Detail oriented

Expert detailers offer techniques on how to clean your car after a long winter.
Monday, March 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:52 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Spring is the time for new beginnings, and for many of us, washing away the winter blues means scrubbing off the icy, dirty build-up that has plagued our cars over the past three months.

Washing a car is a delicate art. What is the best way to bathe your possession? In search of the perfect car washing techniques, we talked to the experts at Gaines Car Detailing in Columbia to compile this list.

Pre-wash no-no’s

1. Do not wash your car in direct sunlight. Kevin Gaines, an employee at the shop, said the sun could cause the soap to dry early and leave unsightly spots. Instead, choose a spot in the shade that’s not at risk from dripping tree sap.

2. Do not use metal buckets because the paint tends to chip. Opt for a 5-gallon plastic bucket instead.

Squeaky clean

1. Begin by rinsing your car. Wet the obviously dirty areas to remove caked-on dirt and bugs, and pay special attention to wheel wells and the rest of the underside. After winter weather, lots of salt and grime tend to build up there and may cause rusting. Don’t use too much water pressure; it could damage the paint.

2. Use a bucket of lukewarm, clean water with car wash detergent in it. Kevin Gaines said using dish soap will get the job done, but be warned: It eats away at your vehicle’s wax finish almost as well as it removes last night’s lasagna

3. Wipe the car down using a sheepskin or other soft wash mitt. Wash the car in sections (for example, front, back, left, right) and work from top to bottom. Avoid scrubbing too hard, and use only straight strokes, not circles.

4. Thoroughly rinse the soap off each section of the car. If you remove the nozzle on your hose, there will be less pressure and the water should run off the car in a sheet rather than beading up. This will help prevent nasty water spots.

5. To wash the windows, Rodney Gaines, who owns the detail shop, recommended using Windex, or another window solution. One trick of the trade, he said, is wiping the windows with a newspaper.

6. Wash under the hood. Rodney Gaines said this area is the most neglected by do-it-yourself car washers. Most retail auto parts stores sell special products called engine degreasers that can clean the oil and film off a car’s engine. Make sure you rinse and dry the engine completely after applying the degreaser. Gaines uses special equipment to dry the engine, but said the best way to dry it at home is to leave the hood up on a warm day.

All dried up

1. Most people decide to let their cars air dry or they drive them till dry. Don’t do it. This can leave water spots, rendering all your work practically useless.

2. Use a soft chamois or towel to soak up the leftover water drops. The Gaines crew uses 100 percent cotton towels to dry the vehicles. Keep more than one on hand.

3. Wipe the car from top to bottom. Don’t forget to wring out the towel.

Wax-on, wax-off

1. When choosing a wax, “you get what you paid for,” Rodney Gaines said. Less expensive waxes will work, he said, but you will have to wax more often.

2. Kevin Gaines said it’s best to wax your car four times a year. He recommends waxing with each season change.

3. Wax a section at a time. According to Kevin Gaines, you should apply the wax and let it dry until you see a white film over the section.

4. Buff each section where you have applied the wax, and then buff the whole car. In the end, you should have a beautifully shiny car — almost as good as new.

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