By Jim Kerr

Those new vehicles in the showroom always look so nice. The chrome sparkles, the paint shines and the tires are black. Look at that same vehicle after two or three Canadian winters and it probably still likes fine, but it just doesn’t glisten like it used to. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As your vehicle ages, several things happen. The top surface of the paint oxidizes. We see that as a hazing or cloudiness in the colour. If your vehicle sits in the sun a lot of the time, the top surfaces will usually oxidize faster than the side panels. Your vehicle’s paint also collects contaminants. Some of these sit on the surface, such as tar, but other contaminants embed themselves in the surface. Everything from insect parts to brake dust can make the surface feel rough.

Chemicals also mark the paint. From bird droppings to industrial pollutants, the paint becomes etched. Finally, the paint gets scratched and chipped. Big scratches are best left for a professional to touch up, but the finish will have many microscopic scratches caused as we rub against the painted surfaces or run the vehicle through those automatic car washes with the moving mops and brushes. Even hand washing a car and wiping it dry will cause microscopic scratches, but there are ways to repair most types of damage without the bother of having to repaint the vehicle.

You will need a few special cleaners and waxes from your local auto parts store, but the shelves are filled with so many types, it can be very confusing. Let’s see what you need to do to the vehicle before you make your selections.

The first step is to wash the car. To do that, you need soap designed for washing cars. Regular detergents strip wax finishes. A car wash soap will lubricate the surface so that dirt floats off the surface instead of rubbing against it as it is washed off. Tar, sap and bug deposits will need another cleaner. Tar deposits often contain grains of sand that will scratch the surface if they are rubbed. Spray the cleaner on and let the deposits soften so they can be removed gently.

Dry the car with a soft terry towel. A chamois will remove the water but it also removes wax. Rub your hand across the surface. It should be as smooth as glass. If it feels rough, there are deposits embedded in the surface that can be removed with a clay bar. Form the clay bar into a pancake shape and drag it across the surface, after it has been sprayed with a lubricant. Many clay bar kits come with a “final detailer” lubricant that is also available separately. The clay traps the contaminants so when it starts to look dirty, it is time for a new bar. Be careful not to drop it on the ground – it will pick up dirt that will scratch the surface.

The clay bar also removes wax, so new wax will be need to be applied, but first, an abrasive cleaner is needed to remove the top layer of paint on oxidized areas so that the true colour will shine through. The deeper the oxidization, the more aggressive the cleaner required. For most finishes, a “fine” grade cleaner is all that is required. Rub it in so that the surface is polished. Rotary polishers are best left to professionals. Orbital polishers are slower and easier to use but practice on an old vehicle first, and avoid pressure on edges where the paint is easily rubbed through. For small areas, hand polishing works fine.

Swirl marks in the paint are removed with a “swirl remover”. This is a very fine polishing compound and especially helpful on darker colours to remove those swirls. Rub it in, let it haze over and remove it with a soft, clean terry cloth.

At last it is time to wax the surface to keep it protected. There are several good waxes in paste and liquid form. Carnauba based waxes are considered the best by many. For quick touch ups, you can use the “Final Detailer” spray to lift dust, dirt and residual wax from the surface and wipe it off with another clean terry cloth.

Chrome or aluminum polish may be needed for the wheels, but many factory wheels are powdercoated and should be treated like a painted surface. If you don’t know, ask the wheel supplier.

Finally, you may want to spray the tires with another conditioner that brings out that new black look. Some will even keep them looking shiny wet. It sounds like a lot of work, but an hour or two of time will make that vehicle shine like new, increase its value, and let you feel good about driving that good looking vehicle.

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