For all the fun your roadster brings you, it’s only right that you treat it with the proper cleaning only an owner can provide. If it were a slab-sided sedan or SUV (Some Ugly Vehicle) you’d be well within your right to hand the keys to those scrub monkeys at the local auto-wash or sandblast it with the recycled water often found at the self-serve BayWash.
But how exactly do you go overboard to indulge your Ultimate Driving Machine? Want to take pride in redefining the word “anal”? Read on…
First, let’s lay down some ground rules. The purpose of this article is to maintain that silky smooth factory finish for as long as humanly possible without resorting to permanently encasing the car in solid lucite. This does NOT include slathering it with some miracle laser-deflecting, scratch-healing, fireproof, SuperTeFlornPolymerSilicone wax or protectant. If you think your roadster’s finish won’t look good without these late-night infomercial snake oils, you’ve probably been clueless on proper car care. The following procedures will instruct you to go as far as you can to be LEAST harmful to your factory clearcoat.
You’ll want to gather the following items:
A plastic 5 gallon bucket or larger. A metal one close to the car might scratch it if tipped.
One or more cotton wash mitts
Large soft sponge
Wax applicator pads
Half or full dozen 100% cotton terrycloth handtowels, laundered using no detergent and dried without fabric softener.
Medium firmness fiber bristle wheel brush
Small Window Squeegee
Concentrated Car Wash Solution
Pro409 or Simple Green cleaning solution
Vinylex for leatherette interiors
Lexol for leather interiors
Meguiar’s #18 Plastic Cleaner or Pledge furniture polish
Carnuba-based Wax (no Polymer Waxes!)
Bug & Tar Remover
Unless you’re in a shaded carport or waterproofed garage interior, NEVER wash your car under direct sunlight. The best times of day to wash are dusk and dawn as the sun will probably be behind an obstruction in the horizon. Washing in hot weather is a no-no as well. General rule of thumb is if the car’s surface is warm to the touch, it’s not the time to wash. In direct sunlight, each droplet of water on the surface acts to collect the sun’s energy. If the surface is already hot, this speeds the droplet’s evaporation leaving the water’s natural minerals to etch into your clearcoat thus giving you “waterspots”. No additional scrubbing will get these stains off. A hot surface will also cause wax to be easily stripped from the surface. A proper wash should only serve to lift off dust and dirt. The underlying wax should last for several washes before requiring another application.
Once you’ve moved your car into it’s wash area where you can reach all sides with the hose, put your wipers up before you turn off the ignition. Simply raise the right stalk and remove your keys the moment the wiper arms have reached their apex. This will enable the arms to be hinged away for unobstructed access to the windshield’s forward edge. Check the blades for wear or muddy debris while you’re at it. Don’t forget to return the stalk and blades back to their normal position afterwards!
Fill the bucket with slightly cool water. Warm or hot water will give the same results as having a hot surface. To this, add THE ABSOLUTE smallest amount of wash solution. (Dishwashing liquid does not count as car wash solution) This should only be enough to create a few bubbles when swishing the water with your hand. This wash water merely needs to lift dirt from your surface. The mile-high bubble baths formed from too much wash solution will take much longer to rinse off thoroughly and worse, any areas you’ve missed in the rinse will leave a dull residue when dried. The concentrated solution in these pictures only required approximately a teaspoon to reach the desired results.
Use a wash mitt instead of a sponge to wash the body surfaces. Chances are better that grit or debris can get caught in the sponge’s pores and turn your wash experience into a scratch session. Avoid brushes as well regardless how soft the bristles may feel to you. The soft fibers of a wash mitt will release grit the best.
Spray down the car to wet all areas. Throughout the wash, continuously spray all areas to keep surfaces wet. If there are spots with dried splattered bug parts, moisten a paper towel and lay it over the area. When you return to it later, you’ll find it softened and much easier to remove.
Gently scrub the canvas top. The advice you heeded in avoiding overly soapy wash water will especially prevent soap residue here. Tan tops will probably require more gentle scrubbing and rinsing to lift embedded dirt. If you do spend time on washing the top, be sure to pay close attention to rinsing thoroughly.
