The best rationale for keeping your car clean? It may sound superficial, but: “the better it looks, the more value you’re going to get out of your vehicle,” says Jennifer Olvera, director of creative and marketing at Chemical Guys, a car-detailing company based in Los Angeles. In fact, all things being equal between two used cars, the one that’s clean and well maintained will command the best price, she says.
Here are Olvera’s six dos and don’ts for making that new-car look last longer.
Don’t Use Just Any Old T-Shirt, Towel or Rag
Old tees and tattered towels are easy to come by, but they’re not as soft as microfiber cloths, which are easier on your car’s finish. For a gentler wash, try a microfiber chenille noodle mitt. To dry the car, Olvera suggests using either a plush microfiber towel or a waffle-weave towel. For a fast, streak-free finish, use two waffle-weave towels and wipe off as much glass cleaner as you can with the first towel, then buff away any last drops or streaks with the second.
Do Use Two Buckets
Another way to keep your car’s paint job looking flawless longer: Avoid rubbing it repeatedly with dirt and debris when you wash it. Try the two-bucket method: Fill up one bucket with soapy water and another with just water. Wet your wash mitt in the first. Then, after you suds up your car, dip the mitt into the rinse bucket to clear off grime before you soap it up again. “It’s a way to make sure everything that could be on your mitt is off, reducing any chance of scratching,” Olvera says.
Do Brush and Vacuum the Floor Mats
Your vacuum can’t catch all of the dirt or dog hair that’s stuck on your interior’s carpet. Take a stiff brush to it first to loosen dust and caked-on mud. “Most vacuums are pretty strong,” Olvera says, “but this will make sure that anything captured in those fibers in your carpet comes out.”
Don’t Use a Circular Motion
“The moment you start doing circles, you risk introducing superfine scratches that are hard to fix,” says Olvera. Instead, for each step in the car-washing process, move your mitt or towel in straight lines or a Z-pattern. An accidental scratch in a straight line will be easier to touch up.
Do Clean and Protect Your Seats
“A lot of people forget to maintain their leather seats,” Olvera says. Even getting in and out of the car will eventually lead to cracking if you’re not conditioning it regularly. Depending on how much time your car spends in the sun, you should clean leather seats and moisturize with a leather conditioner every month to every six months. For cloth seats, regularly apply a fabric guard. If a spill happens, it’ll be easier to wipe up since the liquid won’t penetrate. (“Do this with your carpets, as well,” she says.) To address stains, spray a non-foaming all-purpose cleaner directly on the seat and scrub with a horsehair brush, then pat with a microfiber towel to dry.
Do Wear Car-Friendly Clothes When You Wash It
Zip-up hoodies, belt buckles and bracelets can hurt your paint job. Before you get started, consider what you have on—or invest in a microfiber apron (yes, they exist!) to wear while you do this chore. While it may seem overzealous to put on a car-washing outfit, Olvera says that even buttons can scratch paint.
Another important way to protect your car: the right auto insurance. Get a quote from GEICO and make sure your vehicle is covered for whatever comes your way.
Accidents happen. Find out what to do if you’re involved in a crash or a fender bender so you’re prepared.
By Catherine Strawn