DETAILING A NEW CAR

Those of you who don't find cleaning and waxing a car a rewarding experience can skip this like the cat haters skip the cat stories. You can pay people to detail your car. However, detailing a car properly would cost more than you want to pay. Professional detailers who get as much as $175 for an outside only Zymöl detail and more for inside work, won't do some of the things I suggest here. In other words, this is for the SERIOUS detailing enthusiast/hard core anal retentive nutcase/person without a life, depending on your point of view.

This concerns a new car, not an attempt at bringing back an old, abused car. Different techniques and equipment are used. Removing swirl marks, for example, requires a random orbital polisher, the proper very fine polishes, and skill and experience. Believe me, detailing a new car is MUCH easier as past mistakes don't have to be undone, and years of crud doesn't have to be removed.

The goal of the first detail is to properly protect the paint and to get wax in places it wouldn't normally get in order to protect the car from future problems.

Mercedes-Benz has a series of car care items made for them exclusively by Meguiars, a very reputable car care materials company. Until I discovered Zymöl, I used Meguiars exclusively. Griot's Garage also makes good stuff. Zymöl uses vegetable oils instead of petroleum distillates, and thus smells better, so I use it.

1. Wash the car. It's new. It doesn't have anything on it which requires industrial cleaners, so clear water with a little salad oil in it is best. Zymöl Wash, Mercedes Car Shampoo, Mequiar's 00 wash, etc., work well. You will need a garden hose with a nozzle on the end which can be controlled, a car washing brush, a sheepskin car wash mitt, a bucket, and several 100% cotton terrycloth towels. Some years back I bought, at the time, $40 worth of unbleached 100% cotton hand towels. Since them I've added to the collection. It MUST be 100% cotton. Polyester will scratch the paint. Griot's Garage #66073 Boars's Hair brush or equivalent (mine's from Eastwood some year ago) is the sort of brush needed. A brush used with a constant low pressure stream of water, won't scratch your car. Griot's also does a boar's hair brush attachment for your hose, but it's expensive. (But then, so's your new Mercedes.) A rag or sponge will trap dirt and scratch your car. After you've rinsed the car with the boar's hair brush and clear water, then use a sheepskin wash mitt. A sheepskin wash mitt, sold by Mercedes-Benz for $12.95 and Griots for $14.95, is less likely to scratch your car than a sponge or rag. The mitt should be rinsed with high pressure water frequently. Then dip it into the wash solution, and wipe/pour the wash solution on a section of car at a time, rinsing ater each section.

Fill the bucket with your car washing solution and wet down the car from top to bottom using the mitt to apply the solution. Then using low pressure water from the hose, rinse off the washing solution, top to bottom. If the car is seriously dirty, i.e., caked-on dirt, use more pressure and the brush and/or one of the hand towels reserved for the really dirty areas. Don't wipe it across the car, just use it to remove the caked-on mud and then throw it into the "to be washed" pile so you won't use it again and scratch the car.

If you have tar on the car, use a chemical tar remover to get it off, ditto bugs.

Clean the engine. If you do this every time you wash the car, it will add 5 minutes to the wash. If you have to clean off 5 years of crud, you'll never get there. Mercedes is adamant that the electrics should be protected during washing. I try to keep the engine clean rather than to clean a dirty, oily, greasy engine compartment. Zymöl's Strik was designed for cosmoline, and cosmoline isn't being used anymore because except for Strik, cosmoline removers are all toxic chemicals. Ask any veteran about that. In not-so-concentrated form it will take off engine grease without damaging anything. Using this often, or just detergent and water, prevents having to use something stronger because you neglected the engine compartment. Mercedes says to apply their anti-corrosion wax to the engine compartment and to relubricate cable ends and the like.

While in the engine compartment wax all of the body-colored places you can reach. Porsche Club concours winners will pull the engine in order to properly repaint and then wax the painted portions. This is out of line, but temporarily pulling an air cleaner or such in order to reach hard to get sections isn't if you want to keep the engine compartment like new. Consider alotting a day's work, whatever a weekend day is for you, like 2-3 hours, to REALLY detailing the engine compartment. If you try to do it when you're doing the rest of the car, you'll burn out and leave off something.

Wax the underside of the hood. It needs protection. If the hood pad is snapped on, remove it, wax the hood, and reapply. Don't do this if it's glued on, of course. Professional detailers spray on something to make the engine compartment shine, usually resulting in a greasy engine compartment. Swell, just what you need, a sticky, greasy engine compartment so that every piece of dirt or grime will stick to it. Don't do that. I clean everything and apply Zymöl Detail wax to the valve covers and such.

Rinse the car. Use a flat stream of water rather than a spray. Then you'll have less water to dry off.

Dry the car. If you use a chamois, use a real leather one. Both Griot's Garage and Mercedes-Benz sell excellent ones. Or you can use a large supply of terry towels. I use a combination of both, not getting the chamois near the bottom of the car where it might pick up dirt.

