Those who know me are well aware that I'm not really one of those spit-and-polish fanatics. Sure, I like my vehicles to look good, but I've never been known to spend countless hours with a toothbrush between my teeth detailing every nook and cranny of my cars . . . I'm more the coin-op car wash kinda guy, and I've got a strong feeling it was for just this reason that I drew this story assignment. I think the powers that be wanted me to see, and pass along to the like-minded reader, that with the right products, the correct tools, and a few tips, vehicle detailing can actually be a rewarding way to spend a day. So, with this in mind I began to investigate the world of detailing. Who knows, polishing may well be as gratifying as wrenching, but I'm not gonna hold my breath.TT
* When beginning a detailing regimen, it's always a good idea to start with the engine and engine compartment. This will ensure that any dirt and grease that lands on the vehicle during engine compartment cleaning will be washed off during the initial rinsing and car washing.
* Another trick when washing the engine compartment is to cover the fender tops with towels to protect them from any harsh degreasers you may use.
* It's always a good idea to wash your wheels first preventing contamination from cleaners, brake dust, and dirt from being spattered back onto the body around the wheel opening areas as you rinse.
* The first step in any wash job is to spray the vehicle with a medium to light spray of water. This serves to rinse the large dirt and grime particles off of the finish before you hit it with a sponge or wash mitt and grind those contaminants into the paint finish.
* As is true with waxing, washing should be performed in the shade if all possible, as well. A hot surface causes both wash and rinse water to evaporate much too quickly, causing spotting and streaking.
* Always use soap that's specifically made for car washing. Dishwashing detergent is not the way to go, as it's much too strong and contains no surface conditioners or natural oils that aid in rinsing dirt and grit off the surface without scratching the finish.
* Whether you prefer a natural sea sponge, a synthetic sponge, or a wash mitt of some sort, always make sure they've been thoroughly rinsed before use. The last thing you want to do is rub your finish with a sponge or mitt that's contaminated with grit from a previous wash job.
* It should go without saying, always start washing and rinsing from the top down. If you're using a car wash shampoo that contains natural oils, remember to rinse frequently and well so those oils aren't allowed to dry on the car causing hazing. It's also a good idea for your final rinse to be done without the use of a spray nozzle; let the rinse water flow freely and sheet off the finish.
* After the car has been thoroughly washed and rinsed it's then time to dry it off in preparation for a good wax job. Some prefer to use a natural chamois for this chore while others opt for synthetic versions or Microfiber towels instead. Microfiber products are extremely soft and like a chamois will absorb over seven times its weight in water.
* For anything other than a fresh new finish a good going over with a clay bar is the perfect next step after a thorough wash job. Created to lift the particulate debris and contaminants that washing can't, clay bars remove embedded grains of metal, tree sap, airborne environmental deposits, and paint overspray from your car's finish by grabbing onto them and lifting them off a vehicle's painted surface. This is a much more preferable way to refresh a finish than buffing with compound, and in many cases just as successful.
* Always use the supplied lubricant with a clay bar product. When used as directed there is no polishing effect on the surface while the bar is grabbing the contaminants. As the bar becomes soiled, just pull, stretch and fold it to expose a fresh surface, and never reuse a clay bar that's been dropped on the ground.
* Waxes seal the surface and protect paint from environmental elements. Polishes clean paint using an abrasive thus restoring gloss and depth. In many of today's products, companies will combine polishes and waxes to enable the product to clean and protect paint in one easy step.* When waxing, always work in a shaded area. High surface temperatures will cause waxes to dry too fast causing hazing and streaking.
* Apply wax in as thin a coating as possible, and try using one of those Microfiber towel products as a final wipe--you'll be amazed at the result.
* Always store your polishing towels, wax applicators, chamois, etc. in plastic bags to ensure they stay clean and uncontaminated.
* Quick detail products are a great way to maintain that just waxed look between actual wax jobs. They're easy to use, look great, but don't last like a real wax job.
* Always use a dedicated sponge or wash mitt for use on your tires, and never use them on your cars finish.
* After cleaning your tires, let them dry completely (at least 30 minutes) before applying a dressing. It's also a good idea to use applicators that are made specifically for this type of job--it makes a rather messy chore that much easier.
* One of the easiest ways to polish those fancy chromed or billet wheels of yours is with one of those Mother's Power Balls--they really are awesome, use one once and you'll never go back to doing it by hand.
* Speaking of Power Balls, the Power Ball Mini is perfect for hard to reach areas and polished aluminum engine dress-up items, as well.
* Never use household detergents, abrasives, or petroleum distillates on vinyl interior components, a mild soap (like Ivory) and warm water works well. Always follow with a clean water rinse using a sponge or wet cloth. An automotive specific cleaner/dressing is the way to go.
* Mildew bacteria can be killed and cleaned by using a medium/soft brush and a 4 to 1 mixture of water and ammonia; then rinse with cool water.
* No matter how careful we are, carpet cleaning is a must for oft-used vehicles. For stubborn stains, use a soft-bristled brush to agitate deep down into the carpet's fibers, using circular, overlapping motions. Finally, blot the moist area with another clean terry cloth towel. Although most spray-on cleaners leave no residue, vacuum again once the carpet is completely dry for best results. Finally, some cleaners also contain a protector, but applying a standalone protector to the newly cleaned carpet will help future stains come out even easier.
* The final bit of detailing in the process should be the interior glass. For best results use an automotive glass cleaner versus a household ammonia-based one. Household glass cleaner is not formulated to remove vinyl fog etc. like the automotive version is.