4 pro tips for spring-cleaning your car

Springtime means many cars have been sitting unattended for a few months, waiting to be revived for another driving season. With recent calls to spend less time in groups, now may be the perfect time to hole up and spend some time detailing your classic.

After all, most of the time we’d all rather go for a drive than spend time cleaning off the dirt and debris that accumulates while we’re having all that driving fun. However, a well-detailed car is a good thing and a thorough cleaning can help in a few other ways. Here is a rundown of five tips that we discussed with Tim McNair, a professional detailer who handles cars from every corner of the enthusiast world and beyond.

Start with a basic wipe down

pebble beach detailing mirror
Brandan Gillogly

If the car was put into storage already clean (you did that, right?), start with a quick wipe down of the exterior. Use a quick detailer and clean microfiber towel to remove dust from storage. This is the best time to get reacquainted with the car and its worn edges, if there are any. Document any flaws you find; later, you can research repairing or correcting those imperfections, should you desire.

“I really recommend inspecting the car during this first cleaning,” says McNair. “Checking the headlights while cleaning them can be a situation that ends up saving you time and helps you to look closer at each individual part—which, in turn, helps you clean each part more thoroughly.”

Remove the wheels for a truly deep clean 

Remove wheel
Kyle Smith

It’s time consuming and a bit of a pain, but with recent recommendations to practice social distancing, it is the perfect opportunity to embrace a laborious task. Be sure to practice basic safety for this step while jacking up and properly supporting your ride. Once the car is up there, remove the wheels and clean the suspension and wheel wells.

“If the wheel wells are painted, I recommend using a spray wax when everything is cleaned up,” says McNair. “It is an extra step now that you will thank yourself for doing later this driving season when none of the road grime sticks in there.”

Also be sure to clean the wheel barrels (the inside of the wheels) as well. Brake dust is nasty stuff and can cause serious pitting and damage over time. A ceramic coating or good wax will help to minimize corrosion. 

Dig into the engine compartment

pebble beach detail engine v16
Brandan Gillogly

This is where cleaning and maintenance start to blend together. On a modern engine, start by removing the covers and wiping down everything you can. A basic, quick detailing product will serve you well for a task like this. While cleaning, keep an eye for any wear that looks unusual or leaks that should be addressed.

On vintage engines, the process is the same; but on these engines, you have a prime opportunity to remove and polish components like timing or cam covers. Be sure to clean each one well and re-grease anything that needs it while poking in the depths of the engine bay. 

Go inside 

Removed seat
Kyle Smith

We all love a comfortable interior, but a car’s interior usually gets less attention than its paint and exterior, since fewer people tend to see it. Work from the top down, using a soft brush to loosen dust and dirt from the cracks and crevices in the dash. All that debris will fall to the carpets and mats, which should be the last thing you clean.

“If you have extra time, now is a great time to remove the seats and vacuum their underside,” McNair adds. “Check for any mold or mildew underneath while cleaning the area under those seats. Of course, don’t put the seats back without lubricating the seat adjusters, too.”

Cleaning a car can be incredibly rewarding and is one of the few tasks in the classic car world that can create a noticeable change in a relatively short amount of time. We will be digging into more cleaning and detailing tips this spring, but these four will give you a good start at filling some newfound garage time for the next few weeks. If you have a detailing tip of your own, be sure to leave it as a comment below.

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