You can achieve that ‘just driven off the showroom’ look for your car with just a little bit of care. Here is how you can make sure that your brand new car will be looking like it has just left your local dealership’s yard for years to come.
The threats to your car’s exterior
The following factors can really take the shine off your car and leave it looking tired and old.
- UV rays from the sun are a main factor in causing discoloration and fading of the paintwork.
- Acid rain or salt water cause oxidation (or rust) and ‘spots’ to appear on that once sleek paintwork finish.
- Bird droppings are highly corrosive and will at best stain and at worst corrode your car if they are not quickly removed.
- Small paint chips occur from loose gravel flying up from the road – this is particularly noticeable on the lower half of your car
- Your car’s paintwork will become scratched and marked by the effects of being brushed against and the improper washing methods/materials that are used on a car. It may also get blemishes like grease and tar on it from the road.
Fortunately these threats to your car can be minimized with a little care and rectified simply and at little cost. Here are 5 steps that will help you keep your car always looking as good as new.
Step 1: Store your car carefully
The first thing that you must do to keep you car’s exterior looking new is to make sure it has covered parking whenever possible. This limits your car’s exposure to the damaging effects of the sun. A garage or covered car port are ideal but any shade helps. If it is going to be parked for a long time use a sun-proof car cover to protect your car’s exterior.
One small caveat to the above – trees are great providers of shade but also great perching points for birds. Bird droppings are highly acidic and can, if left, be difficult and damaging to remove. Always use a wet tissue to soak and remove them and do so as soon as possible.
Step 2: How to wash your car
The well-meaning act of washing a car can actually be one of the greatest dangers to maintaining a sleek finish on your car. Many of those fine scratches that the sun picks out on the body will be the direct result of it being washed. To minimize these you should avoid machine tools for cleaning – they will apply more pressure on bends and curves where the paint is at its thinnest and easily damaged. You should also drive past that machine car wash too - it will clean your car beautifully but leave ugly scratches all over the delicate paintwork.
If you want to keep your car clean and protect its paintwork your car needs a hand car wash and here is how to do it right.
- Forget the detergent – your car is not a plate or a kitchen utensil. Detergent will dull your car’s paint and give it a murky, cloudy finish. Instead arm yourself with an off-the-shelf car wash soap that will clean dirt and grime without stripping the protective waxes and other compounds that give your car its lustrous shine.
- By rinsing the car first you remove the grit and dirt that would otherwise scratch or be further ground in to your car’s exterior. Use the finest setting your hose has and never a power blast that will only help the dirt embed itself deeper.
- A mitt rather than a sponge is your best cleaning device. There is less chance of getting dust and dirt caught in a mitt and scraped across your pristine paint.
- Change your water regularly and use two buckets. One will have your wash solution in the other is for rinsing out your mitt.
- A car is always washed from the top down. This avoids moving dirt and grit from the dirtier, lower part of the car to the cleaner top. For the same reasons always use side-to-side strokes and maintain a light pressure.
- If you need something more powerful to remove grease and tar stains choose your product carefully. If you have a choice go for a citrus-based cleaner rather than a chemical-based one as this will be kinder still to your car’s exterior finish.
- Once clean rinse the car off once more to avoid streaks and dry it off with a microfiber towel, which is more absorbent than the traditional chamois leather and less likely to leave ‘patches’ on your paintwork which the uneven effect of drying in the sun can.
Step 3 and 4: Two ways to protect and preserve your smooth shine
Although they complement each other, and are best applied in sequence, polishing and waxing your car are not the same things. The emollients in a polish add oils to your car’s paint which helps to give it that gloss and sparkle. Many polishes also contain ‘fillers’ which can smooth out your car’s surface and remove light scratch marks. A wax, on the other hand, provides a protective coat to your car that helps preserve it and prevent further damage to it. The wax will also deepen your car’s gloss and give it a brilliant shine that cannot be achieved through any other means.
You do, however, apply polish and wax in similar ways. First you make sure that the car is clean, and then apply by working it into the car in small patches at a time. Use a cotton fabric to gently rub on and then immediately use a different, very clean cloth to wipe it off the paint. Always use sparingly as both polish and wax are actually not ‘filling’ in or ‘adding’ to your paint but removing a layer of old paint to reveal a fresh shiny and smooth new layer underneath.
For this reason a polish and wax should be applied no more than once every three months. You can use the ‘bead’ test to see if your car needs a polish. A car needs a polish when water stops beading when it lies on the car’s surface. Always polish before you wax because the polish will allow the wax you apply to be removed with less effort.
Wax is available as polymer based or with a base of carnauba wax. Whilst carnauba wax gives an unparalleled depth of shine it is susceptible to being removed by car washing products if applied in strong solutions. Always dilute your car wash solution according to guidelines to avoid removing your car’s protective coat of wax. Polymer based wax is more resistant to washing and appears to last longer, but does run the risk of a difficult to remove build-up forming with multiple applications. Colleagues from London car dealerships swear that German cars are particularly susceptible to becoming cloudy when a polymer wax is applied.
Carefully applied a good polish and wax will remove scratch marks, give your car an even colour and restore the lustre, gloss and shine to its paint. It will also provide it with a sheet of armour that will preserve this look from environmental damages for longer.
Step 5: How to touch-up your car’s paintwork.
Nothing can mar a car’s look than chip marks in its paint and they are so simple to fill in. All you need to match the colour exactly is the year, make and model of your car. Your local car care store will help with the rest.
Clean the area on your car that you are going to work on and clear any chipped or cracked paint. You need to sand down the area and you will find a nick sander is perfect for small areas. It is like a pen with a small sandpaper tip. You should use super-fine grade sandpaper with a rating of 600 or higher for this.
Next wipe off sanding dust and grit using a clean cloth. Use a small artist's detail brush to smoothly fill in the shallow scratch or ding with touch-up paint. Alternatively you can use a toothpick which helps you apply paint precisely without being in danger of having too much on your ‘brush’.
Finally just sand down your touch-up work when dry to achieve that smooth, blended in finish.
That showroom sheen
It doesn’t take too much to transform a faded, tired looking Mazda 3 into one that looks like it has just been driven off one of the finest Mazda car dealerships in the country. With a little bit of care, and a bit of know-how, your car can look shiny and new for years to come.