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Essential Vehicle Maintenance: Exterior Care

Aside from keeping your car running great, maintenance needs to be performed to keep your car looking great too. After you've repaired your worn out diesel injectors and diesel fuel pump, your exterior needs some TLC. Keeping your car clean and waxed will prolong the life of your paint job and make your car more fun to drive. Here are some tips to properly washing, waxing, and detailing your vehicle.

Beyond the normal dirt and dust that collects on the surface of your car, there are other, harder to see contaminants that can damage your clear coat over time. Airborne pollutants, bugs, tree sap, and bird droppings can all degrade your paint so it’s important to scrub it all off frequently.

Before washing and especially before waxing, make sure your car is parked in the shade if it is sunny outside. The sun can prematurely dry your car leading to water spots, or hamper your waxing efforts. If you plan on waxing your car you may even want to wash your car twice because dirt is difficult to see when the car is wet.

Make sure to use the right solvents for washing and detailing your car. Dishwashing soap is not good for your paint. Buy some kind of actual car wash, and make sure to buy a high quality wax like Turtle or Meguiar’s. Wash your vehicle thoroughly, using a soft sponge or towel, paying special attention to the front grill of your vehicle where bugs and debris often collect. Rinse and dry your car carefully, inspecting the paint for anything left behind. Make sure to go back and scrub spots that did not come clean – if you attempt to wax the paint with dirt or debris on it, you will scratch the clear coat of your car.

In decades past it was agreed that the best wax to use was very-hard-to-apply carnauba wax – the “wax on, wax off” kind; nowadays technology has advanced enough to provide excellent, more easily applied waxes that are just as effective at protecting your clear coat. Some of the more advanced systems currently require just spray on application and spreading evenly over the paint, no buffing required.

If you decide to use a more traditional paste wax or cream wax, use the applicator recommended or provided by the wax manufacturer. If they don’t have a recommendation, use a foam applicator pad to apply the wax. Work in small areas, rubbing a small amount of wax and spreading it to the surrounding areas. Apply the wax in a back and forth motion, not in circles, and make sure your applicator and buffer are clean before you begin. If the wax residue doesn’t buff off easily, switch to a very clean towel or cloth.

After you are done buffing, use a soft toothbrush or detailing brush to clean the wax out of the cracks and crevices of your car. After you’re done waxing, your car should have a smooth, glossy finish that looks almost wet.

Paste wax systems require you to re-apply the wax every 30-90 days to protect your paint, depending on weather conditions. Newer synthetic systems can last up to 9 months without re-application, but some people say they don’t give off the same “three-dimensional” shine that carnauba wax provides, so you’ll have to make a judgment call on what is most important to you. Either system will protect your paint and keep your car in excellent form for years.

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