Continue to the glass surfaces and don’t forget your side mirrors. Once you’ve moved to the body panels, start from the cleanest surfaces along the top and work your way down. Clean one section at a time to allow for immediate rinsing. Heavy scrubbing shouldn’t be required to lift grime from your previously waxed surface. Work the scrub mitt in a straight back and forth motion. Rinse the mitt of grime repeatedly…better yet, use the hose to rinse away the grime. Heavy scrubbing in circular motions over time will encourage swirl marks often seen under harsh sunlight. At this time, those bug spots should be moistened. If not, apply a commercial citrus-based bug-remover according to directions. The last and dirtiest body sections to be washed are areas immediately following the wheel wells and rocker panels. You’ll find the wash mitt reporting back with brake dust and kicked-up mud. At any point throughout this entire process, if the wash mitt gets dropped to the pavement, do not continue washing without thoroughly rinsing the mitt several times.
If the car hasn’t been washed in a while, check the side marker lamp underside for a layer of dried mud. This lamp assembly is removed by first sliding it towards the back of the car. Clean the area as necessary, but DO NOT force water into the wiring. At the bottom corners of the doors drain holes need to be cleaned and cleared of any grime that may prevent moisture from escaping. When these holes are dirty, they are often the culprits in leaving an ugly streak as water drains from them. Since the grime in these spots are typically greasy, clean it with something you can discard…like a paper towel.
Once all body surfaces have been washed, rinse and remove the wash mitt from the bucket. Soak a large, soft sponge and clean the wheels. The sponge’s ability to hug the wheel’s complex curves should make the job quick and easy. Brake dust should come off easily provided the wheels are regularly cleaned two or three times a month. A long-handled brush will offer better access to cleaning the wheel wells.
Using an inexpensive mini-squeegee will make quick and efficient work of drying the windshield and side windows.
By now the canvas top should have wicked most of the moisture to the surface. Start drying this area next with a synthetic chamois. Open the hood and trunk to let the large water droplets run off. Open the doors to keep the drain holes unobstructed from any possible beads of water tension. Since you’re no longer misting the car at this stage, it’s important to remove all droplets or pools of water as soon as possible. Nothing beats the synthetic chamois for its ravenous water-soaking properties. Wringing out a waterlogged synthetic versus the pricier genuine chamois would show you the benefits of synthetic. Once wrung dry, the synthetic feels just as buttery soft. More often than not, draping the chamois across a spot and dragging it across once will leave a bone-dry surface that no bath towel can match. Dry the hood and trunk moving to the sides afterwards. Don’t forget some favorite hiding spots like the seam under the reptilian side gills or lip edges in front and back. Drying your roadster by immediately driving it after the rinse leans toward foolish as the water droplets will simply serve to collect road dust and exhaust to etch into your paint once the moisture evaporates. The wheels will probably have water droplets that need to be dried as well. After this, it’s time to clean the glass.
Typical glass cleaners may be good for fingerprints, but they don’t cut it for automotive interior glass. The haze you often see is a result of off-gassing from your vinyl dash’s exposure to UV rays. A far more effective solution is to dilute a cleaner like Pro409 or Simple Green according to directions. Using these products full-strength would require more work than necessary in wiping it away and would leave a soapy residue. Keeping the diluted mixture in a small atomizer bottle will make it easier to reach the forward windshield from behind the dash.
As farfetched as it may sound, using newsprint to clean glass is devastatingly effective. Most major-city newsprint contain ink that doesn’t come off. Spray the glass directly with the diluted solution, scrunch a sheet up and begin wiping. You’ll find the newsprint absorbent enough while it cleans the glass thoroughly. Paper towels become waterlogged much too easily and can leave pieces of itself behind.
While near the subject of off-gassing, the interior vinyl should be cleaned with a product that offers some UV protection. Vinylex is a popular choice that (thankfully) does not leave as wet a look as other bigger-name brands. Extra buffing with a dry cotton towel may reduce the shine further.
Cleaning and conditioning the leather seats with an expensive product may be futile as some detailers have claimed BMW’s seats have been sprayed with a thin protective coating of plastic. Notwithstanding, Lexol or Connoly’s Hide Food seems to be the popular picks for those with leather interiors.
A California mini duster is an invaluable gadget for instant interior cleaning. One swipe will remove that reoccurring layer of dust. The mini duster is sized to easily reach the furthest parts of the dash. Be careful not to leave this sitting on your dash for any prolonged time. The duster is lightly embedded with parafin wax (to attract dust) that may leave a wax stain on the dash’s plastic.
