DIY Detailing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Giving Your Car a Springtime Spruce Up

Car Customization

How’s your car looking as we enter the last throes of winter? Not exactly in tiptop condition? That’s perfectly understandable.

Even if you have braved the cold to give your motor a regular wash, the road and weather conditions have been against you. All the grit on the roads plays havoc with paintwork, rain leaves unsightly watermarks, and the high winds and storms we’ve had recently mean all sorts of debris has been thrown at your car.

Look carefully and you’ll probably see your paintwork is in a sorry old state. Scratches, pock marks, swirls, residue. Yes you can give it a clean or run it through the car wash. But if you really want to get it back in showroom condition, you need to go further. It’s time for detailing.

Spring is the perfect time to detail your car. Even if you only do it once a year, it makes sense to get your car fully detailed in early spring once the ravages of winter are over.

Worried about the cost? It seems like we’re all going to feel the squeeze this year. But there is an alternative to booking your car in with your local bodywork specialist. Why not have a go yourself?

If you’re used to giving your vehicle a good wash and maybe the occasional wax, car detailing is only a step or two further. Here’s a step-by-step guide to what to do to get your car back to its best ready for the summer.

1.    Rinse thoroughly with water

Before you wash with soap, give the whole exterior of your car a thorough rinse just with water. This is best done with a hose or, better still, a power washer, although a bucket and sponge will do the trick, too. The idea is to wash as much dirt, grit and debris off the surface before you go any further. This will prevent dirt being rubbed into or scratching the paintwork later on.

2.  Wash with soap and water

Follow up the rinse with a thorough wash using a quality car shampoo. The aim is to get rid of as much grease and residue as you can before you continue. Always start with the wheels and work your way up. The wheels and wheel rims are the dirtiest part of the car, so use a different brush or sponge and make sure they are nice and clean before continuing.

3.  Rinse and dry

Once you have finished washing, it’s very important to rinse everywhere just as thoroughly as you did beforehand. You want to remove as much of the soap residue as you can. Rinse as soon as you finish washing. Your car will start to dry surprisingly quickly, especially on a warm day or if there is wind. That will leave soap marks all over the paintwork.

Drying is just as important. Again, if you let the water evaporate naturally, you will get watermarks from any contaminants left behind. Drying with a microfibre towel physically wipes any such residue away. Don’t use anything other than a microfibre towel made especially for drying off car body work – the super soft fibres are designed so they won’t scratch.

4.  Rub the paintwork down with a clay bar

A clay bar is one of the secret weapons a professional detailer uses to get your car looking fresh out of the showroom. The ‘clay’ in question is actually a special resin used to physically lift out debris that has become embedded in your paintwork. This step cleans up all the dirt and grit that washing leaves behind.

It’s important to take your time with clay barring. Use a clay lubricant to make it easier to rub the clay bar over the paintwork and focus on a panel at a time, going over it repeatedly until it feels smooth to the touch. Wipe down with a microfibre cloth as you go to remove the clay residue. Or, better still, repeat the wash, rinse and dry process.

5.  Apply a polish

This is an optional step for DIY detailers, especially first timers. Care needs to be taken. Polishing means applying an abrasive to the paintwork of your car to buff out marks and scratches. If you get it wrong, you can do lasting damage to your paintwork rather than make it look better.

If you’re confident you know what you are doing, polishing is the step that really separates professional detailing from a home wash and wax. Done right, it makes tired looking paintwork pristine again. But you also need the right gear, including cutting compound (preferably in two or three different grades), and applicators.

Again, if you do polish your car, make sure you rinse, wash and dry thoroughly afterwards to remove all remaining compound from the surface.

6.  Wax and seal

Finally, once you have done clay barring or polishing and your car is washed and dried again, it’s time for the finishing touches. Waxing is already a staple of DIY car care and is a process many car owners will be familiar with.

Applying carnauba wax or a synthetic equivalent after cleaning or detailing has the twin benefits of making your bodywork shine beautifully and offering protection against further wear and tear. The protection offered by wax will only last a few weeks, however. If you really want to keep your car looking its best after all that hard work, apply a sealant.

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