leather preservative. Dry or neglected leather surfaces may require more than one application (buffing with a dry microfiber towel in between coats), but in general, always use the minimal amount of product necessary. As with paint, more light applications are far better than a single heavy application. Avoid using a leather preservative on leather-wrapped steering wheels, as it can make the surface slippery, particularly for those with sweaty hands. When treating leather shift or handbrake boots, spray a bit of preservative on a microfiber towel, then gently work this into the leather surfaces. This avoids getting leather preservative into places it shouldn’t be.
Next, use the interior cleaner and microfiber towels to wipe down door panels, door armrests, and the center console armrest. Lotion, bug spray, sunscreen and skin oils have a habit of accumulating wherever driver and passengers rest their arms, so a more vigorous scrubbing with the wet bristle brush and interior cleaner may be necessary. Even if only a light cleaning is called for, it’s best to spray the cleaner on a (clean) microfiber towel instead of the door panel, as this minimizes the possibility of liquid getting into areas it doesn’t belong (like electric window controls).
Tackle the dash in much the same way, using cleaner sprayed on a microfiber towel (which should also pick up any dust missed during vacuuming). Use care in cleaning the center stack, and use a lesser amount of cleaner around switches and electronics.
Shoe scuffs on plastic door sills plates can generally be erased using the bristle brush and spray cleaner method, though this may take a bit more elbow grease that scrubbing suntan lotion out of a door panel. The same applies to any shoe scuffs in the footwells, another common area of abuse.
Those wishing to use a preservative on dash top, plastics and vinyl (even after our warning above) should spray it on a clean microfiber towel instead of spraying directly on the surface to be treated. The same can be said of vinyl upholstery; when using a vinyl upholstery conditioner, use as little as necessary, sprayed on a microfiber towel and not on the surface itself.
Finally, the last step is to use a dedicated rubber preservative on door and window seals. The best products are expensive, but they will likely allow the original rubber seals to last the life of the vehicle while eliminating things like wind noise and water intrusion caused by shrinking rubber seals.
As with proper exterior washing, careful interior detailing takes time and effort but will extend the life of your vehicle considerably. When (or if) the time comes to sell it, proper upkeep should also pay dividends by enhancing the vehicle’s value.
Caring for Tires
Have you looked at your tires recently and noticed what appear to be tiny spiderweb cracks along the sidewalls? They might even make it all the way to the tread. It’s possible that you’re experiencing tire dry-rot. This can occur in vehicles that sit for a long time, and it results in your tires prematurely wearing out and needing to be replaced.
Dry-rotted tires can be very dangers, and it’s important to keep an eye out for the signs of it, especially if you don’t drive your vehicle very often. Tire damage can put you in serious danger. This section will help you learn why tires dry rot and how to spot the signs before they end up with a blowout.
Tires are made of rubber, a petroleum-based material that degrades naturally over a period of several years. Exactly how long it takes a tire to degrade depends on a number of factors: the climate, the humidity, the average temperature, how you store the vehicle, how often you drive it, and the air pressure in the tires.
When experiencing dry rot, tire surfaces become dry and cracked, and very prone to breaking down. The signs of dry rot include surfaces that are hard and brittle and the visual appearance of cracks in the sidewall.
The most common cause of dry rot is, quite simply, not driving your vehicle. Tires are designed to be run, and when they sit, the environmental conditions can cause them to dry out. Another common cause of rot is not keeping enough air pressure in your tires. When you run your vehicle on tires with low pressure, it creates excessive wear that dries out the tire.
Finally, storing the vehicle in an area with excessive heat or constant sun exposure can result in tire dry rot.
The best way to prevent dry rot is to take care of your tires, drive your vehicle on a regular basis, and keep the tires properly inflated. When you do need to store your vehicle, keep it in a garage, preferably in a climate-controlled area. Check the air pressure at least once per month. Storing your vehicle with boards under the tires is another good way to prevent dry rot.
In the very early stages, dry rot can sometimes be treated with water-based restoratives. However, it can be very dangerous to drive your vehicle with even one dry rot tire. If you notice the symptoms of rot, including cracks or brittle and dry surfaces, you should immediately contact a qualified repair service to have them replaced.
Care of a Seldom Driven Vehicle
If you have a vehicle you drive only occasionally, the way you store and care for it while you are not driving it can have a big impact on the way it performs. Properly preparing your vehicle for long idle periods and making sure that you protect the exterior, battery, and engine will preserve your vehicle and ensure that it is ready to run when you need to use it.
Use the “Whichever Comes First” Rule for Maintenance. Perform regular maintenance based on timing, not on mileage, so check your owner’s manual to see what is recommended. A vehicle that is not driven often will not accumulate the needed amount of mileage, but the oil and additives are still sitting and aging, even if the vehicle is not on the road.
When in doubt, perform maintenance tasks based on the calendar, not on the mileage you’ve racked up.
Store your vehicle clean and empty of possessions. Not only will you be less likely to accidentally leave a needed item in the vehicle, but leaving behind food remnants could tempt rodents and other intruders. Take any trash out of your vehicle and add an air freshener or odor repelling product, so the air inside doesn’t smell stale and old when you operate the vehicle. Store the vehicle with all windows up to reduce dust and contaminants and to keep insects out.
If possible, start the vehicle up every few days, even if you don’t actually go anywhere. Doing so will keep fluids cycling through your engine and keep everything lubricated. It will also prevent liquids from pooling in certain areas and ensure that your battery stays fresh. This step is particularly beneficial for seniors who only leave home one or two times a week, as it will help the vehicle reliably start every time it is needed.
If you are storing a seasonal vehicle or know you won’t be using your vehicle at all for a long period of time, disconnect the battery to prevent corrosion.
Caring for your vehicle the right way can ensure that it is ready to use when you need it and that it will run reliably for years to come, even if you only use it occasionally.