Photos Courtesy of the Manufacturers
For many driving in the winter means snow, sleet, ice and fog that can lead to slower traffic, hazardous road conditions, hot engine temperatures and unforeseen dangers. Even if you live in a warm climate, you may plan to drive up to the mountains for a little skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling.
To help you skate through winter we’ve put together a list of suggestions to make certain that you and your ride are ready for the upcoming cold season. Some of these are obvious and some of them might even seem counterintuitive, but a little preparation will prevent a lot of headache.
Get Road Ready
Before you clean your muscle car, take a few basic steps toward mechanical care. Make sure you are following the service schedules provided your vehicle’s manual. Change the oil if needed, as well as all filters (oil, gas and air).
If you haven’t done it lately, flushing your radiator and adding new coolant is highly recommended. A poorly maintained radiator cooling system can accumulate rust, corrosion and sediment, which will degrade the radiator’s cooling capacity and can ultimately lead to engine damage.
Have your engine checked if you are experiencing rough idling, hard starts, skipping or stalling. These can all lead to poor gas mileage.
Be sure to check all of the belts, hoses and clamps. If there is noticeable wearing or cracking, you definitely need to get them replaced.
If your vehicle is more than five years old and your air conditioner is not cooling like it should, have it checked. There’s nothing like being stuck in traffic in 90-degree-plus heat with no A/C. Have your cabin air filter replaced if you have one.
Check the air pressure in your tires as well as your spare. Proper tire inflation saves gas, extends the tread life of your tires, improves handling and reduces sudden blowouts.
Inspect all bulbs and lamps. Replace any that are burned out. Also replace worn-out windshield wiper blades, and be sure to have plenty of wiper fluid on hand to combat bugs, dust and road grime.
Time to Shine
Keeping your car looking cool is no different from most other routine tasks. The more you know and the better your tools, the easier it is to do a good job. To help you become more aware of what’s available, we’ve put together a showcase of quality car care products and cool tools to help you in your quest to get your ride ready to glow.
For more information on how to use these products check our Sources List.
Car Wash Soaps
Car wash soaps are specially formulated to remove dirt and grime commonly found on vehicle surfaces, while having a minimal affect on the wax finish. Dishwashing liquid will strip the wax right off your vehicle. And if you didn’t have any wax on it in the first place, the dishwashing liquid can actually dry out the paint.
Car Washing Steps
Put a grit guard in the wash bucket to keep the water cleaner. Using a high-quality wash mitt, wash the wheels first, applying a liberal amount of suds. Thoroughly rinse the wheels with a soft spray from the hose. Clean one wheel at a time. Do all four wheels before washing the body.
Make sure you clean your wheels when they are dry and cool to prevent streaking and staining. As a precaution, test the cleaner on an inconspicuous spot to make sure you’re not going to scratch or damage the wheel. Most cleaners are easy to use: Just spray on and rinse off. Use a brush with soft plastic—not metal—bristles on the stubborn spots.
After you’ve cleaned your wheels, you can follow up with a chrome polish if they aren’t clearcoated. This involves a little more elbow grease, but the results are awesome. Make sure you choose the right kind of polish for your chrome, metal or plastic wheel components.
To blacken or shine your tires and protect them from the sun’s UV rays, you’ll need a tire dressing. Many also contain a cleaner that will remove road grime and whiten whitewalls at the same time.
Wet the entire vehicle down to remove any surface contaminants like dirt or dust before beginning the wash process. Begin washing the vehicle from the top down to prevent tracking dirt from the lower part of the vehicle onto the sides. Using a wash mitt heavily loaded with suds, wash and rinse one part of the vehicle at a time. Refill the bucket with more car wash and water as needed.
After you clean, it’s time to polish. Polishes are designed to make your paint shiny and bring out its color, but some also include a mild cleaner that will remove swirl marks and other minor imperfections in the paint. Once you polish, it’s time to wax—or you can opt for an all-in-one product that cleans, polishes and waxes all at the same time.
Oxidation is the dulling and/or hazy appearance of a vehicle’s paint caused by weathering from outdoor exposure. Correction requires the removal of the oxidized layer of paint by using a cleaner wax, polish or rubbing compound, depending on the degree or severity of the oxidation.
No one can say specifically how long a wax job will last. Variables such as the paint type, color and condition, the amount of exposure to outdoor elements, and the quality of the wax, all affect how long it will last. Generally, when the water stops beading and the finish appearance indicates the wax is gone you should re-wax.
Waxes are uniquely formulated blends of wax, polymers, “glossifiers” and other ingredients that protect and produce a durable, ultra-high gloss finish. Waxes make it easier to clean (wash/dry) the paint surface. Some waxes also serve as polishes and are capable of removing minor paint imperfections.
