Detailing Tips to Protect Your Investment and Keep Your Clients Happy

Posted on June 1, 2003 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

When money is tight – and when is money not tight? – preventive vehicle maintenance becomes more critical than ever to small- and large-business owners. And one of the most effective, and often most overlooked, aspects of fleet maintenance is interior and exterior detailing. Regular care of a limousine or sedan’s interior will not only keep clients content, it will also preserve the vehicle’s resale value, because a sharply detailed car will cause potential buyers to make positive assumptions about other aspects of the car. Regular and thorough cleaning can truly preserve the condition of a vehicle, in addition to improving its appearance. A well-detailed vehicle is obvious to all who see it and it shows that the car has been treated with respect and care. For example, accumulated exterior dirt often traps moisture near the unprotected surfaces of the body, promoting the oxidation process that causes rust. Interior dirt that has built up gradually loosens and frays the stitching that holds upholstery and carpeting together, as it is ground in when passengers move about in the car. Similarly, loose dirt acts like sandpaper for leather trim and seating surfaces, causing it to lose its color and luster. Nevertheless, using the wrong techniques, even with the best of intentions, can cause more harm than benefit to your vehicles. It is crucial to distinguish the good advice from the bad advice. Generally, it is best to follow the advice of those who are most experienced in the field, such as fellow operators and veteran professional detailers. Further, it is important to pass good information about detailing to your chauffeurs, even if they are not responsible for detailing your vehicles. Spending the most time with the vehicle, they often are forced to deal with messy weather and messy people. The choices chauffeurs make can affect the condition of your car and your bottom line. Joe and Marc Fezza, co-owners of Superior Limousine in Cortland, N.Y., emphasize the need for regular detailing to all of their chauffeurs. Though most of the work is completed by a full-time fleet detailer and not by the chauffeurs, they require that every chauffeur immediately remove all open beverage containers left in the car after each trip. This reduces the risk of spillage and minimizes the smell of alcohol that seems to linger long after the bachelor or bachelorette parties are over. Exterior Detailing: Start With the Wheels
The exterior detailing process should always begin with washing the wheels. They are often the dirtiest part of any vehicle and waiting to wash them last could cause dirt to be sprayed all over the rest of the car. Most professional detailers use industrial oxylic-, phosphoric-, or hydrochloric acid-based spray cleaners. While these are far more effective in removing brake dust that has adhered to the alloy wheel, they are highly corrosive and should be rinsed off quickly. For this reason, it is best to wash and rinse each wheel individually, rather than all at once. Acid-based wheel cleaners should not be used on wheels that are already showing signs of pitting and corrosion or wheels that are still hot from driving, as they are especially vulnerable to the corrosive properties of the cleaner. In these instances, it is best to use a non-acid based solvent. After the wheel is thoroughly rinsed, and the rest of the car is clean, a tire dressing can be applied to improve appearance and keep the rubber pliable.

Soap and Lots of Water
Once the wheels are clean, the rest of the car should be washed with a small amount of soap and profuse amounts of water. The challenge of exterior washing is to remove dirt and road grime without causing harm to the car’s finish. Only soap that is specifically formulated for automotive purposes should be used, as household soaps and other detergents are abrasive to the car’s clearcoat. Professional detailers also recommend the use of a natural sea sponge or a sheepskin wash mitt to work the soap into a foamy lather. Such natural materials are preferable because synthetic sponges are thought to trap dirt near the surface of the car, which can cause minute scratches in the finish and leave the car looking dull. It is best, when using a sponge or mitt, to wet, scrub, and rinse small sections of the car at a time to prevent the soap from leaving a dry film. This is especially true if your soap contains natural oils, which combine with water to provide the lubrication necessary to resist scratching. After a thorough rinsing with clean water, natural chamois or microfiber towels are best for drying the car’s exterior.

