How concerned are you about your Corvette's looks? Is a trip to the drive-through car wash every few months good enough? Or do you obsess over things such as tiny swirl marks in your paint, or getting just the right amount of gloss on your trim? If you fall into the latter group, then you've come to the right place. Over the next few pages, we're going to show you some professional-level cleaning and detailing tips that will make your Vette gleam. Better still, these techniques can be performed in your driveway with just a few simple tools and a handful of car-care products.
The first step in properly caring for painted automotive surfaces is to make sure they're clean. But did you know there's a difference between washing and cleaning your car? According to Mike Pennington, who heads training and consumer relations for the car-care specialists at Meguiar's, washing-that job done with a hose, buckets, and soap-removes dirt and other loose contaminants from on top of the paint. Cleaning, on the other hand, addresses contaminants that are bonded to the paint-such as tree sap, hard-water deposits, or other environmental fallout-as well as swirls, scratches, oxidation, and stains.
Pennington offered these tips for getting the best result from your wash: Always wash your car in the shade when the metal-er, fiberglass-is cool to the touch. Hose off the car first to loosen the dirt, then use a high-quality wash mitt to apply soapy water. A premium mitt-whether it's cotton, synthetic, or microfiber-has plenty of nap that will protect the paint from being scratched by dirt the mitt picks up. And always use a soap that's designed for automotive paint; household soaps and detergents are too harsh for your car's finish.
Meguiar's recommends washing your car using the two-bucket method. Fill one bucket with water and soap, the other with plain water. After soaking the mitt in the soapy water and wiping the car, rinse it in the plain-water bucket. That way, dirt picked up by the mitt is left in the rinse bucket and won't contaminate the soap bucket, reducing the risk of that very same dirt being wiped back on the car.
When it's time to rinse, hose off the car using high-pressure water, then do a final rinse with a low-pressure stream. You'll be amazed at how the water sheets off the car and how much quicker and easier it is to dry.
As with the wash mitt, use a high-quality towel to dry the car, preferably a microfiber drying towel. Today's microfiber technology has advanced to the point where these towels are far more absorbent than yesterday's cotton or terry cloth, which speeds up the drying process considerably.
Once your car is clean and dry, it's time to evaluate the paint to determine your next step. Move the car inside to a bright, well-lit area and check the paint for trouble spots. During the evaluation process, "you're looking for above-the-surface contaminants like overspray or tree sap, and below-the-surface problems like swirls, scratches, etching, and oxidation," Pennington says. Look closely at the paint, and also run your hand over the car to feel how smooth it is. A rough feel is a telltale sign that there are bonded contaminants on the finish that need to be taken off.
These contaminants can be removed using a clay bar. Pennington offers these claying tips: Always lubricate the surface prior to rubbing it with the clay. This will make the bar glide across the surface and prevent scratches. It's also a good idea to tear the bar into small pieces before using it. That way, should you drop the piece, you can throw it away without wasting the entire bar. Knead the bar every so often to keep its surface fresh. If the bar gets dark, or you can see particles in the clay, it's time to use a new piece.