Cleaner waxes are wax/polish combinations. They contain mild abrasives that are capable of removing minor paint imperfections, as well as wax and other ingredients that produce a durable, high-gloss finish.
Carnauba wax is a resin produced by the wax palm tree that grows in parts of South America. The trees in the northeastern tropical rainforests of Brazil are said to produce the premium quality wax. Carnauba is available in various grades of purity and clarity: #1 yellow is the top grade going downward to #2 yellow, #3 yellow and various commercial grades.
Carnauba has a very strong grain structure and is the hardest wax known to man. In addition to being incredibly durable, carnauba dries to a deep, natural shine.
Polishes are specifically formulated blends of oils, solvents, water and minerals designed to remove minor paint surface imperfections. Polishes may or may not contain waxes or silicones.
A swirl mark is a curved minor scratch left in the painted surface by a rubbing compound or a wool buffing pad. Swirl marks can be removed from the paint surface by using a swirl remover, polish or cleaner wax.
Silicone is a chemical polymer that has excellent water repellence and a very slippery feel. Silicones are commonly used in automotive waxes to enhance the application and ease of removal and to increase gloss and durability.
Rubbing compounds are specifically formulated suspensions of oils, solvents, water and minerals produced in either a liquid or a paste construction. They are designed to remove paint surface imperfections.
Rubbing Compounds Versus Cleaners
There is very little difference between rubbing compounds and cleaners designed to remove imperfections from a painted surface. They vary by the types of minerals (abrasives), mineral particle sizes and chemicals they contain, but they provide the same action. Both use an abrasive to remove imperfections in the paint, and both are made with varying degrees of “aggressiveness.”
A glaze is a polish that is safe for use on fresh paints. Glazes also have varying degrees of aggressiveness. Many glazes, used either by hand or machine, will remove minor paint surface imperfections. It should be followed either by a wax on cured paint or by a hand-glaze on fresh paint. A glaze’s primary use is to enhance surface gloss and luster on fresh paints. It needs to be reapplied frequently until the paint is cured and can be waxed.
If you own a convertible, be sure to clean and maintain the top properly. Most cars have vinyl-coated canvas cloth tops that can be cleaned with your regular car wash product or a vinyl cleaner, followed by a protectant. Some high-end imports and classics have real cloth tops that require special cleaning methods and products. Consult your owner’s manual or dealer before any cleaning.
Because most vinyl tops are heavily grained, they attract and trap the dirt. You may have to use a nylon scrub brush to really clean them. Be careful not to get the brush or the cleaner on the vehicle’s paint. Once the top is clean and dry, use a protectant immediately. This same procedure also applies to cars with padded vinyl tops. If your car has a boot cover, remember to give it the same cleaning and protection as the top.
You’ll also want to clean the plastic rear window in your convertible. Use a plastic polish that is slightly abrasive and a soft terry cloth. Gently rub the window with the polish and then buff to a shine.
There are a variety of special cleaners available for every aspect of your car’s interior. There are even products designed to keep your windshield clear and fog-free in the rain or cold, making driving a whole lot safer. One company even makes a special pet odor eliminator for the four-legged members of the family.
When applying cleaner/protectant next to chrome, glass or paint areas, spray the cleaner/protectant on a cloth or cotton swab first and then apply to the vinyl or rubber surface. Don’t apply vinyl and rubber protectants to your windshield wiper blades.
The best way to protect your chrome or gold plating is to apply a good polish or wax when the plating is new. Make sure the polish has no abrasives.
For quick touchups between washes you can use a detailer. These spray-on/wipe-off products make it easy to remove dust and sprinkler overspray when your vehicle isn’t dirty enough for a complete wash. If you keep a bottle on board you can use it to remove bird droppings right away, before they have a chance to damage your paint.
Another great touchup product is a car duster. In no time at all, it can remove a thin layer of dirt, so there’s no need to go through the whole wash and dry routine. Plus, dusters typically get better with age, so one will last you for years.
When cleaning a cloth interior or carpeting, use a “low residue” cleaner designed specifically for fabric and carpet. Don’t use too much! The key is to apply a light mist and reapply as needed to prevent wicking, which makes the stain come back. If the stain is large, use an extractor to remove the soap residue. Use special leather/vinyl cleaners/protectants exclusively on those materials.
CAR CARE SOURCES
Auto Wax Co./Clay Magic
Blue Coral/Slick 50/Rain-X
Buffalo Milke Automotive
California Car Cover
Dri Wash N Guard
Five Star Detail Products
Lexol Leather Care
Lifter 1 Products
Lusso Car Care
Mr. Clean/Old World
One Grand Products
P21S Auto Care
Prolong Waterless Wash
Refresh Your Car
Stoner Detailing Products
Surf City Garage
3M Co., DIY Division
Westley’s Car Care