Q: I own a late-model Corvette that I love to clean and detail on weekends. Of course, every time I work on my car, one of the men in my life informs me that I am doing it incorrectly, then tells me what methods and products I should use instead. Their advice is often conflicting, leaving me more confused than ever.
That being the case, could you recommend a good line of car-care products? What do you think of dry washing or waterless car washes?
What about the frequency of washing? I try to wash my car once a week, but my grandfather tells me I’m going to “wash the paint right off that plastic car.” Is there any truth to this statement?
Finally, could you share the correct method of waxing my Corvette? - Samantha, Via Email
A: There are numerous good finish-care options available, including DFT Details, Meguiar’s, Mothers, Turtle Wax, and others. But what the labels of most polishing and wax products don’t tell you is that in order to achieve that long-lasting, high-gloss shine, you must first prepare the surface properly.
Proper surface prep will eliminate scratching and swirls caused by contaminants being ground into the paint. It will also allow the wax to better adhere to the painted surface, providing longer-lasting results.
Start by washing your car with a quality, purpose-specific cleaning product (Image A). Do not use normal dish soap, laundry soap, or other household cleaners, as these products are designed to dissolve and remove grease and oil. They’re hard on rubber components, they can strip away the existing wax, and in some instances they could even damage the car’s finish. Dedicated car-wash products are pH-balanced and formulated to loosen and lift surface contaminants without stripping away wax. Most also contain an anti-spotting agent.
Washing Your Vehicle
When washing your car, a shaded location is a must. Direct sunlight will dry the car prematurely and leave water spots. Also ensure that the car’s surface is no more than slightly warm to the touch.
1. Start with the wheels
The first step in washing your vehicle should be cleaning the wheels, which are typically the dirtiest part. You can use regular car-wash soap here, but a specially formulated wheel cleaner will make the job easier. Don’t wash the wheels if they’re hot, as the heat can evaporate the cleaner and cause spots.
While a soft brush is the best way to clean wheels, you can also use an old wash mitt, detail brush, toothbrush, or sponge. All wheel-cleaning implements should be used for the wheels only, since they’re likely to pick up debris that can cause cross contamination or even scratch the paint. You should also have a dedicated wash bucket for wheel cleaning.
2. Prepare the vehicle for washing
Open the hood and trunk and clean out any accumulated leaves and dirt. If available, use compressed air to clean any hard-to-reach areas, such as the cowl area under the hood and the front lower doorjambs.
Inspect the paint, looking for contaminants such as film from tree sap, dead bugs, bird droppings, pollen, pollutants, or any other tough stains. After wetting the car, apply car-wash soap directly to these stains and let it sit for a few minutes. A simple way to apply the soap is with a spray bottle.
Rinse the car, starting at the roof and working your way down. Special attention should be given to areas where leaves and debris tend to collect.
3. If applicable, clean the convertible top
Dip a soft-bristle brush in soapy water and work the dirt out of the grain using small, circular motions. If the top is heavily soiled or stained, you may need to use a product designed specifically for this purpose. These products are pH-balanced to safely lift dirt from cloth and vinyl tops without damaging the top material or stitching.
The “two bucket” method discussed below should also be used for cleaning the convertible top.