by Jim Kerr

Washing your car is simple. All you do is add water and it is done. Add a warm sunny afternoon and the task almost becomes pleasant. Keeping your car clean may not be quite as simple as just adding water, but it is something that most drivers are capable of, makes your car look better, and gives you a chance to inspect your car carefully for signs of wear or damage.

The first rule for washing your car is to never wash it in direct sunlight. The heat from the sun will dry the water and soap on the surface as you are washing the car, leaving chemical spots on it. The sunlight also reflects through the water droplets in the same way the sun reflects through a magnifying glass. This can cause more “spots” to be burned into the surface paint. The warm sun may feel good to those doing the washing, but isn’t good for your car. Wash your car on a cloudy day, under the shade of a tree, or inside a building to prevent these blemishes from appearing on your car.

The second rule of washing your car is use lots of water! You want to float the dirt off your vehicle. If you wipe the paint surfaces when only a little water is on them you will probably be grinding dirt particles right into the paint. This causes scratches and swirl marks to show up on your clean car.

Wet the complete car down thoroughly from top to bottom before touching the surface. Then mix a mild liquid soap and water solution in a container and apply it liberally to the car with a soft cloth. There are commercial wash solutions available from automotive retailers, but liquid dish soaps work also. The dish soap solution may need to be rinsed off the car longer.

Wash small areas’ one at a time. For example, start with the roof. Wipe it completely with the soap solution and then rinse it with clean water. Do not let the area become dry. Then move on to the hood and trunk panels, being sure to rinse them completely. Finally, you are ready to do the sides.

When rinsing the car, be sure to rinse completely under any moldings, or chrome. If the rinse water appears dirty, keep rinsing. Dust and dirt tend to collect under moldings and in the recesses of the car body. If this dirt is left there, it will hold moisture and it then becomes a place for rust to start forming.

While you are washing your car, you may notice black lumps stuck on the lower portions. This is road tar used to repair roads. Use a tar remover to soften these spots and wipe them carefully. Often dirt or sand is trapped in the tar, so if you use any force to remove the tar it scratches the paint. Several applications of tar remover may be necessary on big spots to remove them without using force. After using a tar remover, wash the portion of the car again with soapy water to remove any oil film on the car body.

Now you are ready to dry the car. Some let them “drip dry”. This is the easiest but it will leave spots on your car from the minerals in the water. One trick I have used when I am unable to physically dry something (such as wire wheels) is to add a little dishwasher liquid “anti-spot” agent to a pail of rinse water. The water drains off without leaving any spots. I have used this on painted surfaces as well, but there could be a possibility of a reaction between the chemical and some paints. If you want to try this trick, try it on a part of the car usually not seen such as the inside of a hood or the bottom of a door first. If there is any reaction, do not continue!

Wiping the car body dry is the most common method of preventing water spotting. Most people use a chamois to dry their car. A chamois is made of soft leather from a sheep or deer and works well to dry a car. The leather quickly soaks up the water as it is wiped over the surface and then it can be wrung out to wipe again. A chamois must be cared for if it is to last. After wiping the car, wash the chamois in clean water, and then hang it to dry before storing it.

Instead of a chamois, soft cloth can be used to wipe the car. Cloth diapers or bath towels work well and don’t leave any lint behind. After being wrung out, a cloth does not work as well as a chamois so you will need several on hand. The advantage of using cloth is they can be thrown in the washing machine and drier and be ready for the next car wash.

There is only one more step to washing our car. Before putting all your equipment away and admiring your work, you should take a pointed object like a small screwdriver or knitting needle and open the drain holes on the bottom of each car door. There are usually a few holes along the bottom of each door to let the water out that leaks down the outside of the windows and inside the doors. These holes can become plugged, especially on older vehicles, trapping water inside the door. This is an invitation for rust!

After washing it, you may want to wax your shiny clean car. Use only a non-abrasive wax and do only a small area at a time. Abrasive type waxes or cleaners are designed to remove the oxidization from the paint surface and are actually removing paint when they do this. Never wax over freshly painted surfaces! The paint can take up to six months to cure completely. Wax would prevent the paint from curing properly. Many new car paint surfaces do not need waxing to keep their shine. Frequent washings are all that is necessary.

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