Initial Ramblings – Spring 2019: Spring Clean-Up Time
by JT Burkard
The weather is getting warmer, car events have started up and it’s time to clean up that daily driver, or your Ultimate Driving Machine, that’s been laid up in the garage all winter. Proper vehicle maintenance doesn’t just include oil changes and scheduled maintenance. It also includes proper car detailing in the spring and fall, or if you are a fanatic, every weekend. Heck, some of us are probably so fastidious that the riding mower gets a good deep cleaning, a coat of wax and tire dressing. You know who you are!
When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I detailed on the side for a few extra bucks. I was in no way a professional, but I could hold my own with buffer and a wax pad, but things have changed substantially in the last 25 years or so. Technique and products have advanced so much that it’s a whole different game now. Being a car dealer, I probably detail several cars a week. From simple wash, vacuum, glass, engine compartments, wheels and tires, to multi-stage paint corrections and interior out clean ups of the dirtiest vehicles. You cannot believe some of the cars I have picked up at auction. Candy, pens, coins, food and garbage crammed into every crevice of the interior. Nasty coffee stains on the consoles and floors. General filth throughout the inside of the car that would make you cry. I have gone so far as to remove the interior, hang the carpet up on a fence, drench it with heavy duty degreaser, scrubbed it, and then power washed it. I’ve done the same to cloth seats that conventional cleaning methods wouldn’t make a dent. A hot water extractor would really be the tool for this, but I do not own one of those… yet. Now, I do not recommend this as this is a last-ditch effort, but I can say that the results were astounding from where I started from. These are extreme measures and I’m sure none of you have let your cars go full of hoarder status so let’s move on.
Being car enthusiasts, we like to work on our cars. We get great satisfaction in doing the work ourselves. I think there is something very satisfying spending a day or weekend bringing the shine back into your car. I highly recommend that if you are ready to tackle a full detail but are unsure, YouTube is an excellent source for proper technique, use of equipment plus tips and tricks. Watch several videos so you feel comfortable with what to do. I have subscribed to several professional detailers and always pick up new ideas. I spend hours at home watching people clean their cars. I may need professional help.
So you want to detail your own car? You will need some basic detailing supplies. I recommend for the home detailer the following tools: A hose with a good nozzle. Better yet a power washer with a wash/rinse attachment. Several microfiber wash mitts. Two wash buckets, one for cleaning and one for rinsing out your mitt and tools so you don’t contaminate your wash fluids. A good set of detailing brushes, wheel brushes, and a stiff hand bristle brush. Clay bar. A good buffer, I prefer a DA buffer/ polisher. I personally use a Porter Cable DA with a 5” backing plate but there are other great machines from Griots, Flex, Meguiars, Torq, etc. With that buffer, you will need a set of Microfiber and/or Foam buffing and finishing pads. BMW’s have soft paint so the microfiber pads are better suited for this but if you have some experience; the correct foam pads can be used as well. Pay attention to the colors and style of the pads. They all have different purposes. No detail kit is complete without an array of microfiber towels for compound and wax removal, interior clean up, and any other general towel duties. Plus, you need at least two dedicated drying towels of microfiber or waffle style. Compressed air is very helpful to clean off the buff pads, as well as blowing out water from trim as well as crumbs from the interior crevices. Your own detailing cabinet may have more or less in it but this will get you started if you are relatively new to home detailing. Now that you have your tools your need your chemical supplies. A quality brand car wash. Never use dish soap as it will strip the wax from the finish. A spray bottle for all-purpose cleaner (APC) diluted 5 to 1 – 5 parts water, 1 part cleaner. I use an industrial strength cleaner from Zep but you can use whatever you are happy with. Waxes, compounds, glass cleaners, tire dressings, wheel cleaners etc. These are all preference. There are tons of companies out there with wonderful products. I have used Meguiars products for over 25 years, but you will find fantastic ones from Mothers, Chemical Guys, Griots Garage, AMMO NYC, Pinnacle, Gliptone, Wolfgang, etc. The newest innovation in detailing is Ceramic Coatings. I have never used them but I have seen the results. Longevity, protection, and a superior shine is what you can expect from using these products. You can get 1-3 years out of these coatings without having to redetail your car. The most important thing when using these coatings is the paint needs to absolutely flawless before you treat it. This is really best left to the professionals to take care of for you. It does cost a substantial amount to have this service done though. For now, I’m sticking with wax and sealants.
