- Interior first: Yes, wipe it down. Every week. And remove the bobble heads and other trinkets on the dash that, in the event of airbag deployment, will project into your face. Armor-All and Turtle Wax wipes work well.
- Then wheels: Wonder why your wheels get blackened? It's brake dust, residue from your brake pads. Normal, but to shiny up your wheels, you'll need to get in there with your hands and a good rag and cleaner. There are a number of spray-on wheel cleaners, which can be hit or miss, but they can sometimes leave stains on your driveway--or worse--on your car. I prefer an old t-shirt and simple soap and bucket.
- Top down, panel by panel: If you're going to hand wash, and you should, start at the top and work down, panel by panel, so as not to re-dirty a cleaned area. If working in the lovely southern California sun, try to find shade to prevent water spotting.
- Chamois it: Officially, it's pronounced "sham-wa," but you can just call it a "shammy," which is what I use since my local retailers no longer carry supplies for the Mr. Clean AutoDry system. Towels, which tend to annoyingly leave behind a trail of fibers and fuzz-ball micro-debris, can be used, but be forewarned, your whip won't have that satisfactory detail-look.
- Windows: If you have tinted windows, don't use an ammonia-based cleaner on the inside part of the window. Yes, Windex is still around, and the brand carries an effective cleaner free of ammonia. Newspaper is still the preferred wipe, but for the eco-conscious, a reusable microfiber cloth will work well, also.
- Headlights: Oxidation and micro-scarring are the reason your headlights turn yellow or cloudy, but they're not difficult to clean. Most auto parts stores carry headlight restoration kits from Meguiar's, Sylvania, and 3M, among others, for about $20. The better ones use a drill-mounted buffer, saving you from wax-on/wax-off fatigue.
- Sticky removal: After you've dried the car, you may notice some deficiencies in your cleaning technique. Never fear, it happens to the best of us. And for the spots or stains or stickies that didn't clean up, you may need to get a spot cleaner or solvent to clear the offense. There are many types and brands, and a lot of them are hit and miss. Most professional detailers will tell you to be wary of some solvents, as they will eat through your clear coat. If nothing else, a little denatured alcohol and a rag could do the trick.
- Wax: It doesn't just make the car look pretty, it protects the paint. Do it three to four times a year.
The Car Care Sticky: Chamwois That Thing is Clean!
Like a well-manicured lawn (or Alec Baldwin's hair), a meticulously-maintained ride is a thing of beauty. In my first years driving, I'd spend an entire day vacuuming, rinsing, drying, and hand-waxing my car just so it would gleam under the evening moonlight for a night on the town with a special someone. Such work (and time!) is rare these days when gas station quick washes are so convenient and increasingly affordable. But for the spots these convenience stations miss, and those droppings that inevitably occur immediately after a wash, these tips and tricks for the .01 percent are sure to make your Honda Accord or Toyota Prius gleam without discarding hundreds of dollars a week on upkeep.
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