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Car Care & Tips

Vehicle Washing

Written and Photographed by James Dolan

Cobra Wash

A weekly wash of your vehicles exterior is as important as changing the oil in your engine on a timely basis. Everyone likes a clean car but many people don’t take the time since they think that it is not all that important. Washing your vehicle is important because it will delay the onset of corrosion. Contaminates such as road salt, heavy dirt, chemicals, bird droppings, acid rain, sap and bugs all eat away the protective finish of your car over time eventually causing rust to form. Also heavy concentrations of dirt will act as an abrasive not only wearing away the finish but cause accelerated wear in hinges, locks and other exterior moving parts. Plus a weekly wash will allow you to spot potential damage or minor issues with your car before they become a major problem. One time I found that I had a flat tire on the passenger side in the rear of the car. I would have never had noticed it until it was too late driving down the road. As an added bonus regular washing makes nasty things like sap, bugs, tar, brake dust and bird droppings easy to remove them since they to not have the opportunity to sit and bake onto the paint.

Washing your vehicle does not have to be a day long affair either. Just 30 to 45 minutes is all it takes from start to finish. Before you start you should have the following list of materials.

  • 1 large pail (5 gallons is the perfect size)
  • 1 high quality wash mitt
  • A good quality synthetic chamois
  • Good quality car wash soap
  • A nozzle, hose and water supply

You will need to find a shady area to wash your car. If that isn’t possible you must be careful not to let the soap dry on your car and be diligent to keep the vehicle wet during the wash process as this can damage the paint. Also don’t wash the vehicle just after being driven as the heat from the engine will speed the drying of the soap. It can possibly damage hot brake rotors if they are cooled too quickly by the cold water causing the rotors to warp.

Step 1: The Rinse

Rinse the vehicle down with cool water. Be very liberal rinsing the areas below the windows of the vehicle as these areas collect the most debris. The lower you go the more liberal you should be rinsing. Don’t forget to rinse up in the wheel wells. This is where dirt and salt can gather especially around the lip area, trapping water and causing premature rust.

Next add some soap to the bucket and fill it 3/4 full with water. Try to make as much suds as you can as the suds lift the abrasive dirt up off the paint when you are washing. Check the mitts for any debris that can cause damage to the paint. If they look dirty rinse them thoroughly. Do not put them on the ground!

Step 2: The Wash

Start washing from the top down. The logic behind this is since the upper areas of the vehicle are the cleanest you will not be contaminating your wash water with heavy dirt right off the bat. The cleaner the water the less likely you will cause very small micro scratches on the upper surfaces on the paint making it look dull or swirly. Use light pressure, never using heavy pressure let the soap do the work. Make certain you do not miss any areas. Wash along body lines and around and under trim and mirrors. Never scrub away at stubborn tar, bugs or sap as this can damage paint. Instead, purchase a product designed for remove such contaminates and follow the directions. Always test a product or chemical you have never used on your vehicle before on an inconspicuous area of the car in case that product has a negative reaction with the paint or trim. Always rewash the area of the vehicle that you have used any sort of cleaner on in order to remove any traces of the product or residue that can attack the paint.

I suggest washing one panel or section at a time using the following procedure.

  • Wash the roof and windows and then rinse.
  • Wash the trunk and hood and then rinse.
  • Wash the left side and then rinse.
  • Wash the right side and then rinse.
  • Wash the rear and then rinse.
  • Wash the front and then rinse.
  • Wash the wheels (but not the tires!)
  • Finally with a separate wash mitt that will never touch the painted surface or wheel rims of the car, wash the tires and wheel wells and then rinse the wheels, tires and wells.

Now you can break out the chamois and give it a good rinse to both soften it up and wash away any contaminates or dirt that maybe on it. Like the wash mitt, inspect the chamois for any foreign materials that may damage the finish when you dry the vehicle.

Step 3: Drying the Vehicle

Many people skip this step and it is a mistake. Letting you vehicle air dry will leave the vehicle covered with water spots. Depending on where you live and your water source the spots and be relatively minor or can be severe are potentially damaging. The spots are caused by the mineral deposits that are suspended in the water. Once the water dries the minerals are left behind causing the spots. These can be difficult to remove and can possibly eat away at the paint just as acid rain can make a permanent small creator in your paint. Besides you just spent that time washing your car why ruin all that work?

Once you have saturated the chamois with water wring it out and you are ready to begin. I suggest using a high quality synthetic chamois because I find them easy to use. They glide over the surface of the vehicle easier and are more absorbent then a natural chamois. Also I find a synthetic chamois will not strip the wax that is on the surface of the vehicle as quickly either. Some people like using towels to dry and that is ok but I find they can leave lint on the surface of the vehicle.

My technique for drying the car is pretty much the same as my washing technique. Starting with the roof and widows and moving to the trunk and hood areas then along to the sides, rear and front. Wring out the chamois as needed when is becomes saturated with water. Again I dry the wheels last being careful not to touch the tires or the ground.

There you have it, a once a week washing regimen that will not only keep your vehicle looking good but will help stave off the inevitable ravages of rust and corrosion just a while longer.

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