Blogs by Charlie

Detailing your Classic Ride

Here are few things more pleasurable than admiring – and driving – a freshly cleaned vehicle. Whether your collector car of choice is indeed a car, or a truck, a motorcycle, van or tractor, the effort that it takes to “detail” a vehicle is certainly rewarded by the results.

Consider the area in which you’ll do your cleaning; you won’t end up needing to move the vehicle in the middle of the process, and you won’t be straining to reach it with the hose or extension cords. Even shade will keep the paint cool, and an artificial light source that can be trained where it’s needed and doesn’t require hand-holding is also helpful for working in foot wells and under the hood.

Detailing a vehicle can be a time-consuming procedure or it can be a quick and simple task; determining how much attention your vehicle requires and what you plan to do are the next steps. If it’s a daily-driven classic or is stored outdoors, there may be bird droppings or sap on the paint, and you may find tar on the lower panels and brake dust on the wheels. The interior may be dirty or stained and filled with wrappers, receipts and more. If it is a weekend driver or show car that is covered and garaged, the paint and brightwork could be clean, yet dusty, and these surfaces may exhibit swirl marks or scratches.

A powerful vacuum cleaner is a great tool to thoroughly sweep the floor, door pockets and any pleats or crevices in the seats. Most shop vacs have optional accessory kits with crevice tools and small brushes for cleaning the interior.

Remove stains with carpet cleaning solution or foam, the same kind used on house carpets. Scrub vinyl mats with soapy water and air-dry. If your vehicle has leather upholstery, give it good slatherings of leather conditioner and leather protectant to clean and feed the hide.

A soft bristle brush works wonders for dusting tight corners, and a can of compressed air or cotton swabs dipped in interior cleaner will remove dust from vents. Crud stuck in the console can be removed with interior cleaner and a flat-blade screwdriver wrapped in a shop rag. The dash top absorbs a lot of light and heat, so shield it with a light coat of UV-resistant protectant.

If you’re planning a quick wash and spruce-up of your existing finish, you should use a dedicated mild liquid car wash; if you’re going to polish and wax the exterior, you can instead use a small amount of liquid dish detergent, which will effectively strip the wax off of the paint. A cool surface will give you the best chance of washing and drying the car without causing wash liquid to evaporate and leave spots on the surfaces. Hose the car down with an easy stream of cool water, working your way from the roof down to the wheels so that dirt and contaminants flow away.

Keep the wash mitt clean, rinsing it frequently. Wash the car from top to bottom, starting with the horizontal surfaces. Switching to the horizontal panels, start from the front and work your way back, from the glass and top of the fenders down to the door’s center point. Once the vehicle’s upper surfaces are clean, rinse and tackle the mid-doors down to the sills, as well as the front and rear bumpers and valances. Save the wheels and tires for last, and it’s best to tackle them with a second wash mitt that you won’t use on your paint the next time you wash. If your wheels have a coating of brake dust, dedicated wheel cleaner will likely remove the residue. Whitewall or raised white letter tires will gleam after a rub with a steel wool soap pad.

Dry the car from top to bottom with a soft cloth or chamois, paying attention to trim and other things that can trap water that will later run out and smear your wax. Use your damp drying cloth to wipe down the door jambs, hood and trunk channels. If you’ve still got tar or sap to deal with, now’s the time to use a fresh soft cloth and some bug and tar remover or other solvent to clean those areas.

Clay bars are designed to glide over a surface lubricant and pick contaminants up off the paint. If you run your hand over a freshly washed panel and feel some grit or resistance, this is the material that a paint-cleaning clay bar will remove. Wet the area with a liquid spray wax or detailing spray and rub the clay back and forth, folding it to expose clean areas as it gets dirty.

If your paint is oxidized and chalky, or simply dull, you’ll want to polish it to bring back the shine; remember that polish brings the gloss, but it doesn’t offer protection against the elements. Always follow up with a coat of protective wax.

You can apply and remove polish and wax by hand, or you can use a buffer. A random orbital buffer is the best choice. Regardless of your application method, remember that a little wax goes a long way. Move the applicator or buffer pad in an up-and-down fashion before turning and doing the same from side to side over the same area. Fresh 100-percent cotton or microfiber cloth towels won’t harm the paint as you remove wax by hand or touch up areas your buffer couldn’t reach.
Use a soft natural bristle brush to sweep wax dust out of emblems and crevices. If your vehicle has plastic or rubber trim or window moldings, or a vinyl convertible top that would benefit from a UV-resistant protectant, spray the treatment on a soft cotton rag before applying it to the trim.

Inside Tools:
Vacuum cleaner with narrow attachment
Soft bristle brush
Old toothbrushes
Old kitchen sponge with scrub side
Cotton swabs
Cotton rags or microfiber dust cloths
Shop rags
Flat-blade screwdriver

Inside Supplies:
Carpet cleaning solution
Fabric-safe cleaner/degreaser
Upholstery shampoo
Leather cleaner/conditioner
Rubber and trim dressing or protectant
Glass cleaner
Old newspapers for wiping glass
Can of compressed air

Outside Tools:
Deep bucket (holding five gallons or more)
Wash mitt
Stiff bristle brush and soft bristle brush
Old toothbrushes
Steel wool pads with integral soap
Drying towels (100 percent cotton) or chamois
Clean cotton rags or microfiber cloths
Random orbital (dual-action) buffer

Outside Supplies:
Automotive car wash solution
Paint-safe degreaser for road tar and tree sap
Multi-surface wheel cleaner
Whitewall cleaning solution
Glass cleaner
Paint-cleaning clay
Polishing compound
Wax (natural carnauba-based or synthetic)
Rubber and trim dressing or protectant


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