Washing Your Exterior - Aside from normal car-washing supplies (hose, buckets, lots of 100% microfiber towels, micro-fiber carwash mitts, and a chamois or 2), make sure you start with a non-detergent professional car washing solution. Do not use household dishwashing detergents, as they strip off any remaining wax, which causes premature paint failure and oxidation. Do not use any polyester blend towels, diapers, sponges, rags, or mitts, as their fibers are abrasive and can easily scratch your finish. Stick with 100% micro-fiber products 100% of the time.

I strongly recommend that you not buy the cheapest chemicals and cleaning products you can find. As I mentioned above, I buy my detailing supplies by the gallon at a local Auto Detail supply store. You'll need wheel cleaner (most modern alloys are covered with a clear coat, so make sure to get the right kind for your vehicle) and a tar remover as well. A water based protectant here also.

Avoid Direct Sunlight - Never wash your vehicle in direct sunlight, or after it has been sitting directly in the sun. The hot metal & paint surface promotes accelerated evaporation which will leave chemical deposits (water spots) on the surface. Sunlight also reflects through water droplets in much the same way that it passes through a magnifying glass. This can cause more spots to be burned into the clearcoat (the clear exposed top layer of your paint surface). Wash your car on a cloudy day, under the shade of a tree, or inside your well-lit garage, providing it has adequate drainage.

Drain Holes - If you haven't opened up the body drain holes (rubber eyelets located underneath each fender, quarter panel, and door), do so now. They let the rainwater and melting snow that leaks down the outside of the windows into the doors and fenders exit the body. If plugged, they trap water inside the body, causing your vehicle to rust out from the inside.

Cleaning Your Wheels - Use a pressure nozzle to hose out as much dirt as possible from the insides of your wheel-wells. Now is the time to wash your wheels (using a separate scrub brush reserved for the wheels) with your car-wash solution. After rinsing, you'll quickly discover that an application of a specialized brake-dust remover (wheel cleaner) is needed. Warning - do not apply wheel cleaner to hot wheels, the chemical reaction can permanently stain them. Read the label carefully as different products need to be applied in different ways (and usually more than once). I use a brush reserved for wheel-cleaning to remove stubborn stains, and a toothbrush to get at the smaller holes the big brush can't reach. Be careful not to get the wheel cleaner on any of the car's paint: most cleaners contain acid that can quickly eat through a car's finish. Older cars may have permanent brake-dust stains or oxidation caused by road salt that cannot be removed. Some wheels can be stripped and re-painted ($50-$100 per wheel), others must be replaced ($100 - $700 per wheel). Brush-scrub any remaining dirt and debris from your wheel wells that didn't come off when you pressure-sprayed them. Your tires should probably be clean by now, but give them a quick once-over just in case. Some detailers apply a shiny tire dressing to the tires at this point; I prefer a matte finish product (just like my interiors) or none at all. When you're satisfied your wheels are clean, it's time to start washing the rest of the vehicle. It is important to make sure that rags, brushes, buckets, and dirty carwash solution used for cleaning the wheels and tires are not used on the rest of the vehicle.

Water - Be sure to use lots of water. Your goal is to clean the finish without destroying it. Today's 3-step (base - color - clear) finishes are as thin as a typical business card. Ideally the dirt should float off your vehicle without the need for any scrubbing. Dirt particles can be ground into the clearcoat if you use insufficient water. These particles will show up as permanent scratches and swirl marks, which may be impossible to remove yourself. Wet the complete car down thoroughly from top to bottom before applying your carwash solution with a soft micro-fiber carwash mitt.
Next Comes The Roof - Wipe it completely with the soap solution and then rinse it with clean water. Wash small areas one at a time, taking care not to let them dry. Move on to the hood and trunk (bonnet & boot), rinsing them thoroughly. Be sure to rinse completely under plastic and chrome moldings. Dirt and debris collect there, causing condensation that eventually leads to rust. Move on to the upper portion of your side panels, cleaning from the top down to the vehicle's beltline (top half of the lower body). Below The Belt - Replace the cloth or mitt you have been using with one that you'll use exclusively on the lower body. If caught in your washing mitt, the stones and black lumps stuck on the lower portions of your vehicle (around the wheel-wells, on the rocker panels, and below the beltline) will destroy your vehicle's finish. After a gentle washing, use a tar remover to soften these spots and wipe them carefully according to the manufacturer's instructions. Remember dirt, sand, and small stones are trapped in the tar, so take your time and don't scratch your paint. If your cleaning rag is dirty, don't take the chance of rubbing sand or stones into your paint, get a new one! Several applications of tar remover will be necessary to remove large spots without using force. After completely removing all tar deposits, wash the lower portion of the vehicle again, this time with a new mitt or cotton towel. Tar removers are petroleum-based and leave an oily residue that must be removed.
Tree Sap - The hardest thing to get off a car's finish is tree sap. I suggest that you avoid it altogether by avoiding parking underneath trees. There are several sap-removing products on the market, but they all work slowly and patience is neccessary to remove all of the sap. Change your cleaning cloths frequently so you don't re-apply the sap you just removed to another part of your car. Your car must be washed again after removing sap, as most of these products are petroleum-based and leave an oily residue. Another thing to avoid collecting is decaying leaves: the acids produced during their decay will etch their outline into a car's finish. If you live in the snow belt, keep your car clear of snow and ice in the wintertime. Sliding pieces of hard ice can scratch your paint as well.
Don't Drip Dry - The most common method used for drying a car is to let it drip dry. This is certainly the easiest, but it will leave spots on your finish caused by mineral deposits left during evaporation. Wiping the car body dry with a chamois ( soft absorbant leather made from a sheep or deer skin) is the best method of preventing water spotting. The leather quickly soaks up the water as it is wiped over the surface and it can be used over and over. Instead of a chamois, a soft 100% micro-fiber cloth can be used to wipe the car. Bath towels work well and don't leave any lint behind, but quickly become waterlogged, so several will be needed. If you have an air source, blow out the door handles, mirror cavities, window surrounds, and moldings so water spots don't get on your finish when you drive away.

