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Car Detailing Tips - Detail Your Car

Maintaining your paint job is easier than you think with these tips on how to detail your car.

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'It's not that bad, really. Some people balk at the notion of spending half a day cleaning and detailing their cars. We're here to reassure you there is no black magic involved in detailing. You just need to be able to recognize which products to use for each surface and condition. Combine that with some manual labor and a few hours, and your car will be looking like new. Plus, the more often you do it, the easier it will be, and the longer your paint job will last.

Now, we are fully aware that photos of a bunch of dudes washing a car might cause more than a few of our readers to fast-forward through these next five pages. Our more impassioned readers might even send hate mail, so we thought we'd mix things up a bit. Feast your eyes on the beautiful Paige Peterson as she tackles detailing duties on Greg Nicholl's Nova. You can thank us later.

Wheel/Tire Cleaner
They say you should wash the car from the top down, but we're not ones to always follow convention-we actually like to clean the tires first. It's been our experience that tire cleaners work best when applied to dry tires. It seems to break up old tire dressing better that way. So we clean both the tires and wheels first before a drop of water even touches the car.

Those "no touch" hose-off tire cleaners work OK, but the best products still require scrubbing, so spray liberally and use a scrub brush to get rid of all the road grime and brake dust. To clean the wheels, it's best to use one of the newer, all-metal wheel cleaners to avoid damaging the finish. They're formulated to work on bare aluminum, magnesium, or painted wheels. Soak the wheels with the cleaner and scrub lightly with a soft-bristle brush or an old terry-cloth towel. Rinse both the wheel and tire thoroughly. Do one wheel at a time to prevent the cleaners from drying before you rinse them off. If you have unpainted wheels, they can then be cleaned with mag and aluminum polish. Use a terry-cloth towel to wipe the polish on, and wipe the residue away with a clean towel. Be sure to use old towels, though-the polish turns black as it cleans the metal.

It's not rocket science-the foundation for any detailing job begins with a thorough washing. For best results, wash your car in the shade, and use car-wash soap rather than dish soap or another type of cleaner. Mix in enough soap so that the water feels a little slippery between your fingers. Rinse the entire car first to remove larger particles of dirt, then use a thick wash mitt or high-nap terry-cloth sponge to apply the soapy water. These dense applicators will trap any dirt and particles and prevent them from scratching the paint surface. It's best to work a section at a time, rinsing after each to keep soap residue from drying on the paint. Once done, dry the car with a soft terry-cloth towel, a water blade, or our favorite, The Absorber synthetic chamois.

Paint gets its gloss by reflecting light-the more it reflects, the glossier it looks. But the paint's surface must be as smooth as possible in order to reflect the greatest amount of light. Conversely, scratched and damaged paint looks dull because its rough surface does not cast back as much light. Think of suede or a primer job-it's not glossy because the surface is not smooth. The surface of your topcoat will wear out in time too. Freeway driving acts like a sandblaster, bombarding the paint with grit and particles. Combine that with excessive sunlight, hard water, bird droppings, and careless people brushing up against your car, and eventually your paint appears faded because of tiny scratches that have developed with time and use.

One option is the clay bar, which works by picking up small particles of dirt and minerals left behind in water spots. The paint needs to be wet so the clay will glide smoothly over it, so spray the area with quick detailer first. Rub the clay lightly across the paint until it feels smooth. Dry with a soft towel and move on to the next section.

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