How To Detail A Car

How To Detail A Car

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  1. Detailing a vehicle is much more than just taking it to the car wash to spray it off.  No, to properly detail a car you must spend time on each separate area.  I will just gloss over the main parts of the process here.

    Under The Hood – I usually start here because it is usually the most neglected.  Most newer cars are fairly water proof so using the engine degreaser and a pressure washer at the car wash should be okay.  But be prepared to have to wait for your parts to dry out if it doesn’t start.  Also don’t keep trying to start it as this could lead to a spent battery for no reason.  On older cars that aren’t so water proof, you can still pressure wash certain areas, but avoid the distributor, breather/air cleaners, starter, and fuse blocks, as some car companies didn’t start weather proofing these items for many years.

    A work regimen under the hood first concentrates on the oil and grime residue on the block and frame.  If the car hasn’t been detailed in a while, this might be fairly time consuming.  Also if you have access to a steam cleaner, you will make much faster progress here. 

    Next, concentrate on areas that collect dust and bugs.  Valleys of the intake and other such places usually are a magnet for dirt and bugs.  Also, the fins on your radiator even if it is hard to get to through the grill, make sure to get the bugs out!

    Now, look at the hoses, wiring harness and belts for wear, cracks and chaffing.  Should these parts be showing wear now is the time to repair or replace them.  It is important for your car to be in top shape.  This means those tiny cracks in your radiator hoses could fail on a hot day, leaving you stranded.  This is why I call it detailing.  You are fixing the details.

    Now as part of under the hood, I also put the wheel wells and frame in this category.  I put jack stands under the car and pull the wheels off. 


    Pressure wash your fender wells and that should answer your question.  Also look at your soft brake lines for the same wear that you saw in the engine bay.  Look for brake line leaks, and steering knuckle greasy spots.  Look for grooves being cut into your brake rotors, look for grease coming from your wheel hubs, and pay attention to how much pad is left on your disc brake pads.  You should be able to see this without removing them.  They should have more than a 1/4 inch of pad material on them. 

    Also this is where most rust starts, from the winter salt getting stuck in the wells and sitting all summer.  Small rust pits on your frame rails should point you to the fact that you have not been detailing enough.  Salt is eroding your paint under the car!  Time to start paying attention to that very soon.

    Wheels – Why didn’t I take care of the wheels when I had them off?  Well, I haven’t put them back on yet.  Why did I take them off in the first place? 

    The things that I did to the wheel wells could be achieved without the trouble of lifting the car in the air on jack stands.  This is true.  But in our normal desire to clean our car we take care of the show side of our wheels.  That nasty black brake dust is on the inside of our wheels too.  And when was the last time you sprayed a protectant on your inner side walls of your tires?

    Also this is a good time to inspect your tire wear.  If your tires are feathered or are wearing unevenly you should have your car aligned.  This is also a good time to rotate your tires.  For some reason front-wheel-drive cars have a situation that warrants the tires to be rotated regularly or they develop knots in the belts in the back tires.  Most people I know ignore this and then wonder why their car makes that annoying noise while driving down the road.

    Interior – This is your living space.  This is where you survive the open road.  This often times is our home away from home, and our office away from the office.  Do you even have a trash can for all of those fast food bags that get thrown in to the back floor board? 

    The first step is to vacuum out the floor boards once the mats are removed.  Most floor mats can be pressure washed at the car wash.  Many car washes even have those clips to hang them on the wall with.  When you have completed this step satisfactorily, then look under the seats to see what you missed.

    This is also the area that says, "Hey!  Look in the trunk!"  Make sure your spare has the proper amount of air, Is your jack still in one piece?  What about your roadside emergency kit and survival kit in case you get stranded on the road in the wintertime or in one of those hurricane evacuations that deadlocks traffic for miles.  You do have a First Aid Kit and a cheap disposable camera, right?

    Interior stains can be taken care of with a simple process of a foaming cleaner and blotting with a clean towel.  The towel is likely not to be clean very long if you are dealing with your floorboard, though.  Now a short blast of Fabreze or similar product will freshen up your interior.  Look for trim pieces that need screws added or new clips to fix.  It is also a good time to use a protectant on your dash and vinyl/plastic parts.  Baby oil is a very good source for this.  Also there are thousands of different types of air fresheners on the market.  Find one that suits your needs.  Don’t forget to take down your floor mats and replace them in the car before you leave the car wash!  This is also a good time to clean the windows as well.  A good ammonia cleaner will brighten nearly any window.

    Paint And Glass – This is the most visual aspect of your car.  You probably made your buying decision on this vehicle, based on shape, color, accessories, and such;  mostly from the exterior of your car.  This is the area that a detailing can make or break it.

    I have written several articles that can be found by Googling, on How To Save Your Paint, so I’m not going to touch on that here.  I will say that you should have a high speed buffer.  It will be the most important buy of your automotive detailing life.  It can be a model based on an electric grinder or it can be a pneumatic grinder. 

    I really am not kidding here.  The commercial polishes are designed for high speed buffers, because the commercial detailers do not have time to hand wax cars. You should first clean the entire car by soaping then rinsing.  Then use a clay bar on the surfaces that you feel rough "dirty" spots.  Your hands are your most valuable tool.

    Do not bare down on your buffer.  Let it’s weight and speed do the job.  Pushing the machine into your paint will cause swirl marks or hazing that can only be corrected by even more elbow grease or worse – a new paint job. 

    Now use a cleaning wax with your buffer.  This will remove old residue missed by the cleaning process and help to fill in the smaller scratches in the clear coat.

    Now use a deep wax.  Try to find a Mother’s or a Maguire’s or similar product that offers little buildup.  You will get what you pay for here.  Turtle Wax and other cheapr products are a good do it yourselfer wax for hand waxing, not for a speed buffer.  Again, you will burn or swirl your paint if you are not careful. 

    Now that you have your wax applied, do two more coats, and do not forget your windows on the outside.  Yes, your windows!  You will not need the extra RainX treatments if you polish your windows.  Now as a final detail, check to make sure your wipers are in good shape so they don’t scratch your new wax job.

    And now you are finished.  Put your wheels back on if you haven’t already done so, and you are ready for a night on the town, showing off your ride.  If applied properly you should have at least three months of shine on your car.

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