Monday, August 31, 2015

Automotive Deep Clean

I'm in the middle of doing a deep clean on my truck.  This is something I do about once a year for each of my vehicles.  It's a long, hard, pain-in-the-ass procedure, but it helps keep the cars looking good.  I got started doing this over 20 years ago and now it's a habit.  Sometimes I have to wonder if there's something everybody else knows that I don't, because in the 15 years we've been in this neighborhood, I've only seen a neighbor washing his car once, and he didn't even bother to wax it.  No, most people just run their cars through the local car wash and hit the "wax" button, if anything, and that's enough for them.

Not for me.  My cars gotta last, and that means they gotta look good and run well.  A good wax job will help the paint last longer, and painting a car is expensive.  You can buy a helluva lot of wax for the price of one paint job.  Since I'm a cheapskate, I figure it's worth my while to spend a little bit of money on the right stuff and then spend the hours necessary to do a decent job.

So what's involved in an automotive deep clean?  For me, five long steps.  First is a good wash.  Then there's the cleaning.  Then the polishing,  Then the wax.  Finally, the ancillary stuff: windows, windshield, tires, and interior.

The first step is a good wash.  You can do this at your coin-operated car wash, but I always do it in my own driveway with a hose and a bucket of automotive-spec cleaner.  That way, I go over the whole car and get a good idea of what needs attention.  

But this only gets the surface dirt.  It doesn't get the bugs off the front, doesn't get the tar and tree sap off the sides, nor the water burns off the top and hood.  If you run your hand over the finish, you'll feel lots of little bumps.  All that stuff should come off.  To do this, I use an abrasive cleaner that I get from an automotive paint store.  It's not as abrasive as rubbing compound, but it does have some grit to it.  Professional detailers will use this stuff with a high-speed buffer, but I don't.  It's too easy to burn through the paint.  Instead, I use a small terrycloth towel and go over all the paint by hand.  Rub it on like wax, and rub the tar and tree sap and other imperfections until they go away, and then buff the surface with another terrycloth towel.  I do this on the chrome as well.  At the end, it should be squeaky clean.  What you've just done is remove all the old wax, tar, and everything else from the surface of the paint.  

The next step is to polish it.  Many people think wax makes the car shiny, but it doesn't really.  The shine comes from a very smooth paint surface.  However, the surface of a car that's been on the road for a while isn't really smooth.  It's actually got high and low spots, tiny abrasions, and other nearly invisible imperfections.  That's why it squeaks when it's squeaky clean.  When we use a polishing compound, it is specially made to fill those tiny imperfections, so when it's buffed down, the surface of the paint is as smooth as it can be.  Again, the pros use buffers, but I use terrycloth towels to apply the polishing compound by hand and then buff it down.  I only do this on the paint, not the chrome.  At the end, the surface is very smooth and not squeaky at all.

The next stage is the wax.  This is really to provide a protective coating for the paint surface.  Use a carnauba paste wax and apply it with a damp application pad, then buff it down with yet another terrycloth towel.  I wax the windows (not the windshield) and the chrome as well - all that stuff is shiny and needs something to keep the bugs and tar from sticking.  

Finally, there's the other stuff.  I scrub down the tires and wheels to get rid of all that brake dust.  If the tires have raised white letters, I'll go over them with a scrubber.  Then the tires get a spray-on tire treatment that makes them a shiny black.  The shine doesn't last long, but the treatment puts some silicone on the tires to protect them from the sun and weather.  As for the windshield, I use Rain-X.  It makes rain bead up and run off, to the point where you don't need the wipers on the highway.  Wax does, too, but Rain-X lasts longer under the wipers.  On the interior, I wipe it down with Armor All cleaner, but not the "protectant" as it leaves a slick silicone feel that, to me, is just slimy.

And there you have it.  Way too much work (maybe 8 hours total per car), but it keeps my cars looking pretty good.