Everything You Need To Know About Giving Your Ride a Proper Scrub
So you landed your dream car. But keeping it looking that way will depend on how you choose to wash and maintain it. And you have questions. Is that pricey hand-washing place really worth the money? Will the weird, wet drapes that get dragged along your car at the drive-thru car wash actually do more harm than good? Below, we answer these and all of other car-washing mysteries—so grab a sponge and soak up some knowledge!
As a general guideline, you should be washing your car about every two weeks—but there are exceptions to the rule. For example, if you live somewhere wintery you’ll actually want to wash it more—not less. After all, that lustrous sand-blasted coat of mud and frost doesn’t count as finish protection. In fact, it’s often flecked with road salt, which can cause rust and needs to be taken off. And if you spend a lot of time in nature, elements like bird poop and tree sap can do a number on your paint job, so you’ll want to make sure you tend to that sooner rather than later. On the other end of the spectrum, you can skip washes more often if you don’t drive a lot or keep your car cooped up in a garage most of the time.
Short answer: Yes. Those fun spinny wheel thingies you remember as a kid can actually do real damage to your paintjob. “It’s like painting your car with a wet sandblaster,” automotive coatings expert Paul Lamberty told Jalopnik. Basically, all the guck and grime you pick up off the road includes little pebbles, mud and sand, which often just gets smeared around on your car by the auto wash—along with the gunk resulting from the thousands of washes that came before yours. Basically, every time you pull into one of these gas station-based car washes, you could basically be entering Scratch City. That’s not to say you shouldn’t go to those washes ever. After all, we all get in the occasional time pinch. But just do it sparingly. Also, always consider brushless or touchless car washes. And if you really want to go the extra mile, go old school and handwash it yourself.
It’s tempting to skip cleaning the inside of your car—especially if you don’t cart people around with you all that often. But you shouldn’t. According to Christian Newman—owner of C & J Automotive Detailing in Slidell, Louisiana—you should get the grit and grime out of your car’s interior at least once a month—and up to twice a month if you drive a lot, carpool, take kids to soccer practice, eat while you drive, haul garden supplies, or egage in other messy car-based behavior. And the more hardcore the clean, the better. We’re talking vacuuming (under the mats too), scouring the door jambs, wiping the upholstery, and de-gucking the cupholders. Yeah, we don’t know what you’ve been spilling in there, either.
No, but you should probably wax about once every three months, as it protects your paint job and helps safeguard your car against little nicks, dings and scratches. Think of it as a protective barrier that keeps it looking newer a little longer. Plus, it makes your car look sooooo pretty and shiiiinyyyy… ooooooooh… (sorry, we lost ourselves a bit there). Anyway, a good carnuba wax will last you roughly six weeks, so opt for a polymer sealant if you want to make it to a full three months between waxes.
If you’re keeping up on your regular car care schedule, then you can put off full detailing and do it twice a year. This is the big one, where your car isn’t just washed and cleaned inside and out. Indeed, good detailers will clean your engine, headlights, tail lights, and wheels. It’s a great time to get rid of stains, and a solid detailing can help you with routine maintenance in the future. Think of it like taking your car to a fancy spa where it gets the full treatment and comes out looking (and maybe even running) like new.
Not really. Purists say that all you really need is a high pressure wash and a high pressure wax. But if you really feel the need to baby your ride, spring for add-ons like wheel cleaning, clearcoat protection and rust cleaning—all of which you can request during your twice-a-year detailing. But for the most part, you’re good with a basic wash for your regular, day-to-day care.