It may seem like a waste of time - cleaning a car which you're then going to tuck away in storage and maybe not even look at for a few months, and then clean again when you bring it back out of storage come Spring time.
However, this is actually the most important time of year to give your pride and joy a thorough clean. Not because of the guilt you'll feel for 4+ months if you don't, but for the wellbeing of the paintwork - and even structural integrity - which if sat for months on end exposed to the grime, acids and minerals picked up from the road, can sit there an stew.
From other vehicles – these can include:
Soot & Coke
From the road itself – things such as:
A basic jet wash with detergents to remove grit, mud and the like. These act as abrasives, and so need to be removed before any wiping, sponging and polishing can take place. Otherwise, you're just effectively sandpapering your car...
Start by applying a coat of TFR - Traffic Film Remover. There are various types - caustic / non-caustic, with Wax, foaming, etc. However they all do the same job - effectively bringing the contaminants to the surface, and loosening them from the paintwork. This allows the the most part of muck to be removed by pressure washing.
Soft Tops / Convertibles
Unless you intend on giving your soft top a full shampoo and re-waterproof, steer away from using detergents on your hood. Detergents will break down (emulsify) your hood's waterproofness. You can tell how waterproof your hood currently is by the amount that water "beads" on it, rather than soaking in. If your hood looses its waterproofness, there are tons of DIY soft top conditioner products, and can be found at any autofactor such as Halfords. I have used AutoGlym with good results.
Now that the bodywork is largely grit and traffic film free, the shampoo and sponging can begin. Start at the top and work your way down If working from a bucket, warm water doesn't hurt - plus its a bit nicer on the hands in the depths of winter. Remember to change the water regularly, as build up of grit in the water can transfer back to the sponge and onto the car.
Personally, I always do the wheels last, partly because of working "Top - Down", but also because of the amount of brake dust that can accumulate over time.
Specialist wheel cleaners help remove the specific materials that build up on wheels; brake dust; tar; mud and general grim. In this regard, wheel cleaner can be pretty heavy duty and corrosive. To give you an idea, if you car has brake discs (rather than drums), you'll notice your discs will be rusty by the time you've finished cleaning your car. Therefore, try to minimise contact with paintwork, especially if it's bubbling or rusting.
Once clean (to the eye at least), its best to dry ASAP to avoid streaking. Before drying, there are a number of post wash products available to spray over your car. These products help to provide a wax-like finish and encourage beading of water. A blade will remove most excess water, which can be followed by a Chamois or microfibre cloth to remove the final film. Note how much more muck comes off your "clean" car when drying, especially in those harder-to-reach places, like under spoilers or around bodywork mouldings.
Devil in the Detailing
This is the time consuming bit...the devil is in the detail. or at least it is if you haven't had a full re-build in the past few months...
First of all, don't be tempted to use the same technique under the bonnet as on the rest of the car. I.e. Jet Washer. Needless to say, water and classic car electrics are not friends, and so spraying water at high pressure under the bonnet is not advised. Instead, more 'topical' treatment is advised. My personal preference is to use degreasing using a spray, and wipe off the worst of the dirt with a rag. Once suitably clean, repeat with a clean cloth, until it's looking good. Then, you can apply wax or oil - even WD40 type products, to the under bonnet area to give additional protection and to remove the degreaser residue. This will also help lift off future muck.
Whilst the main focus of this blog is to get the bodywork clean and free of corrosives, let's not forget the interior. It's important to leave the interior clean and - most importantly - dry. A damp interior left over the winter will result in foisty smells, and potentially mould which could render affected items damaged beyond repair. Therefore, check for water ingress into the cabin area, especially after cleaning the exterior (let's face it, classic cars are not known for their watertightness). And make sure you remove any rubbish or food!!! It won't look, or smell, so appealing in 4 month's time.
It's a good time to apply some leather conditioner. There are many easily available, and some are colour matched to help restore the original colour of your faded and cracked leather. Beware not too apply too much, and really work it into the leather. Elbow grease is required. Consider it a workout with benefits!
For the Short of Time: there are plenty of valeting and detailing companies out there. But where is the fun in that?! Cleaning your car is a great way to get to know it, and to spot any defects that may have developed or that you might've overlooked.
Finally, the best way to ensure that all of your hard work lasts, cover your car (see our previous blog) and keep it in a dry environment where possible.
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