How to Wash Your Car Like a Pro

I spent a day with Mike Pennington and Rick McDonough of Meguiars, who demonstrated the proper way to wash your car and maintain a clean exterior.

I spent a day with Mike Pennington and Rick McDonough of Meguiars, who demonstrated the proper way to wash your car and maintain a clean exterior. I regularly hand wash my 1983 Mercedes-Benz 300D using a pressure-washer and mitt with soap and water, which helps remove the dirt we can see. But as Mike and Rick demonstrated, I have been neglecting a few important steps.Evaluate the Condition of Your Vehicle

Evaluating the condition of your vehicle will steer you towards how it should be cleaned. A new car or one that already has a good coat of wax on it, may only need a wash and wax to maintain it, but a car with an average to neglected exterior may need to be clean and polished as well.Read the Label

After that experience, I understood the prep work that a fellow Hellcat driver had undertaken before hitting the strip: his car’s whole rear end aft of the tires was covered in blue painter’s tape. When he was done running, he peeled off the tape—and the rubber—and drove home. This affirming yet again that the best way to clean your car is to keep it from getting dirty in the first place.—Ezra Dyer

label

Before using any type of car cleaning chemical, it is important to read the label. The application for soap, wax, or detailer can vary from brand to brand and vehicle to vehicle. For example, using a chrome wheel cleaner which is extremely acidic on an aluminum wheel can ruin it. Also invest in premium microfiber clothes and keep separate piles for those used on your paint, wheels, and windows. Wash your towels and cleaning mitts after every use.Washing Your Car

Washing your car will remove loose contaminants such as dust, dirt, and mud from the exterior of your vehicle. Always use a car washing soap and not a liquid detergent or dish cleaner, which can damage the paint and strip away wax. Rinse your car first to remove larger pieces of dirt which can scratch your car when washing, and use clean mitts and drying cloths.  

car wash

GETTY IMAGESGILAXIA

After washing you can easily see scratches, swirls, and oxidation in your paint and feel for bonded contaminants such as overspray or tree sap that washing doesn’t remove. Just run your hand over a washed vehicle, and if you can feel little bumps, then you need to go a step further with cleaning your car.

To remove scratches and etching that are below the surface, you’ll need to use a compound. They can be applied by hand using applicator pads or by using a dual-action polisher, and wiped away soon after applying. A compound paint cleaner needs to be worked into the finish and can sometimes require a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th application. Some scratches are too deep and only a paint touch-up will repair them.Polishing for Extra Gloss

polishing

What I failed to consider, in the course of doing several of these healthy tire-warming exercises, is that spinning in place for a second or 10 was causing molten rubber to spray onto the rear the quarter-panels, where it then cooled and affixed itself to the bodywork like a spray-on bedliner on a truck. Those Pirellis exact a final act of vengeance as they vaporize in the name of glorious quarter-mile elapsed times.

This step is optional and can be compared to applying lotion on your skin. Polish can be applied by hand or with a dual-action polisher, and the conditioning oils add depth of color and maximum gloss prior to waxing, especially on dark colored vehicles.Wax to Protect

car wax

GETTY IMAGESCULTURA RM EXCLUSIVE/SEB OLIVER

Waxing is like sunscreen for your car. It adds a layer of protection from UV rays to prevent fading, as well as anything that may land on the paint. It preserves your high gloss finish and is available in a carnauba or polymer form. Both types of wax perform the same, but a polymer wax won’t haze as it dries and can usually be wiped off soon after applying. The choice between using carnauba or polymer wax is similar to choosing synthetic or regular engine oil. Polymer is a bit more expensive but is easier to apply and some say performs better. 

Hosing them off isn’t an option. You need something more like a chisel. Or, as I found, chemical assistance: Turtle Wax Bug and Tar Remover. Failing to remove the rubber by other means, I searched my car-cleaning shelf in the garage and decided to give this stuff a try. After all, tar is like rubber, right?And you know what? It worked. It took plenty of paper towels and elbow grease, but the Turtle Wax seemed to soften-slash-liquefy the rubber and cause it to surrender its grip. Thus I was able to return Dodge’s car without blatantly obvious evidence of what I’d been up to, minus a few tenths of an inch less tread out back.

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