While there's no concrete evidence to support the theory that a clean car runs better, a thorough spring cleaning is a sure-fire way to protect your investment and assess any issues that may have developed over the winter.
You surely already know how to wash your car, but there's a big difference between simply it and actually detailing it.
Here are a few tips I've learned over the years:
First up, head to your local coin-op car wash and give the car a thorough wash from the top down. Washing your vehicle on the driveway with the garden hose may be sufficient if it isn't really dirty, but you'll probably require pressure and hot water to really get it clean.
Get in the wheel wells and remove all the grit and grime. Now is also a good time to spray the wheels and tires with foamy cleaner and give them a good wash. Make sure the wheels are not hot, and apply only a dedicated wheel cleaner or you may damage the finish. Hang up your floor mats and give them a good wash and rinse. Even carpeted mats can be washed with a pressure washer -- they're designed to get wet.
When you're done washing and rinsing, wipe the works down with a chamois or terry towels to avoid any water spots -- and drive really carefully back to your place!
You don't want all the dirt and dust you remove from your interior settling on your freshly polished paint, so
remove everything from the car, including the contents of the glovebox and the centre console. Move the front seats as far back as possible and do a thorough vacuuming job. A small brush can help loosen sand and grit embedded in the carpet. For really dirty carpets, blowing compressed air onto it while vacuuming will help loosen the tough stuff. After the front area is vacuumed, move the seats fully forward and concentrate on the back carpet and the rear parcel shelf.
If you want to do it right, there really are no shortcuts here; you can expect to spend a minimum of about 30 minutes thoroughly vacuuming your vehicle's carpet and seats. If you're not dripping sweat when done, you probably weren't trying hard enough.
If the carpets are especially dirty you may also want to spray a foaming cleaner and blot any soiled areas with a fresh rag. If you want to go all-out, rent a commercial carpet cleaner and use the upholstery attachment to clean both the carpet and cloth seats. These machines spray hot water and mild cleaning solution onto the carpet or upholstery, and then extract the dirt, soap and water with a powerful vacuum. If you want to take the plunge and purchase a carpet cleaner, there are numerous models for sale that can be purchased for under $200.
In a pinch, you can also spray the carpet down with hot water mixed in a spray bottle with carpet cleaner and use your wet-vac to extract the dirt. When shampooing carpet or fabric seats, it's always a good rule of thumb to use very little of the cleaning solution and spend more time vacuuming than spraying. The carpet should only be slightly damp to the touch upon completion. An over-saturated fabric becomes a nice home for mildew, so make sure you've extracted as much water as possible.
If your seats are leather, you should wipe them down with a clean, damp rag and a mild detergent. Dry the leather thoroughly then apply cream leather cleaner. In addition to smelling great, leather cleaner will also condition the seats and prevent them from drying out and cracking.
Before applying any product to the dashboard or door panels it's always a good idea to wipe all hard surface areas down with a clean and slightly damp cloth dipped in hot, soapy water. Just a cap full of mild car-wash detergent in a pail of water will do the trick. Once everything is dry, you can wipe the surface areas again with a vinyl cleaner. I prefer to spray the cleaner onto a rag rather than directly onto surfaces to prevent over-spray from getting on the glass or paint.
Once everything is shiny and fresh, the detailing really begins.
Getting into all the little nooks and crannies on your dash can be challenging, and over the years I've used a number of different 'tools,' including toothbrushes and cotton swabs, to get into the tight spots. Take your time and look for any dusty or soiled areas, especially on the steering column, in the vents and around the stereo controls.
I also like to use those small cans of compressed air designed to clean cameras and computers to blow out vents and other hard-to-reach areas. Resist the temptation to use your air compressor, as there's likely moisture in the tank and the air flow may be too harsh.
If your car is older, you may also be able to pull off any knobs from the radio or heating controls to clean the bezels behind them, but be very careful. If these items are tough to remove, don't do it or you run the risk of breaking something.
The next step is to get your paint in shape. Begin by applying paint cleaner with a soft sponge or applicator pad and remove it with a soft cloth rag. This not only removes any old wax that may have built up but also removes stubborn water stains, tree sap and that stuff birds drop.
Nowadays, most cars have a two-stage paint job that includes a colour base coat and a protective clear coat. Small scratches in the clear coat can be easily removed with a mild abrasive polish. These products are typically called scratch or swirl removers, but use caution and work slowly.
If you're comfortable with an electric orbital polisher it can make the job easier, but be careful not to polish so hard that you actually remove the clear coat or you will require expensive repairs at a body shop. If you're not completely confident in your polishing prowess, my advice is to simply do it by hand.
Always apply wax in the shade and work small areas, applying it with an applicator pad and then buffing it off with a soft terry or microfibre cloth. Take your time and apply the wax sparingly or you'll wind up spending too much time trying to remove the dried wax from trim pieces. On that note, you can also buy dedicated cleaner for the black plastic trim and mouldings that may have become a little grey over the years.
There was a time when I would also provide information on how to wash your car's engine, but environmental concerns are now a reality, and coin-op car washes are actually prohibited from allowing you to pressure-wash your engine because the oil and grease that is washed away can contaminate the water supply. A better option is to simply spray WD-40 on a rag and wipe the engine down (make sure it's cool).
By now your ride should be shining like a new penny, but you're not quite done yet. Polish all the chrome with a dedicated chrome polish and finish off the job by cleaning and polishing all the glass inside and out with glass cleaner. Believe it or not, this newspaper makes an excellent wipe for cleaning glass to a streak-free shine and I'd encourage you to use this very page to try it out.
Now get to work, and remember: a clean car is a happy car!