2. Inspect the car now that it's clean. Remove such things as the grille and license plates so you can get inside to clean and wax areas which, when they're dirty, will be hard to clean. Put the car on jackstands and remove the wheels. Wash the wheels with P21S, Zymöl Wheel Brite, or Mercedes Wheel Care or Griot's Wheel Cleaner. Clean the backs of the wheels, too. Dry and apply wax to the whole wheel, including the back. If you use a rubber preservative such as Griot's Vinyl and Rubber Dressing, apply it to both sides of the tire (but not the tread). Now's a good time to take the spare out and put rubber dressing on it, too. It'll help protect it from dry rot.

While the wheel is off, look at the wheel well. Clean it using a brush and your washing solution (it's okay to use a detergent cleaner here, Simple Green, 409, etc.). Griot's has Undercarriage spray for black parts of the undercarriage. Detailing the undercarriage of a new car is easier than it used to be because they're not using cosmoline anymore. Apparently it's toxic, which comes as no surprise to vets who learned to hate cosmoline.

3. Now begin cleaning the paint. Since the car's new, all you're trying to do is take off the wax the dealer used and put on your own. Each of the companies has a cleaner. An abrasive cleaner isn't needed or wanted. Zymöl's HD Cleanse uses enzymes. Griot's Paint Cleaning Clay uses a clay and Speed Shine to lubricate. The clay removes the old wax and contaminants. Don't use a rubbing compound. It will leave scratches which will take a professional and $$ to cure.

4. Then wax the car. When using Zymöl, the test of how well you've cleaned the paint is how easily the wax goes on and off. It should be wipe on, wipe off. If not, you haven't prepped the paint properly. I avoid waxes containing silicone. Silicone must be removed before repainting. Body shops have compounds to handle this, however, and Mercedes-Benz wax has silicone in it.

Wax under the hood, inside the gas cap door, inside the door jams, all the places which get ignored. While the grille is out, get in there and wax things so bugs which get through the grille will not stick so badly.

5. Details: You need the little detailing brushes and worn out soft-bristled toothbrushes to get into the cracks. Cotton swabs help, too. This is why they call it DETAILING. Anything that can be removed, should have been. It's easier to remove a license plate bracket than to wax around it and get into the seams and cracks. Zymöl makes a Detail wax for plastic panels and the like. If it's an SL, take the hardtop off. There's a big dirty area where it was. Clean and wax that before reinstalling the top.

6. When all is dry, put the wheels and tires back on. Torque the lugbolts to 110 Nm/80 lb./ft. after putting anti-seizing compound on the threads. Griot's has a socket with an aluminum lining so you won't mar the lugbolts if you're going to do this a lot.

7. Interior: Remove the floormats. Shampoo them with carpet shampoo if needed. Vacuum everything inside. In 4-door cars which have easily removable back seats, take them out so you can get into the inaccessible areas to clean. Use something like Mercedes-Benz Interior Care on the vinyl, plastic, and MB-Tex parts to clean and protect them. Use something like Mercedes-Benz Leather Seat Care on the leather parts. I like the Zymöl leather conditioner. It is heat activated. You warm the leather with a hair dryer before putting it on. Their vinyl conditioner works the same way. The result is exceptionally good looking leather and vinyl.

The rubber door gaskets should be treated with a rubber dressing. Don't spray it on and get it on the surrounding metal, which you just waxed. Put it on a cloth and rub it in.

7. Glass: Go berserk cleaning the glass. You look through it. Clean to the edges and corners. Griot's Window Cleaner and lint free towels work well. The lint free towels are fantastic, leaving the glass cleaner than I've ever been able to accomplish without them. Check the contents of your windshield washer fluid container while you're at it and refill. Use Rain-X on the windshield-Sparingly. It streaks and causes wipers to judder if overused.

8. Put everything back together. Clean up the floor and put everything away. Look at the car. Look at how good it looks. Put a car cover on the car because now you won't dare drive it to work and face doing that much work again. Now buy a beater to drive to work.

The wash/clean/wax procedure should be done quarterly, with monthly waxing and weekly washing. Between wash/clean/wax you can just wash/wax. With Zymöl, if you can easily put on more wax, then it's not time to use the HD-Cleanse again. Whenever it's time to use HD-Cleanse again, it's time for a complete detail

Mercedes makes a Quick Wipe for removing tree sap mist, hard water spots, and the like between washes, filling the void between washing and waxing by allowing you to quickly remove contaminants and dust anywhere, anytime, without water. Keep that in the trunk with a cotton towel. A friend uses the Eagle One equivalent and says bugs don't stick as badly. He sprays it on the front of the car and the front of the mirrors before trips without wiping it off, and getting the bugs off is much easier.

The Griot's Garage Speed Shine is an equivalent. I'll use it after washing the car as well if I'm not going to wax the car.

December 1998

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