Washing the car: More than just a bucket of soapy water

Your car is one of your most important purchases after your home, and while washing it may seem fairly simple, there are a few tips you should know to protect your investment.

Wash your car regularly, not only when you have visitors in town or want to take your boss to dinner. Keep your car clean and free of dirt and debris to reduce rust and maintain your car’s value.

cleaning the outside

Choose a soft car sponge and a sturdy bucket filled with cold water to tackle the car wash project, but stay away from harsh detergents like dish soap or laundry soap, which can damage your car’s finish. Better yet, invest in the myriad of quality car care products like car wash soap, tire polish, wheel rim cleaner and other products to clean your leather or vinyl interior.

– Choose a shady place to wash your car, as direct sunlight can be absorbed by the paintwork of dark-colored cars and cause water stains.

– Start by soaking the car with cold water to remove excess dirt and debris from the paintwork.

– Rinse the wheel wells to remove mud and dirt that may have become lodged in the body and can lead to trapped moisture causing premature rust.

– Start at the top and work your way down the car.

– Use cool water as warm or hot water will remove applied car wax.

– Wash tires and wheels. Car wash soap and water will never damage a chrome or custom wheel.

– Rinse off the soapy water and dry with a towel. I’ve found that a nice old soft bath towel does a wonderful job.

Special Note: The only thing that will remove tree sap from a car’s paint job is cold water.

dents and scratches

As soon as you notice a small dent or scratch in the paintwork, use a dab of touch up paint. The touch up paint prevents the spot from rusting. Larger bumps, dents and scratches should also be removed as soon as possible to avoid rusting.

Touch up paint is available at most after-market auto parts stores, but if you have a specific paint check with your dealer. You should be able to order a tube for a minimal price.

Lubricate the doors

Here’s a quick trick to get the squeaks out of your car doors. Use new engine oil on the hinges of your hood, tailgate and doors to keep them properly lubricated. Pour the oil into the bottom of the door and also let it run between the layers of steel to avoid sticking and rusting. Some have found that shooting the oil up the holes in your doors also helps, but keep it away from the window rails to avoid oil smearing the glass.

For best results, use a pump can of motor oil, which you can purchase at an auto parts store. However, avoid using old oil that contains acids that will rust your car.

Don’t forget the inside

You’ve heard the phrase “take it, take it with you” in the context of camping or picnicking at a state or national park, but many find the same philosophy helpful when it comes to keeping the interior of your car clean and clutter-free.

Here are a few more tips for cleaning the interior of your vehicle:

– Prepare for trash with plastic garbage bags in the glove box and sealed organizational boxes for toys, tools and first aid supplies.

– Keep your carpet floor mats clean by covering them with inexpensive plastic floor mats that wipe clean easily.

– Multitasking: When you buy fuel, it’s a good time to empty the garbage in your car. Most gas stations have trash cans right next to the pumps. So why not take advantage of it and get rid of the accumulated junk?

– Sweep the carpet and dust the dashboard.

– Treat the leather or vinyl with products designed for the task.

– A damp, soft cloth is a great tool for dusting the dashboard without damaging it.

Remove upholstery stains

Before you can effectively clean a stain, you must first determine what it is. Tar and oil stains require a solvent-based (petroleum oil) cleaner. Pour some solvent on a cloth and gently rub in a circular and fan shape until it disappears. Repeat if necessary.

Food, soda and other non-petroleum based stains respond best to mild soap and water. I found an auto product called Tuff Stuff that is great for everything from fabric to vinyl to carpet. However, it is not a solvent based product and therefore will not remove tar or oil stains.

Clean the windows

There’s nothing quite like looking through a clean windshield. When cleaning windows, use a good glass cleaner and a soft cloth. Try this trick – clean the inside of the windows with a horizontal motion and a vertical motion on the outside of the window. This way you can quickly see which side of the window a strip is on.

Just in case

Always have a pen and paper in the car in case you have an accident. Also, keep all your vehicle documents in one folder for easy access. Most cell phones come with cameras, but if yours doesn’t have one, keep a disposable camera handy to take pictures of the accident scene for the police or your insurance company.

My car is TOO dirty – I don’t know where to start

If you’ve been neglecting your car’s maintenance, fear not. Invest in an auto detailer for your car or truck. For a fee of between $75 and $150, they will clean your car like new and make it easier for you to maintain your vehicle in the future.

Once you’re back on track, simply continue with regular washing, vacuuming, and dusting to keep your car in tip-top shape. A well-maintained car increases in value when it comes time to resell it.