5 Things to Never Do When Washing Your Car (And 5 to Do Every Time)
The exterior condition alone is responsible for up to 23% of a car’s perceived value according to Kelly Blue Book. We as long-time car nerds were shocked at some of the obvious things we were missing. We took the word of several professional detailers to learn what preserves and protects your car the best while also making it look impeccable.
Whether you own a Honda Civic or a Bentley Bentayga, you need to know these basic car-cleaning concepts. Some mistakes will absolutely ruin your car’s factory look and even blemish the most solid of protective coats. If your car is older you may be fast-tracking your car to its days of peeling paint and exposed primer without even knowing it.
On the other hand, there are some real professional-grade moves you can do to keep it perfect for literally hundreds of years! Even a few Ford Model T’s still sport the unsophisticated, lead-based black paint from 1909—112 years ago.
10 Don’t: Use Automatic Car Washes
Every time a dirtier-than-normal car goes through the wash the spinning brushes pick up the mierda on it and there it stays. The result is a sandpaper-like effect on your protective coat, and after prolonged use, you will start to see more paint chips and weaker areas. People who subscribe to touch car wash systems will suffer the most.youtube.com
These scratches can be seen with a light like the reflected sun or a phone light, and it’s something that must be avoided at all costs, whether done by a car wash or poor detailing on your part. Many of the soaps and “protective coats” are either gimmicks or the cheapest possible option (isn’t that what you would use as a car wash owner?). While touchless is significantly better, neither is the best available option.
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9 Don’t: Use Self-Serve Car Washes
You may be wondering how you’re even going to wash your car at this point! Don’t worry, you can still use these washes for the spray hose and the shade, but the brushes are equally deadly to your protective coat, perhaps even more so. Farm trucks and off-road cars are often unable to go through automatic car washes and end up using those same brushes in thick dirt, sand, mud, and salt-laden snow.
We will get to washing properly down below, but while we’re at it we need to call out the car wash industry again: ever wonder how so many big-name car washes pop up on prime real estate all the time? The key is those extra “tire shines” and “wax coats.” One such 5-gallon can costs $95 online, enough for over 100 washes, more if they simply turn a nozzle that lessens the dose used. Tell me, would you wash and wax your car with just one dollar’s worth of liquid?
8 Don’t: Waste the Clear Coat
A clear coat on a car is limited, and breaking through it is what causes flaking, exposed matte paint, and rust. Polishing the surface of your car too hard or too often will break through this clear coat. The micro-scratches shown in the picture are most often fixable by grinding the surrounding clear coat down to match the level of the scratch. You can see why this might be an issue.
Waxing can fill a lot of these cracks and is a great way to add a temporary layer above the clear coat, but we will get to that. Like brushing your teeth obsessively leads to weak enamel, daily or (overly thorough) weekly polishing or poor waxing can really strip the good stuff protecting the color of your car.
7 Don’t: Leave Your Car Out In The Sun
Sun (and other weather, but mostly sun) is the number one killer in taking paint away. Repeated heating and cooling loosen each surface’s contact with each other and lead to those older cars you see with no decent-looking paint left. A car cover or a cheap carport is a minimum requirement for a nice car to stay healthy, some carport tents even fit in a single parking space for people at apartments. Not entirely related is washing your car in the sun… don’t.
The sun may be a great bright light to inspect a car after it’s been cleaned, but the way it dries liquids rapidly will leave you chasing endless water stains you create when you remove the old stains. Even in the winter, the black of windows is enough to quickly wick away moisture. The solution is to time your washes right after sunset or before sunrise, do them in a garage or car wash bay, or even risk it with cloud cover (just make sure you can park it inside if it does start to rain).
6 Don’t: Ignore Small Blemishes
An untreated blemish on a car is an entryway for more damage. Like a pothole after a few rainstorms, it can widen and deepen into a canyon straight to the rustable metal underneath. You may have seen cars that aren’t too old with unexplainable bubbles underneath the paint, often near the bottom edge of a car or from an untreated rock chip. It looks pretty gross!