Rubbing & Polishing - Electric buffer/polishers are used by detailers to restore a finish that's lost its lustre. An inexperienced user, however, can quickly ruin today's ultra-thin finishes, so I recommend going to a professional body shop or detailer if your paint is badly faded or scratched. Minor scratches can be removed with a modern polishing glaze made specifically for clearcoat finishes. Under no circumstances should you use harsh abrasives like rubbing compound or sand paper. Leave extensive refinishing jobs to the professionals. Clay-compound polishing bars are becoming popular as polishing agents. They can remove small particles that remain on the finish, leaving the surface smooth as glass.
Chips & Scratches - I always get a bottle of touch-up paint mixed for me whenever I detail a vehicle. Your local automotive paint specialist can furnish you with the exact color for under $8. Chips and scratches that go through the pigment need to be covered before the metal oxidizes (rusts). Providing your car is clean and you haven't waxed it yet, now is the time to fill those chips and scratches. First clean the chip or scratch carefully using a special-purpose cleaner available at the paint store. A fine artist's brush (1/16th inch tip) will work for most chips and scratches. Very small chips can be filled with a match stick corner or toothpick. Don't brush the paint onto the chip. Instead, carefully let the paint flow from the brush, slowly filling the hole caused by the chip. The brush should only have enough paint on it to fill the chip: more than is needed will make a puddle. Warning: don't wax your car if after you've done any touch-up. Let the paint dry for a few days before you apply the wax. If wet paint gets on your waxing pad, you'll have a big mess. A clear coat is highly recomended.
Waxing Your Car - Contrary to popular belief, modern paint surfaces need periodic waxing to keep their shine and protect the finish. Use only a non-abrasive wax and do only a small area at a time (1 or 2 body panels at a time). Abrasive waxes and cleaners remove oxidization from painted surfaces by removing layers of paint and should only be used by professionals. Most professional detailers use a part-Carnuba (look for one with 20-30% Carnuba wax) paste or liquid. Before you start, make sure the humidity is below 50% and there's no precipitation in sight (wax will streak if applied when it's humid). Start by applying the wax in a swirling motion, one body panel at a time, using a 100% cotton cloth or applicator pad. As the wax begins to dry, wipe off the residue with a second 100% cotton cloth. Finally, buff the area with a 3rd cotton cloth; then move on to the next panel. When one buffing rag becomes clogged with wax, replace it with a new cloth. When the body is done finish the job off by waxing your painted bumpers. Alloy wheels need wax as well.

Warning! - Never wax over freshly painted surfaces! New paint can take up to six months to cure completely. Don't let any wax touch rubber moldings or plastic trim pieces, as it is difficult to remove once dry. (A small amount of laquer thinner on a clean rag usually works; be sure not to let it touch any painted surfaces).

Final Details - After a thorough waxing & buffing you'll find that wax dust and residue has gotten into your vehicle's cracks, seams, and underneath the chrome trim. Use a natural-bristle detailer's brush (or pastry brush) and carefully brush away as much dust as possible. Use a clean micro-fiber cloth to wipe any wax residue remaining on the body. To complete the job, take some towels and go over the outside windows and mirrors. I suggest waxing your car every three to six months in order to protect its finish, more often if you keep it out of doors or drive it during the harsh winters associated with the "rust belt."
Winter Washing Tips - Washing your car in cold weather doesn't have to be a concern as long as you make sure that the areas around the doors, trunk and power antenna are wiped dry after each and every wash. Just in case, I also recommend that you keep a spare lock de-icer in your house, purse, and glovebox for frozen lock insurance. Most inoperative or frozen locks result from washing your car without drying off your doors and lock assemblies. When the temperature rises above freezing, melting snow and road salt can take a serious toll on your car's finish. Moisture formed by the melting snow and ice combines with chemicals in road salt to wreak havoc on the painted surfaces of your car, eventually causing the paint to corrode along with the metal underneath it. Regular waxing protects car finishes from this kind of corrosion.

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Instructional Exterior