Detailing: Part One
Story and Photography by Ryan Lee Price
Once the water
evaporates, what is left are rings of crystals bonded to the paint and crusted
The Shiny Side
On the first day, God created sunlight and dirt; four days
later, He added bugs and birds. Some time after that, the car came along, and
the four have been locked in mortal combat ever since. Like a game of Paper,
Scissors, Rock: car kills bug; bug kill paint; bird kills bug; bird poops on
car, kills paint (occasionally, car kills bird). It is a vicious cycle, and if
you've been on a long drive anywhere out of town, you're familiar with the
Technicolor insect necropolis on your windshield as a testimony to the damage
it can do to your car's shiny side.
The main enemies of a pristine paint job are acid rain, bird
droppings, alkaline-laden water drops (hard water) and plain old-fashioned dirt.
Thanks to the industrial revolution, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions
from power plants, car exhaust and air pollution from industry are now trapped
in rain water and dumped on your car during a storm. Called acid rain, it's
basically a very dilute form of nitric and sulfuric acids. The sun dries the water
droplets containing these acids and they are left behind to concentrate on your
car's surface. Soon the concentrated acid penetrates the clear coat, dissolving
the resin and forming a microscopic pit. Left untreated, the pit collects moisture
and the concentrated acid can continue into the basecoat, destroying the pigment
and eventually, the whole car.
Bird droppings contain a byproduct called uric acid. This alkaline, if left
non-neutralized, can penetrate the clear-coat and cause damage similar to acid
rain. Alkaline watermarks are all too familiar: What amounts to hard
water spots are calcium and magnesium salt deposits on the paint after the
water has evaporated. These white rings of minute crystals bond to the paint
and cannot be re-dissolved by water; only a good degreaser can break up that
enthusiast should have a cabinet in their garage just like this, with something
to handle every car care situation that may arise.
Wash your car regularly. When the car is clean, unwanted moisture
will dry up quickly, but when it's dirty, moisture accumulates with the dirt
and causes corrosion. Use soap intended for a car's paint, not for washing
dishes. You don't eat off of your car and you don't drive your plates, so leave
the dishwashing soap in the kitchen. Wash your car in the shade and never in
Wash the rims first (tires and windows last), and make sure they're
cold before applying any rim cleaner. Hot wheels will burn the cleaner
rim and cause discoloration and/or permanent damage. Use a good quality cleaner designed for your car's rims. Don't rinse the
rims and tires
first, so you can apply the cleaner full-strength. Check the service information for special recommendations for your specific vehicle.
Use different a sponge for your tires (and any exterior
rubber) and always start at the top of the car and wash down, so you're not
dragging dirt over clean panels-plus the closer you get to the street, the
dirtier the car is. Use a degreaser on tough areas, like oil spots, salt
damage, and bug splatter.
product that contains formaldehyde or any harsh preservatives, as they will
When the car is mostly dry, apply a good tire dressing to
the tires and bumpers. If you do this before you wax the car, and spray the
dressing onto a rag, airborne droplets won't mar your freshly washed car. Avoid
any product that contains formaldehyde or any harsh preservatives, as they will
detailer acts as a wax and gives you a great start toward a glossy shine.
While the car is still wet, mist it with instant detailer and
chamois it dry. Instant detailer acts as a wax and gives you a great start toward
that glossy shine. Never use a terrycloth towel, unless you love thousands of
little scratches caused by dirt trapped in the loop pile. Many stores offer
microfiber towels that work perfectly. At this point, the car doesn't have to
be 100 percent dry, but just make sure you remove most of the water so it
doesn't get a chance to bead up. Take a quick spin down the street and wipe off
any water that has been blown from the mirrors, tires, or molding.
The Inside Story
Start by vacuuming the floor, the pockets, cup holders, anywhere
that something can fall into (e.g., the glove box). For best results, remove everything
from the car, from the floor mats to the coffee coupons in the console. Start
with a small brush and get the dust and dirt out of the speaker grills and
around the dash joints. To achieve professional results when cleaning carpets,
always brush the carpet in one direction. Check the service information for specific recommendations as in this Technical Service Bulletin example from General Motors and Saab. Vehicle manufacturers may also have tips for leather care, check updated service information to learn what's recommended for your year, make and model.
Keep vinyl seats clean
with a non-oil-based cleaner and a coarse towel to reach into crevices.
Never use a window cleaner that has ammonia, especially if
you have a leather dash or trim. Ammonia overspray blocks the pores of the
leather so it can't breathe properly, which will fog up your windows and leave
streaks. Clean windows horizontally on the outside and vertically on the
inside, so if it does streak, you'll know which side.
Now what you're left with is a clean car, complete with
protection from the elements. However, like life, the concept of clean
fleeting, so keep this article handy for reference.
Cars that have been recently waxed or those that are
somewhat new only need a good one-step cleaner/sealant/wax. If you wax the car
often (every two to three months) use a quality carnauba wax or a quality
cleaner wax. (Look for the second article
of this series on Detailing for tips to achieve an amazing finish for older
Get comprehensive information about most
any car on the road with a subscription to www.ChiltonDIY.com. Whatever your
skill level, keeping your car clean is almost as important as keeping it
running strong. To help reach that goal, keep your Chilton handy; it's especially
tailored for you and your vehicle.
Not only is Ryan Lee Price a freelance writer specializing in automotive journalism and a former long-time magazine editor, he
is part of the technical editorial team that provides content for most all of
the ChiltonPRO and ChiltonDIY products. He currently resides in Corona,
California, with his wife Kara and their two children.
8 Jun 2010 1:44 PM
Ryan Lee Price
Filed under: tires, oil spots, car wash, car care, cleaner, bug splatter, rims, clean, detail, wheels, salt damage, degreaser, paint, windows, instant detailer, carpets, wax, carnauba wax, leather, scratches, fog windows, formaldehyde, window streaks, vacuuming, ammonia, tire dressing, vinyl seats, one-step cleaner/sealer/wax