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It's Time to Give Your Vehicle a Spring Cleaning

by and on April 01, 2014 1:45 PM

There she sits in your driveway — your faithful four-wheeled servant that got you through the hard winter.

She started up in all those sub-zero mornings and took you through the snow, ice and road salt to work, to school, and over the river and through the woods. But now spring is here, and it's time to clean her up – to change her from Cinderella to a princess. Let's give her a good bath.

Park the car out of direct sunlight to prevent premature drying which can leave spots on the paint.

Fill a bucket with warm, but not hot, water and add car wash soap in the quantity directed on its bottle.

Do not use dish washing detergent. Experts say the detergent actually accelerates oxidation of the paint if used on a regular basis. Fill another bucket with plain water, and sit both buckets near the car. Make sure that all windows and the sunroof are closed.

Before you wash the car's body, you need to wash the road salt and other winter dirt off the undercarriage. Set your hose to a narrow, high-power stream, and spray the wheels, including the back sides, brakes and suspension components.

Blast the wheel wells with the stream, especially above the wheels. This is where the salt lands when it flies off your tires. Aim the water stream upwards and go around the wheel openings. Salt loves to hide there and rust through later. Spray as much as you can reach under the car, and especially behind the rocker panels under the doors – another favorite hideout for salt.

If you're washing a pickup truck with an open bed, hose the inside of the bed down to remove the accumulated salt and dirt. You'll see the salty goop flowing down the driveway, and that's good. It means the stuff is NOT on your car any more.

Now let's do the body. Hose off the car to loosen and soften the dirt. Don't use a strong jet, as this can rub grit over the paint and scratch it. Try to aim the jet downwards on all surfaces. Aiming upwards around windows may cause water to dribble into the car if there are flaws in the rubber seals (common on older vehicles). Pull the windshield wipers away from the windshield until they click into their propped position, away from the glass.

Soak a large wash mitt or sponge in the soapy water, being certain to squeeze out any dirt in it, and begin applying it to the car. Do not use a brush on the car body — this will leave little scratches. Wash the car in sections, starting at the top. Circle around the car several times, washing lower areas with each round.

Rinse the dirt out of the wash mitt or sponge in the bucket with plain water frequently. After one section is washed, rinse it with the hose before moving on. You don't want the soap to dry on the paint and stain it. As you progress, keep the entire car wet, as this will prevent droplets from drying on the paint and leaving water-spots.

Wash the lower body and the wheels last, as these are the dirtiest, grittiest parts. It's a good idea to use a separate wash mitt or sponge on the bottom. Use a long, thin wheel brush for cleaning the openings of the wheels. You can use specialized wheel cleaners, but if you have aluminum alloy wheels, be sure to use only cleaners that are safe for alloy wheels. Clean the tire sidewalls with a plastic brush.

Many water supplies in this area are loaded with calcium which will leave spots if you just let the car air dry, so dry the vehicle with fresh towels or a chamois cloth.

Now is a good time to give the car a walk-around and look for chips and scratches in the paint. Winter driving on cinder and salt-covered roads can chip the paint, especially in the front of the vehicle. Dab some touch-up paint on the chipped spots. Left unattended, these spots will rust and grow and make your car look like it has a bad case of acne.

When the touch-up paint is completely dry, you can apply a coat of good quality car wax or similar polish. Abrasive polishes are seldom needed with modern car paints and can cause unexpected damage if you scour through the clear coat. Leave them for the experts and/or extreme cases.

Apply Rain-X windshield treatment or similar water-repellent treatment to the clean, dry glass to repel water from it and improve visibility. Reapply it when water no longer forms small beads - every few months on side and back windows, and every month or so on the windshield, where it is most needed and where the wipers will tend to rub it off.

Apply some Armor-All or similar product to exposed plastic and rubber parts such as molding, door handles, window seals, etc. to prevent the summer sun's ultraviolet light from cracking and drying them up.

So there she is — shined up and looking like a princess, ready for the ball, or ready for months of warm weather driving, and maybe that vacation trip to the beach. Uh-oh, more salt!

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


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April 01, 2014 11:35 AM
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