How to Care For Your Car's Paint
Every time your car leaves its protective womb — the garage — it rolls into a world of dangers, not the least of which is parasitic organisms that need cars to multiply — dirt.
Like cold germs waiting patiently for an entryway into your body, grunge clings to microscopic imperfections on the surface of car paint. Bird poop and bugs land on the finish and immediately make paint-eating acids that introduce water to bare metal. The result: new grunge, in the form of rust. More insidious, grit of all kinds hangs onto paint until you inadvertently grind those particles into the surface; you know, when you brush against the car or wash it carelessly.
If you care about your car, you'll want something better for the skin of your baby. Here are some tips you will find useful in your efforts to raise — that is, maintain — your car.
Coatings that resist the dulling, chalking effects of sunlight have come a long way. Ultraviolet light still will oxidize a car's finish, but unless you are parking in a barren lot in the desert, the paint on recent models is going to last many years. Of course, you can buy one of those canvas booties that encase a car, but don't look at us when you're fighting the wind to put it on.
The best advice is the simplest. Wash or at least rinse off dirt of any kind on your car ASAP. The longer it's on, the more likely that it will penetrate the paint. Cool your car in the shade on a shallow incline; the angle will help channel water drops to points where they fall off the car and onto the ground.
Rinse before you wash because the mildest of car soaps and freshest of sponges — both of which you should use — won't help if there's sand between the sponge and the paint.
Rather than dish detergent, use car soap, some of which is made to remove stuff like wax. When it comes to tools, you don't have to buy a sponge directly from the Mediterranean, but you definitely shouldn't use old underwear (too hard, no snap and … just don't).
Wash and rinse one section at a time so you don't have water drying on the body. Don't scrub that strong-yet-delicate surface. Use long, light strokes that run along the length of your car. Scratches created with circular wiping leave marks that are more noticeable than straight ones. Rinse your chamois or sponge before dipping it back into the bucket to prevent grit from being reapplied to the car.
Dry by blotting rather than wiping. Ignore memories of your dad or granddad who looked oddly happy to be driving away "to dry the car." They likely were sneaking off to a tavern, a game or to anyplace quieter than home. You'd probably have to drive at unsafe speeds to blow the water off a wet car — all the while accumulating new dirt.
There's a class of cleaning product designed to be used after your car has dried and before you wax. Obviously, this is above-and-beyond detailing. Maybe it's even obsessive. But if you've got the money and ego to buy a jaw-dropping paint job, it makes sense to do everything possible to maintain the sheen.
Wax On, Wax Off
You shouldn't rush the rinse-wash-rinse-rewash process, but you're shooting yourself in the foot if you take shortcuts with the wax. This is the thin, invisible layer of material that not only deepens the beauty of good paint, but also is like diaper cream in that it keeps the bad stuff (including a significant portion of UV rays) from ever touching your baby.
The gold standard is carnauba wax. It's expensive, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anything that brings out paint's richness better. Wipe it on and immediately wipe it off.
You have to be careful, though. A lot of wax-makers say theirs is carnauba, but manufacturers can seemingly mix essence of carnauba in their waxes and claim it's the real thing. You want at least 20 percent carnauba in the can, preferably without any petroleum products mixed in. You'll get better results with natural oils.
Polymer-based waxes are great, too, and worth their price, but they still can't equal the show that carnauba puts on.
Car Washes — Even Evil Has a Place
The less said here the better. As has been pointed out, if you're willing to go to a car wash that uses brushes, you probably aren't motivated to wash your car to begin with.
But let's say you're on your way to pick up actress Natalie Portman for a date when a flock of geese off-load some dead weight onto the hood of your car. The best-case scenario is as follows:
Drive to a no-touch car wash that only sprays water and soap. Cut in line, saying you're late to your daughter's graduation from Brownies. Tip an employee to give the car a rinse before it rolls in. Run to the register and throw your platinum card at the cashier, but keep running to the wipe-down area. The wipe-down area is where everyone else stands around watching his or her car getting dried by hand. If the dryers don't do a good job, the driver stiffs them on the tip. Doofus move. Instead, walk up to the first dryer to touch your car and give him or her the largest bill in your pocket. Say these words: "Use the towels reserved for newborn infants accidentally delivered here."
If the bill you hand over is $100 or greater, tell them about blotting, otherwise go get your credit card back. There's a high likelihood that the cashier's phone number will be on the receipt. That's just a bonus, and has nothing to do with getting the cleanest and least-damaging car wash. Pick up Natalie.