Winter was a frozen hell for many snowbelt residents this season, but it's important to remember that it was just as trying for your car—ice, slush, mud, and salt are no friend to a car's paint or interior. As the weather finally begins to thaw, we decided it was high time to brush up on the essentials of car care. After a visit from Meguiar's detailing expert Mike Pennington, here are ten easy steps for bringing your car back to top form. We tested them out on our Four Seasons 2014 Kia Cadenza.
1. Read the %$#!&$ DirectionsDon't be a hero. When it comes to your car's paint and interior, put your pride aside and read the label. No matter what product you plan on using to help shed your car's winter grime, it's absolutely crucial you follow the instructions and use it the right way. While this may sound like common sense, it bears mentioning because incorrect use of certain products can actually do more harm than good.
2. A thorough washWhether you use just soap and water or a dedicated car cleaner, the key here is to be thorough. Let no panel, nook, or cranny go unnoticed, as all of that salt and dirt has surely found its way into your wheel wells and undercarriage. A high-pressure hose is another useful tool for this step.
You should be using two buckets—one for lathering up your sponge or microfiber towel and another for wringing out all of the filth. With just one bucket for both purposes, you'll only end up scouring the same dirt back into your paint. Once finished, dry the body with a microfiber cloth if there's one around, rather than a cotton towel.
3. Don't forget wheels and tiresPick up a bottle of wheel-and-tire cleaner for the best results. Before you start, make sure you know what metal the wheels are made of. There are dedicated products for aluminum, chrome, and steel, but using the wrong one could be abrasive to your wheels. With the right cleaner, go to work on the wheels and tires while making sure to stay clear from the brake calipers and rotors, which could react unfavorably to the solution. When in doubt, always use the least aggressive product to avoid stains or damage. Dry with a cotton towel.
4. Clay bar for smoothnessApplying white clay, lubricant, and a little pressure will do wonders for your car's exterior. The texture of the clay will help rub off all of the rough particles which have bonded to your paint, and the final result feels showroom-smooth. You can also use it on glass, which will help rain repellents like Rain-X last longer.
Tear the clay bar into halves or thirds and select a piece to knead out flat. Apply a detailing spray like Meguiar's Quik Detailer to the surface of the car, and rub the clay side to side. You shouldn't feel much resistance from the car's surface—if you do, spray more detailer. When you see that brown or black grime covering the clay bar, do not flip it over to use the other side. Instead fold it in half so there is only white clay on either side, and knead it out flat again. If you run out of white clay on your piece, move on to the next. If at any point you drop the clay bar, immediately discard it. Rubbing potentially abrasive materials back into the paint is something best to avoid.