So let’s get into the steps for a quality home detail. I typically start with the engine compartment because this is the area with the most grime. Make sure your engine is cold. Use a vacuum to suck out the leaves, pine needles, creature nests, and whatever has collected over the years. Cover up all of the important electronic items under the hood before starting. Next, rinse with water to remove the dust and loose dirt. This is where the powerwasher comes in handy. Use with care and make sure you are constantly moving the nozzle around. Next liberally spray down the entire area with your APC. With your detail brush, start to agitate the dirt and oil in sections. Once you thoroughly clean everything, rinse again. Don’t forget the underside of the hood and all the jams too. Use an old microfiber or towel to dry the easy to reach areas. I like to use compressed air to blow out the hard to reach areas, electrical connections and any standing water. Finally, use some finishing spray to give a protective coating to everything underneath. 303 Aerospace Protectant works well under here.
Next is to move to the interior. Start with a good vacuuming of all of the carpets, seats, trunk etc. remember that stiff bristle brush I mentioned before? This is perfect to use to rub on the carpet and mats to release the embedded dirt and sand. Usually the driver’s carpet area will need several passes to get a majority of the dirt out. If there are any spills and stains, use the APC and the brush to clean the carpet, followed by the vacuum to suck out the excess moisture. If you have cloth seats, you can do the same with any stains and discoloration from dirt. You will need to allow it to dry. If you have leather seats, there are excellent products to help clean these as well. Be careful when using your APC to clean up the leather. You don’t want it too strong or it could remove the dye. A great item to use if your seats are getting dry is a product called Leatherique rejuvenator oil. It takes multiple applications to get the leather supple again but it does work amazing. If you have some hard to get out dirt and scuffs, a magic eraser is excellent but you need to use it gently as you can damage leather or start to remove the dye in the material. The magic eraser also works wonders on the door panels, door sills, kick panels, consoles, and other hard surfaces in the car. Just spray a little APC and lightly rub out the dirt. Cup holders usually contain left over beverages and crumbs. A quick spray with cleaner and agitation with a detail brush will usually clean these areas up. Same goes for door pockets. Use a microfiber towel to wipe off all of these areas, whether it’s the seats, door panels or cup holders. Once the interior is spotless, a protectant is a good idea to keep it looking fresh. Finally, clean all of the interior windows.
Now for the exterior. Start with a good through rinse of the vehicle to remove all of the loose dirt and grime. Next, prepare one bucket with clean water, the other with your car wash. A grit guard on the bottom of the buckets is recommended. Wash your car and make sure you get into those door jams and trunk jams as well. A detail brush is the easiest way to get into the hinge areas. Also the detail brush helps remove the dirt from around the emblems and crevices. Once the car has been rinsed, it’s time for the clay bar. Using with a clay bar lubricant, detail spray, or soapy water, take a piece of the clay bar, knead it and then work in 2’x2’ sections rubbing the paint to remove contaminants. You will notice a considerable difference in the smoothness of your finish. Once done, wash the vehicle again. A key note is do not use a clay bar if you do not plan on polishing the car after as you may create fine scratches.
Now it’s time to do paint correction. Do this in a shaded area or inside the garage. As I stated before, BMW paint is soft so a microfiber pad is recommended for this job. My polisher has 6 speeds, but I genuinely compound on setting 5. I start with Meguiar’s D300 DA Correction Compound. I tape off all of the areas I do not want the buffer to hit. It saves time at clean up as well as reducing the white haze on the trim. Now prime the pad with several dots of compound. Then blot the paint with the pad in several areas so you don’t have this huge blob that will shoot product everywhere. Hold the buffer to the paint then start the machine. Slowly work your way around the panel up and down, then left to right. If you have any light scratches, work the machine over it in several passes, carefully making sure you do not remove too much clear coat or paint if its single stage. Less is more. I typically do half the hood at a time, then a fender or door at a time. Wipe clean before you move to the next section. Add only a couple more dots the size of your pinky nail and move on. This stuff goes along way. After you have completed this stage, changeover to your finishing pad. I use Meguiars D301 finishing wax on speed #3. Again work one section at a time, wiping off with your clean microfiber before moving to the next. Once you are done, make sure you wax the door jams as well.
Wheels and tires I usually clean before the wash and wax process but I never dress the tires until the end. Make sure you have the proper wheel cleaner for the rims of your vehicle. Polished wheels and clear coated wheels can be damaged if you use the wrong stuff so pay attention. Lately I have been using Sonax wheel cleaner with great success, as well as my trusted Meguiar’s all wheel cleaner as well. To dress the tires, I prefer a straight spray over the foaming tire shine. Then I use a tire sponge to even out the coating. You will find the right one that works for you.
So there you have it. A weekend of hard work, but a year’s worth of protection. I stress again that I am not a professional, and if all of this is intimidating, or just not fun, seek an experienced detailer. Now if you will excuse me, I have another YouTube video of a guy cleaning his car to watch.
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