Pledge Polish will work for the plastic rear window provided you use an absorbent lint-free cloth. Again, use straight back and forth strokes here. Alternately, Meguiar’s #18 is especially formulated for plastic windows. Scratched and hazed rear windows should try the combination of Meguiar’s #10 and #17.
Before you start putting your water-stained roadster up For Sale because you were careless in avoiding direct sunlight during the wash, you can pamper the paint back to its glory by using a pre-wax cleaner like Zymöl’s HD Cleanse. This is designed to remove existing wax as well as waterspots and pindot droplets of hardened treesap so you can start anew.
Work in small patches on the bodywork. Apply the pre-wax paint cleaner to the applicator and lightly rub into the paint. Do this in a straight back and forth motion — never circular! Once you’ve thoroughly applied a layer to that spot, buff it off with the cotton towel. It may help to bounce the glare of a halogen worklight to more-easily catch areas you missed buffing. Continue in this fashion for the rest of the car, turning the towel or grabbing a fresh one as necessary. Stay away from textured plastic surfaces like wash nozzles and door handles. In the previous formula HD Cleanse, the cotton towel would actually make a scritch-scritch noise on the sheetmetal when the surface was clean! An alternative to liquid pre-wax cleaners is to use a patent-pending product called Clay Magic. This blue slab of slightly-sticky clay is used in conjunction with the included lubricant solution. As the clay is dragged across the paint’s surface (with help of the solution), it essentially scours off imperfections and stubborn debris on the paint surface.
After stripping the old wax from the car, it would be an opportune time to fix paint-chips and scratches with touch-up paint from your dealer. One highly recommended product to help this process along is Langka. Fixing these spots early assures moisture or debris does not work its way to the bare sheetmetal underneath.
The final process in your roadster’s TLCC is the wax. A good waxing will leave a protective barrier between your paint and the harsh environment. It would be far preferable for waterspot minerals to etch themselves to your coat of wax rather than the paint’s clearcoat. Carnuba-based paste wax is the choice of respected detailers. Carnuba is extracted from palm leaves in South America. Finding a $5.00 bottle of liquid wax claiming to be 100% Carnuba would go nicely if you were also buying a bridge in Brooklyn. A TRUE sample of 100% Carnuba Wax would look like a brick and would require you to use the heat of your hand to warm it enough to apply to the paint. That $5.00 bargain bottle likely has a true concentration of 5%…if that. Serious detailing wax only has a 30%-50% Carnuba concentration. These paste waxes with a partial Carnuba concentration work well because it contains essential oils and carrying agents. Carrying agents surround the Carnuba giving it a smoother viscosity thus allowing easy application. This is what gets buffed out leaving the hard protective Carnuba. The oils serve to nourish your clearcoat. While petroleum-based Polymer waxes may protect, it does not nourish.
Using a new applicator pad, apply the paste wax in the same gentle back and forth motion as the pre-waxing process. Work in small sections at a time. Varying brands differ in their application process. Zymöl requires buffing off almost immediately. It does not haze as much as other waxes, so use that halogen worklight for additional help. To use the terrycloth buffing towel efficiently, fold it into four sections and turn to a new section after the last one loses it’s ability to buff the surface clean. It usually takes 3 or 5 handtowels to buff the entire roadster. Once again, avoid getting wax on black plastic surfaces like doorhandles and spray nozzles. Don’t forget to wax and buff the side-mirrors. A slick surface should make the job of removing kamikaze insects from those spots much easier. Once the roadster has been waxed, it should be able to withstand several washes in the months to follow. Typically, a car should be waxed three to five times a year…and HD Cleansed once or twice a year.
Before you reach for that celebratory beverage of choice, don’t forget to clean the paraphernalia you’ve used. Wash mitts and bucket should be cleaned and rinsed of dirt and silt that may have settled. Sponges should be cleaned of anything lodged in its pores. Terrycloth towels should be laundered by themselves in hot water preferably without detergent. Be SURE to ask your significant other if it’s OK to subject the washing machine to this. If not, a coin-op laundromat would work. Wax applicator pads are more difficult to clean and at 95¢ a pack, it’s preferable to get a new one when the occasional wax job is needed. Wash the synthetic chamois under warm water, wring it out and store it in it’s plastic container. If you used Zymöl, store it in a cool location or refrigerate it (don’t freeze!) to preserve the natural oils within. If possible, store the rest of the detailing products in the wash bucket so that everything’s handy for your next TLCC session. Until next time, take the long way home!