Keeping your car detailed is all about the, uh, details

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So much of owning a vintage car comes down to details. Originality, for example, is something that experts can ascertain based on specific attributes—the finish on a wheel, or the color of a sticker under the hood.

Regardless of the your car’s condition, however, it’s you likely want to do everything you can, at the bare minimum, to maintain it. Most strive to to make improvements.

Improving a car’s cosmetics is one of those things that’s in reality much more complicated than it seems. In fact, there is a whole lot of science behind getting the results you want without causing damage. Jay Leno takes a dive into some of the more complicated elements of basic detailing in the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage.

The first project is one that car owners have not had to deal with since raw metal fell out of style nearly 100 years ago, and getting the right finish when polishing bare metal is anything but simple. It takes a little more than just putting compound on a rag and going to town rubbing circles. A big factor is making sure that the polish you use matches with the surface material in question. So,a very soft material like a brass radiator will likely need a different polish than something very hard, such as stainless steel. If your polish has too much grit in it, you will likely end up with swirls and visible abrasions where you really don’t want them.

Just as important as the polish is the applicator . As Jay points out, paper towels should be left for glass only, if they’re to be used at all. Paper towels are made of fibers which are large enough to cause scratches. Microfiber towels are the gold standard for detailing these days, and since they’re exceedingly affordable these days, there’s little excuse not to use them.

A lot can be done by hand, but when it comes to reviving tired old paint there is nothing quite like running a machine polisher. One of Jay’s employees recently purchased a vintage Dodge pickup that sat in the California sun for some time and has the chalky paint to prove it. To bring that paint back to a shine is more than just rubbing a single product around for awhile. It takes starting with a heavy cutting compound and firm polishing pad and then progressing to finer compounds and softer pads to make the finish smoother and smoother. Finally, a layer of wax is added to seal the final surface and keep oxidation at bay.

The final place to keep clean is a major one: the interior. It is where you and your passengers spend your time, and a nasty interior can really spoil the effect of a beautiful exterior. Here, too, it comes down to selecting the appropriate product to make sure you are not overworking the material. Leather seats for instance, demand removing only the dirt and harmful oils but not the dye.

In all, keeping up on cleaning can be time consuming but it’s almost always easier than bringing back finishes from years of neglect. Find the right cleaning products from a trusted brand, read the directions on the label, and stock up. You will thank yourself for nipping any potential problems in the bud before they get out of hand. Jobs like polishing only need to be done on rare occasions if proper maintenance is done regularly. In other words, the best time to take care of you finishes is right now, so head out to the garage and get to cleaning.

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