How to give your vehicle the detailing TLC it needs at home

(August 25, 2020) When shelter-in-place orders took effect in cities across the U.S. this spring, a hobby renaissance began. Images of people comfort baking, knitting and puzzling flooded social media, along with car enthusiasts showing off their new DIY car detailing projects.

“Our business was doing some doomsday planning as most small businesses were at the start of the pandemic, waiting for the wall to close in and it just never did,” said Jared Toops, general manager and director of E-Commerce at Car Supplies Warehouse, a subsidiary of the Chicago Auto Pros detail shop.

Solving problems and learning new skills online are some of the ways many of us are coping and keeping busy and engaged during these unprecedented times. “Our viewership was increasing on our YouTube channel, and a lot of people were asking questions about how to clean their cars now that they couldn’t go to a carwash or go to a dealer,” Toops explained. “Our e-commerce sales kept increasing month over month as DIY-ers dove into car care for the first time.”

Co-Owner Jason Otterness, who launched his YouTube channel in tandem with Chicago Auto Pros’ detailing business 12 years ago, said the channel just hit a milestone of 100K followers. “I fell in love with detailing first before I fell in love with cars, and now I’ve been doing this for 17 years,” Otterness said. “As I’ve chronicled our business in recent months, the number one question we now get is, ‘What do I need to make my car look the way it does when you all do it?’ and honestly the easiest thing for consumers to do at home is regular maintenance—things like washing, tire shines and vacuuming.”

Whether you’re a newbie or avid detail DIYer, Otterness and Toops (who own a Volkswagen Golf Mk7 and 2020 Tiguan, respectively) sat down with us to share some of their best tips for helping to maintain your car at home:

Washing the exterior like a pro

    •    Use soft towels: “One of the biggest things I think people don’t understand is how delicate the paint on their car is and how easy it scratches,” said Otterness. When it comes to both washing and drying your vehicle, bath towels won’t cut it. Otterness says it’s best to use microfiber towels or mitts, which are already designed for gentler care.

    •    Use two buckets: If you are only using one bucket to wash down your car, chances are you are going to wipe dirt, salt and sand back onto your car. This can create little scratches on a car’s clear coat, known as “spider webs.” Toops suggests having a bucket that’s used solely for rinsing out your towel or washing mitt to remove debris, and a separate soap bucket to dunk it in before going back to work on the car’s surface.

    •    Wash from the top to the bottom: It should be no surprise that most of the dirt and grime your car collects is located on the bottom half of your vehicle. Start washing from the hood of your car and working your way down to its wheels and grille to help eliminate the amount of debris that gets dragged across the paint’s surface.

    •    Lubricate properly: Oftentimes, consumers will grab whatever is close at hand to clean their cars, including dish soap. Otterness says that dish soap can actually dry out and strip the rubber seals and wax that help protect your car, so it’s best to avoid it at all costs. Even if your resources are limited, he suggests purchasing a car-dedicated shampoo product for cleaning.

    •    Don’t wash your car in the sun: On a nice day in the summer, it’s tempting to go outside to wash your car in the driveway but Toops advises against it as it can possibly damage your car’s clear coat. If you allow your car to dry naturally in the hot sun—even just from washing it with water—the minerals left behind can eventually etch their way into the clear coat. Toops says it’s best to minimize exposure to the sun and hand dry your car with a towel whenever possible.

    •    Leave paint correction and buffing to professionals: While using a machine to polish out scratches and swirls can be done by newbies, Otterness and Toops warn that there can be many risks involved with it and those unfamiliar with the equipment risk damaging the vehicle (i.e. taking off too much paint, leaving dull spots or discoloring plastic trim). They suggest holding off on these fixes until your next visit with your dealer.

    •    Lastly, wash often: Otterness says that while it differs depending on how much you drive, on average, consumers should aim to wash their car every other week to help keep it looking new and free from contaminants like pollen and iron particles that can damage the cars’ paint.

Keeping the interior in tip-top shape

According to Toops, interiors are often overlooked when it comes to detailing, but should be regularly maintained.

“It’s kind of gross, but when leather seats, steering wheels or shifters are dirty inside a vehicle —especially higher quality materials — it’s mostly dead skin cells piling up,” Toops said.

Interior maintenance, he says, is incredibly simple:

    •    A microfiber towel and water go a long way: These items do an adequate job of helping to keep debris off the seats and avoiding buildup, especially if done regularly. Focus on high traffic areas – like steering wheels, shifters and door panels – and avoid using household cleaners as they can dry out quality materials and strip the grip on car’s pedals and steering wheel.

For most American families, a car is the second biggest purchase they make. “Cleaning your car does matter,” Otterness said.