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Exterior care of a vehicle is more complicated than an occasional wash. Like the mechanical aspects of the vehicle, if exterior parts are not cared for properly they will deteriorate to a point that they must be replaced. If they are not replaced, the vehicle’s value lowers.
WASH & DRY
The best way to maintain today’s clear coat-paint finishes is to keep them clean and free of dirt, bird droppings, insect residue and leaves. Regular washing is critical to paint finish maintenance. You can’t keep a paint finish too clean.
To wash your vehicle, use either the low automatic conveyerized “soft-cloth” carwash or do it by hand. The safest automatic carwash is a professional conveyerized “soft-cloth” wash. Washes that use sufficient car wash shampoo and water on the cloth are actually safer for the finish than hand washing, because the constant flow of water and the professional shampoos provide a barrier between the washing cloth and the paint. Don’t use automatic carwashes in self-service carwash locations or the small automatic ones in gas stations. These are usually not well maintained and often only use a little shampoo or none at all.
Also don’t use “touchless carwashes.” The perception is that these washes would be much safer; however, that is not the case. If the vehicle is dirty it will have to be hand prepped, usually with a brush, to get it clean. And, these carwashes use a combination of hydrofluoric acid and high alkaline chemical to clean the vehicle. Over time, these chemicals will harm the entire exterior of the vehicle and will dull the paint. These chemicals will immediately strip off any wax protection on the vehicle.
Keep glass clean as part of the washing process. It is even recommended to apply some of the windshield treatments on a regular basis. Either Rain-X or a similar product or even a new product introduced by PP&G called Aquapel can be used. These products help maintain exterior glass condition.
WAXING & POLISHING
If properly applied, waxing can provide protection for paint, even clear-coat paint. However, it is often applied incorrectly.
Applications that are too heavy end up causing buildup on the clear-coat surface. Unknowingly, others have applied wax in the sun, which should never be done. Using a good polish that is specifically designed for the correct paint surface will always give the best results. Most scratches can be removed with a polishing compound and a soft cloth. Short-term protection and a great shine are very easy to attain for the average user. If you wish to use an electric buffing wheel, make sure to use an orbital wheel. A non-orbital wheel is very difficult to use properly without damaging the clear-coat and should be left to professionals.
TAR & BUG
Tar & bug remover is sometimes the only cleaner that will remove road grime or tar. Try to test this chemical on a small surface before using it to clean a large area. Use these products only when necessary.
When cleaning and treating glass, it is important to leave the glass smudge free. Paper towels tend to streak and leave residue after cleaning glass. A little trick that really works is to use old newspaper. It leaves no streaky residue and cleans really well. It works great at keeping the interior windshield clean and improves visibility. Exterior glass can be treated with Rain-X and other comparable products to help improve visibility in rainy weather. Remember that it inhibits any type of chip repair process if you have used this type of product on the glass.
MAINTENANCE VS. RESTORATION
Know the difference between “maintenance” appearance service and “restoration” appearance service. As the word conveys, maintenance is just that – doing those things to the vehicle that will keep all elements of the exterior in top condition. On the other hand, restoration is what is needed when something on the exterior of the vehicle deteriorates to a point that you must implement some form of restoration in order to bring it back to a “like new” condition.
Engine cleaning is really not necessary. If you must clean your engine compartment, don’t use the local, quarter carwash hose. It can cause damage to electrical connections and components. If it is absolutely necessary to use water, cover all electrical devices with a plastic bag and put aluminum foil over the top to prevent water from getting in.
CARPET & LEATHER
If you have several vehicles, a good steam-cleaning machine will save you a lot of grief when cleaning carpet. For $200, you can get a decent system that will work well. Also, the product Febreze helps cover up smells in the carpet once they have been cleaned well. A good leather cleaner will do wonders keeping the interior in perfect shape. Crevices can be cleaned well with cleaner and a rag. Even a Q-Tip can be used to clean seat cracks.
TRIM & CHROME
Plastic trim on vehicles can fade in color and oxidize. This fading does not affect all companies or cars; it really tends to happen in those regions that have a great deal of hot sun or where the vehicle is left outside in the sun most of the time. It can be reduced by regularly using either a silicone or acrylic resin protectant.
However, if you have a vehicle where the plastic trim has faded, there are ways to restore this trim. A company called SEM Products makes an entire line of coatings that you can use to literally recolor the trim back to its natural color, whether it be black or gray, the two most common colors that seem to fade and oxidize. There are other products that claim to offer some restorative properties as well, such as acrylic-resin ones.
A final note on keeping plastic trim in top shape is to have your detailer “tape” the trim with masking tape before buffing/polishing or waxing the vehicle. This will prevent the unsightly chemical stains that are often impossible to get out.
Few vehicles today have chrome on them, but there are a few that still use some chrome appointments on the exterior. Actually, chrome is easy to maintain because it is so hard. The worst that can happen to chrome is that it might rust and the least, it can be water-spotted. In either case you can use something like a glass cleaner and “00” steel wool to remove the rust and/or the water spots.
For maintenance, you can apply the wax or paint sealant on the chrome for the same type of protection as with paint.