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Automatic Transmission Care
Visit to a good service center
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A Bit of Prevention …
Fall Behind
Choosing Tires for Wintertime Driving
A Little Good Reading
Tires Last Longer With Proper Care
Car Care Resolutions For a New Millennium
Flats and Flares: Roadside Emergencies
Spruce Up For Spring
DIY at the Self-Service Pump
Fill Gas Cans Carefully
Ford Recalls Millions of Firestone Tires
Doing the Straight & Narrow

Spruce Up For Spring

Winter was hard on your car; here are some tips to make your vehicle shine

by Peter D. duPre

During winter, road salts, grime, mud and grit build up on the paint, dulling the finish and eventually contributing to rust, corrosion and rot. Inside, moisture, salts, mud and grime tracked in by your shoes can cause mildew, rot carpets and even cause the floor pan to rust through. In the engine compartment, built-up grease, dirt, and grime on the engine can contribute to overheating during summer months and makes it difficult to track fluid leaks.

Unless your vehicle has been in storage all winter, there’s no doubt it needs a spring spruce up.

Cleaning up a car or truck may seem fairly basic at first, but using improper techniques or products can ruin the finish of the vehicle. Laundry soap and dish washing detergent, for example, will remove wax and are harsh on painted surfaces, leaving a difficult-to-remove film that dulls the paint. That’s why it is important to use a formulated car wash agent when you wash your vehicle.

Car wash products are available at most discount and auto parts stores. These products are designed to lift dirt and grime off the surface of the vehicle without dulling paint or removing the waxed surface. Additionally, they dry streak- and drip-mark free, so your vehicle keeps its “show room” shine.

To rid the vehicle of a winter’s worth of dirt and muck, the best place to start is the local car wash. Find a do-it-yourself place and use the high-pressure wand to blast away grit, grime and heavy dirt from the surface and out from under the vehicle, without scratching the paint. Then, set the wash bay computer on degrease, and use the wand to wash the grease off the engine and engine compartment -- just be sure you cover the distributor (and carburetor if so equipped) with a plastic bag before you start so it doesn’t short out. When that is done, reset the wash bay computer to rinse and start the process of washing the exterior of the vehicle. If you just degreased the engine, point the wand away from the car and pull the trigger for a few seconds to clear out the line of degreaser. Once the vehicle has been sprayed down with plain water to soften up the dirt, then hit the Soap button and wash the vehicle, finishing with a rinse cycle. Don’t use the nylon brush to scrub the car; they often pick up grease and grit that can damage the paint.

Once the heavy washing is done, take the car home and finish the job by hand. Even though you’ve washed the vehicle, it really isn’t clean yet; all you did was get rid of the heavy dirt and grime. Using a wash mitt and a bucket filled with a solution of car wash agent and cool water, gently wash the vehicle, starting at the top and working your way down. Use a hose to wet the vehicle down before starting and for rinsing when through.

Finally, use a lint-free towel or chamois to dry the car. When I wash my vehicle, I do the tires and wheels separately, as these generally require a special cleaner. Buy a one-step cleaner at the auto parts store that sprays on. Let it sit a couple of minute and presto, the wheel is clean and shiny. No rinsing is necessary.

When the car is dry, park it in the shade and give it a good waxing. Once again, waxing isn’t as basic as it seems. A poor wax job looks swirly and streaky. However, a show-stopping shine is relatively easy to obtain, thanks to modern, easy-to-apply waxes. Use a soft cloth and apply the wax (paste or liquid). Work a small area at a time, around two square feet, and work the wax into the surface of the paint using small, circular motions. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying the wax and don’t hurry. A good wax job takes time, but it is worth the effort.


Getting caked-in dirt out of the carpeting can be a chore. Start by using a stiff brush and follow up by vacuuming. If this doesn’t completely do the trick, it’s time to break out the carpet shampoo. Apply in the prescribed manner and use a stiff brush to work it into the pile, and then let it dry. When dry, vacuum and brush. You can purchase spray cans of automotive carpet shampoo at the auto parts store, but I generally prefer to use a home rental shampooer with an upholstery attachment as these machines do a better job.

Fabric seats can also be cleaned with the upholstery attachment, but you’ll probably need to use an upholstery shampoo, as carpet cleaner is usually too harsh. When you’ve finished cleaning the seats, let them dry and apply a spray fabric protector such as ScotchGuard. For vinyl seats, door panels and dashboards, use a vinyl cleaner to remove dirt and film and follow up with a vinyl treatment such as Armor All. Vinyl treatments are easy to use. Simply spray on and wipe off.

If you spot a torn or ripped vinyl seat, you can usually repair it with a vinyl repair kit available from an auto parts store. These kits come in various sizes and prices and offer a variety of color mixes so you can match virtually any color interior. By carefully following the instructions in the kit, it is possible to effect a repair that is almost undetectable.  

Spring Spruce Up Tips:

  • Use a car wash agent, not detergent, to wash the car.

  • Use the car wash to remove heavy dirt, then use a wash mitt to hand wash using a wash mitt to remove filmy dirt.

  • Dry vehicle in the shade using a chamois for a streak-free finish.Wax vehicle in the shade and do only a small section of the vehicle at a time, applying wax in circular motions.

  • Rub out applied wax with a soft, lint-free cloth.

  • Use a stiff brush to bring up carpet nap before you vacuum.

  • Clean light dirt off seats with a spray on upholstery cleaner.

  • Applying ScotchGuard or other fabric protector will keep stains from becoming permanent.

Peter D. duPre is content editor of iCARumba.