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Detailing a Car: A Step-By-Step Guide for the Best Results

Cars are our passion at Shine Gear. Making them look their best is not just a hobby to us, it's an obsession.  Our goal is to help you make your car look like new. A car is of abused by the elements including the sun, smog, acid rain and road debris.  All of these factors have an effect on the how well your car looks. Shine Gear can keep your car in its best condition, just like it looked when it came out of the showroom. This auto detailing guide will show you how it's done.

Professional car detailers have come up with their own methods for everything from washing the car to cleaning the windows. To get the type of results auto detailers get you should use products designed for specific areas of the car – windows, trim, wheels, etc. Name-brand products are a safe bet. Be sure to read those labels to get the best results.

The interior is the best place to begin. Remove your floor mats and vacuum the carpeting and the upholstery. Next you'll want to vacuum the dashboard and rear shelf. Move the front seats to their most forward position and then all the way back to reach all the dirt and other items that have accumulated under the seats. Use a foaming cleaner on the carpet if there are only minor stains. Saturate heavy stains with carpet cleaner and work it in with a damp sponge. Let it soak in for at least 10 minutes then blot it out with paper towels or a dry cotton rag. Repeat if needed, and then go over the area with a damp sponge before blotting again as above. You do not want to oversaturate the carpet because you'll risk getting mildew.

Repeat the same process with the floor mats if they are made out of carpet. If they're rubber, clean them with a product specifically for that material. Make sure the cleaner doesn't leave a slippery residue for obvious reasons.

Clean the hard surfaces of the interior with a damp rag and a mild all-purpose cleaner such as 3M's Body Shop Clean-Up, diluted to 30 parts water and 1 part cleaner. For vinyl-covered seats, use a conditioner made for that material. Avoid products that leave a high-gloss, slippery finish to keep you and your passengers from sliding around in their seats. For leather upholstery, use a leather conditioner. You never should use a product designed for vinyl surfaces on leather.

Cleaning the dash can get complicated. With all the buttons, bezels and nooks and crannies it's difficult to do a thorough job with just a cleaning rag. The best approach to getting to these hard to reach places is to use compressed air. Cans of compressed air typically made for cleaning camera and computer equipment but they're great for interior detailing as well. You can also use cotton swabs for these areas of the interior. You'll want to pay close attention to the cleaning products you use on your dash. If your dash has a flat finish, you shouldn't use a product that leaves a shiny finish.

The next step is to clean the air vent grilles with cotton swabs and brighten them up by spritzing on a small amount of vinyl or rubber dressing. These detailing products are also great for covering up light scuff marks. Spray it on a soft towel and then apply it to the scuff marks to gently rub them out.

Next clean the gauge lenses with a glass or plastic cleaner, never wax. If possible, remove knobs to clean underneath the bezels.

Have you ever wondered what causes the haze on the inside of your windshield? It is created by plastisols emitted as the plastics in your car slowly cure. A good glass cleaner will remove it.

Warning: If your car has aftermarket window tint film, using cleaners that contain vinegar or ammonia may degrade it, so be sure to read the label before using on your windows. If your car windows are tinted in the factory, not to worry, factory tinting is embedded in the glass and is not affected by cleaners. A trick used by car detailers to give window glass its shiniest appearance is to rinse it down with seltzer and then wipe it off with a ball of crumpled newspaper. If you use this technique, be careful not to get any newspaper ink on the exterior or interior of your car.

Now on the exterior of your car

Nothing makes you prouder and gives the best impression like a finish that sparkles like a diamond. Unfortunately this is only possible after you have corrected any problems with the paint. Most car finishes consist of a 2-step color basecoat and a protective layer called a clearcoat. The clearcoat is only about 2 to 3 mils thick. When the clearcoat gets scratched or scuffed it refracts light and the color coat underneath doesn't shine through clearly.

Wash your car first so you can evaluate any paint problems. It's best to work in the shade and make sure the surface is cool to the touch. Use carwash soap, not a household detergent, and work in sections, from top to bottom. The bottom section of your car tends to attract more abrasive dirt. When giving your car a final rinse we recommend removing the spray nozzle from the hose and completely saturating the finish. The reason for this is the water will tend to run off in sheets which will minimize spotting. Then dry the car with a good quality chamois or a soft thick terry cloth towel.

Next... on to the wheel wells. Use an all-purpose cleaner and a good high-pressure washing. After you've finished washing your car, apply a vinyl dressing to the wheel wells to give them the best appearance.

Wash the wheels with a brush made specifically for this purpose. Do not use acid-based cleaners on polished alloy wheels or wheels that are clearcoated. You can however use acid-based cleaners on rough-textured alloy wheels. Chrome wheels are easily shined up by using metal polish or glass cleaner.

Now that your car is washed it's time to inspect the paint. Stains and scratches can be removed with a good cleaner that is safe to use on clearcoats. Start with the least abrasive product and gradually move to coarser cleaners if needed. After that, buff with a machine. Minor scratches can be removed by polishing off with a clear wax or mild polish.

Waxing and polishing is next. Remember to include the doorjambs and the areas beneath the door hinges as well as behind the bumpers. Minor imperfections can be made to disappear by wrapping a cotton cloth around your finger and rubbing the polish into the finish.

Polish benefits your car exterior in two ways. It of course gives the exterior a glossy finish but it also provides the paint with oils to prevent it from drying out. Polymers included in the polish fill in small scratches in the clearcoat layer which restores its clarity. If you buff the polish/wax with a machine to a high luster, use an orbital type as opposed to a rotary model. Rotary models are more likely to burn the paint. Treat the plastic bumpers on your car as if they were a painted surface and protect them with a light coat of wax.

If you have scratches that go through the clearcoat into the color coat it's best to have those scratches repaired professionally.

You'll want to avoid getting wax or polish on rubber and flat black plastic areas as well as door handles and emblems. You can clean those areas with a nongloss product. If you do get a wax on rubber trim and it leaves a stain, spray it with a mist-and-wipe product and wipe it down with a towel. If that doesn't work try microwaving some peanut butter and apply it to the affected area with a soft toothbrush. The oil in peanut butter dissolves the wax and it's abrasive enough to lift the stain.

If you get polish or wax residue around emblems or in crevices, use a cotton swab and toothbrush to remove it. It's important that you wet the area first a mist-and-wipe product such as Meguiar's Quick Detailer. Never use a brush on a dry surface.

Next it's time to pop the hood. You'll want to first protect the electronic components by wrapping them in plastic. Sandwich bags secured with a rubber band work for the small parts, for larger components you can use plastic grocery bags or plastic wrap. Spray on a diluted all-purpose cleaner and then hose it off with a light spray. Vinyl and rubber protectant will renew nonmetal areas. If you like the glossy look let it soak in or wipe it on and off for a matte finish.

Your car is looking pretty sharp now but there's one last step that is the icing on the cake... the tires. First off, clean them.  Whitewall tire cleaner works on blackwalls too, after they're clean, apply tire dressing.  Once again, for a glossy finish let the product soak in for a matte look wipe it on and off with a cotton cloth. Make sure the tires are dry before driving or you'll splatter your shiny finish with tire dressing.


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Detailing a Car: A Step-By-Step Guide
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