Windows: Outside and In
Limousines have far more glass than most other vehicles and the dark tint of the rear windows causes dirt to stand out more than it does on most windows. The dramatic effect that clean windows have on the appearance of a vehicle is certainly worth the little effort and time required to clean them. In fact, the windows are the only exterior part of the vehicle that your passengers will see for a long period of time – long enough to notice streaks, hand prints, and water spots. For most glass and chrome trim, a homemade solution of ammonia and water is effective and inexpensive. In fact, many brands of glass cleaners on the market are mostly water with ammonia and small amounts of other additives. To clean your windows, small amounts of solution should be applied to a towel and not directly to the window to avoid over-spray that could potentially damage the paint. The window can then be squeegeed or wiped off with a clean towel. Begin with the insides of the windows and then move to the outside, to avoid bringing outside dirt to the insides via the towel. The insides of the windows are especially important to clean when a vehicle is relatively new, as new interior plastics give off fumes that cause a film to form on glass. Remember, do not use ammonia-based glass cleaners on the inside of windows if tinting film has been applied, as the ammonia could damage it. A diluted ammonia-water solution is, however, a good all-purpose cleaner for the interior mirrored, plastic, and vinyl surfaces, which account for many of the surfaces in a modern stretched limousine. Protecting the carpet
For carpet, headliners, and other fabric, stain prevention is half of the battle. A fabric guard spray, such as Scotch Guard, will protect your carpet and headliner from water, dirt, and sun damage. Regular vacuuming will also help keep your carpet looking new. A strong shop vacuum is a valuable asset, especially one with a wide range of attachments. A quick once-over with the vacuum will suffice after each trip, but scouring all of the nooks and crannies with the vacuum’s attachments is recommended at least once per month. When carpets and seats are very soiled, one of the safest ways to remove stains is with a hot water extractor. Forcing superheated water through the fibers of your carpet and then immediately sucking the water up not only works wonders on stains, but also on the smells that can accompany them. Additionally, you are able to use very little solvent (often carpet shampoo) with an extractor, which reduces the chances that the carpet will become discolored. It is a good idea, however, regardless of the amount of solvent used, that you test a small amount of the solution on an inconspicuous area of the carpet to ensure enduring color. Many different chemicals are used as solvents and the interaction they may have with color dyes is unpredictable.

Tips From a Chauffeur
Several operators assemble kits of safe and effective cleaning supplies to be kept in each vehicle at all times. As a chauffeur, more times than I can remember, I would depart for a wedding in pouring rain only to drive through the storm to find bright sunshine at the pickup location, gleaming on my recently soiled limousine. Often finding myself without such supplies or a car wash on the road, I carried a container of glass cleaner and a roll of paper towels in my briefcase. Nothing shows good service like a spotless vehicle, in spite of any recent rainstorm. In order for vehicle detailing to be most effective and efficient, it should be a team effort, involving everyone on your staff. From the owners’ or managers’ decisions of what products to use to the chauffeurs’ last minute touch ups, vehicle detailing encompasses the goal of maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction and protecting what is likely your greatest capital investment.

The Challenges of Leather
Leather seating surfaces and trim are now standard in almost all limousines, sedans and even buses, but leather poses one of the greatest challenges for the detailer. The most complicated aspect of leather care is determining what type of material the leather really is. In some vehicles, it is actually simulated leather made of vinyl, while in others, true leather seats are coated with a vinyl veneer. Still others are leather and suede. It is best to consult with the manufacturer of the vehicle to determine the exact material. If it is vinyl or vinyl-coated leather, you should use a light, all-purpose cleaner to remove dirt and a vinyl dressing to condition and prevent cracking. Cleaners specifically designed for leather, such as Pinnacle Leather Cleaner, should only be used on pure uncoated leather. Once every month or two, a leather conditioning product should be applied. Leather conditioners contain natural oils, which help keep leather feeling soft and supple and can hide some creases and cracks that can come with age. For best results, let the leather absorb the conditioner for 15 to 20 minutes before wiping off any excess. Regular cleaning and conditioning will keep your leather looking and feeling new.

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