There are effective and cheap solutions for small cover-ups such as in the clear coat and even quarter-sized dings and cracks. They can be applied with no extra tools and rarely will ever cost more than $50 and 1 hour of your time. Even $20 kits exist to completely cover major scratches and rock chips at a professional level, with detailed instructions, as we will explain…
5 Do: Invest in Even a Cheap Cleaning Kit
Cleaning kits can be found on Amazon that provides brushes, rags, and tire scrubbers as well as interior brushes, and even a tire rock pick for $25. It has a bag to carry it all and a collapsible bucket so it can all come along easily in your car such as if you’re headed to an improv car show.
A more recommended kit is one made to attach to a hose and that comes with all the gear to clean, wax, and polish without the use of a drill. A key element to this one is that it has a bucked grate that ensures that harmful rocks sink and won’t get in the sponge, and it has that coveted foam sprayer that works as well with their included soap as it does with Dawn soap, all for just $99 on Amazon. Using just the included liquids should last you three years including regular waxes and ceramic coating.
4 Do: Use the Right Tools in the Right Order
The above $99 kit was the best we could find that has all of these, though many partial kits exist that can do certain jobs just as well. Frequently brought up was Meguiar’s Gold Class wash, plus Shine Armor ceramic wax that seals cracks as well as helps repel water, each under $23 for more than 30 washes. That two-piece combo is generally enough for an easy Saturday morning wash.
Whatever you use, make sure you’re doing it in this order: 1: spray or gently scrape off mud and bugs. 2: spray with soap, 3: use a clean brush to scrub the car down, 2.5: rinse and apply wet wax if that’s what you have. 3: rinse and immediately dry to avoid hard water. 4: apply dry wax no more than once a month, otherwise use some kind of protective coat like the aforementioned Shine Armor. 5: we will get to next.
3 Do: Clean the Engine Bay and Underside
This isn’t an every-wash thing, but making sure you clean the engine bay and undercarriage is very important, especially in northern regions where salted roads are common. Salt is one of the biggest factors in ruining a car; one reason northerners like to buy from California a lot.
To clean the engine bay, make sure you cover or unplug the battery so it doesn’t short. Don’t use a power washer on full blast. Cleaning an engine bay is best done by someone who understands what’s in the car and won’t spray into the air intake or fuse box. A quick, gentle rinsing is usually effective and will keep it in good shape. Try hand-washing of the more shiny parts like the engine cover and headers, intake, or even turbo when the car is totally cooled off. Use a power washer or hose to just spray the crap out of the undercarriage, only very metallic and luxurious undersides will need more attention than that. The more often the better is you’re around salt a lot.
2 Do: Check for Blemishes
As mentioned before, leaving blemishes means waiting for exponentially more expensive and difficult damage. Knowing how to spot and fix different issues is critical, and only a brief rundown is possible in this article. Lots of minor scratches in the clear coat itself may warrant polishing. Single, long scratches that can’t be buffed must either be filled with the likes of this repairing coat for $16 on Amazon or taken to a detailer. Use these pictures below to check for scratches or dents by checking the reflection in your phone or iPad with the brightness all the way up, many pros use the same technique via specialized lights or even via their normal garage lighting (as seen above).
Rock chips and large scratches can be cheaply and easily filled with this Bondo set on Amazon ($25) and you can then cover it. The geniuses at Touch Up Direct let you pick your car’s year, make, and model, and then will have the exact color available in a pen, brush, or spray can for $20-$40 each to always have chips and cracks covered. As a final note, it’s good to check the first chance you get after long freeway drives or harsh storms so you can catch it before it oxidizes or worse! You car buddies see! To really get a detailed look, go to a dark place and use an iPad or phone.
1 Do: Use a Protective Coat
If you rely on just the factory coat of a car you are relying on the lowest-cost solution that the automaker chose to get you past your warranty if you had to park outside. Nicer cars are just worse off, usually relying on specialized finishes for more shine and they’re expected to stay indoors.
There are three major protection options are wax, paint sealant, and synthetic ceramic coats. Those are in order of protectiveness (and cost). A waxing might last a month in fair weather, but is cheap and requires few to no tools to apply. Chemical Guy’s wet wax is just $17 and comes highly recommended (sponges required). Paint sealant is better and works over wax if you already covered all the scratches. It will either produce a glossy coat or it will bring out blemishes if you didn’t already treat the car. Flitz Ceramic Spray Sealant is a more forgiving option for just $27 and should last 6 months. Lastly, a synthetic ceramic coat will run you the most and do the most to protect a car. This one from Chemical Guys made the top of the list for $39 on Amazon.