The art of the car wash

A true car enthusiast washes his ride
by Andy Leuterio | Sep 26, 2013

There are two ways to have a clean car: You can bring it to your neighborhood car wash, or you can do it yourself. If I didn't have a dozen things to do every day, I'd do the latter. It saves me some money, it calms me down and gives me some thinking time, and it just feels right. I can tell if someone is really into cars if he washes his ride.

A car wash is actually a luxury that some wealthy countries don't get to enjoy. It costs around $10 for a drive-through car wash in the US, and some neighborhoods don't allow you to wash your car on the driveway. It's not uncommon to see even Audi TTs covered in bird poop plying the interstate beside crummy-looking Cavaliers.

Washing your own car isn't like, oh, sweeping the kitchen floor. I guess it's like giving your dog a bath; it's bonding time that's part of the owner-master relationship. Washing a car has purely cosmetic benefits, but I could almost swear my car runs better when it's squeaky clean. I'm writing this just a few hours after my Friday-morning car wash ritual. A week of intermittent rains had thwarted my every attempt to have the car cleaned. In fact, an hour-long drizzle nearly stopped me from bringing out the kit, but the sun finally came out and so did the garden hose and my cleaning kit.

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So I took out the chamois, the microtech cloth, the shampoo, the pail, and some other items and proceeded to hose down the car. I've been doing this so many times that I could probably do it blindfolded.

One does not just toss water at a car and use any old rag. Neither should you thrash about and possibly cause your car more harm than good. Nobody likes dried water spots or, worse, scratches.

There's a process to the whole thing.

First, you need to give it a short shower to loosen up the dirt and lower the chances of it scratching the paint when you scrub it. Top to bottom, to let gravity do its job.

Next, fill a pail with your car shampoo of choice, mix with water, then scrub the car with it using a sponge. Better yet, get the fat one with the little tentacles so it can reach into the little gaps of the body: body first, then windows, then wheels and tires. I've got one with a handy strap that's almost as long as my wrist.

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Next, another five-minute shower to get the suds off. To dry it off, I wipe the body with a moist chamois, and then quickly follow with the microtech. If the sun's out, the roof and the hood are the last to be wiped as they dry so much faster than the sides and the trunk. The windows take longer to air-dry, so I clean those off after the body is done. The wheels are given a quick wipe, too, and with a separate cloth.

Finally, I open the doors, the hood and the trunk to wipe off the trim panels, the inner part of the bumper and the hood where water tends to collect. This is also a good time to take out the floormats and give them a good whack against a wall to shake off the dust. Before I pack my cleaning kit, I'll also take out all the rubbish from the car. This is also the time when I discover who's been using the passenger-side door pull/pocket as a receptacle for candy wrappers and tissue. This always drives me nuts!

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The chamois is rinsed off and stored in its canister (not air-dried), and the microtech goes in the laundry. I haven't used old shirts for rags in a long time because they tend to scratch the paint and just don't feel good to use. The microfiber cloths are a bit expensive, but they absorb water a lot faster and are gentler on the paint.

Washing one's own car is also valuable thinking time. While I'm going through the motions, I'm also thinking about the day's schedule. Depending on the mood, it's an opportunity to organize one's thoughts, or a chance to just "zone out" and just enjoy the simple pleasure of the moment.

It's also a good opportunity to appreciate the design process that went into the car. You can appreciate a car's sensuality by just looking at it, or you can run a cloth over it and then see the artful method that engineers went into designing a fender, for example, so that it smoothly melds into the bumper. You can't get that kind of appreciation staring at a car from 5ft away. By the way, this also qualifies as decent exercise. Out of curiosity, I once strapped on my heart rate monitor and recorded 160 calories burned in the 30 minutes it took to wash the car. I felt I could burn a little more that day, so I went ahead and washed my wife's car!

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There's this joke that if you want it to rain, then wash your car. True enough, my sparkling clean ride didn't last half a day before the heavens poured. Then it kept raining for several days straight, the car accumulating a layer of crud so embarrassing to behold that I almost felt like it was also caked on my face.

You can bet that the cleaning kit will come out the moment I see a ray of sunshine. A car--no matter its vintage, make or model--should always be washed just as a soldier cleans his rifle. It is a ritual every enthusiast should embrace.

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