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Proper car washing

Washing your own car doesn’t just make you feel great because your ride looks great. Keeping the exterior clean maintains the new-car finish that could translate into a higher resale value. That extra value can’t be realized if you only pull out the bucket and sponge when mud and grime accumulate. Weekly car washes will remove the dust, dirt, pollen, pollutants, bird droppings and other contaminants that chip away at your car’s finish.

Man washing his car with proper technique

Five do’s and don’ts of car washing

Washing a car isn’t too complicated, but there are definitely a few best practices to take into consideration. Some traditional ways of cleaning cars – perhaps even what mom and dad taught you (No, it’s not ok to use dish soap! Ever!) – can actually damage your car’s exterior. Follow this list to clean your car and help boost its value:

  1. Don’t wait until your car is visibly dirty.
    Bugs, bird droppings, acid rain and pollutants can dull your car’s finish and, in extreme cases, strip the paint. Don’t think of the weekly car wash advice as all or nothing. Monthly washes are likely sufficient to maintain your car’s appearance. The exception is in areas where there is acid rain. Always rinse your car after acid rain or the paint could be permanently scarred.
  2. Don’t wash a hot car.
    High temperatures can make cleaning more difficult and cause deposits that eventually damage paint. Park your car in the shade or wait until the heat of the day passes before getting started.
  3. Do invest in the proper supplies.
    A cleaning product created specifically for cars, a large sponge or wash mitt and a hose with running water are must-have items for car washing. Cleaners designated for cars are essential. They are gentle enough for paint, though you may need a specialty product, such as tar remover, for trouble spots. And a clean sponge or wash mitt is important to help avoid scratches. But, most importantly, you need water. If you don’t have access to a hose with running water, Ed Kriston, a longtime industry expert of Westminster, Maryland, recommends against washing the car yourself. If you rely on water in a bucket for rinsing, you may work grit into the surface and scratch the paint. Working with only a bucket of water also makes it impossible to properly rinse grit from the car.
  4. Do wash the car in sections.
    Work on one area at a time: washing, rinsing and drying. But don’t move the sponge or mitt in circles; circular motions can create swirl marks. Instead, move the sponge in straight lines.
  5. Do wax your car twice a year.
    Although some people believe waxing damages a car’s finish, Kriston disagrees. He believes it preserves the finish and proves to be a beneficial maintenance effort, particularly if you own your vehicle and want to sell it or trade it in someday. The best times to wax your car include: in the fall, before the first snow falls and in the spring before hot weather moves in.

Taking a closer look at your car’s finish

Proper car washing is important, and following a car washing regimen could go a long way toward maintaining the value of your vehicle. But don’t stop there.

"You also need to make sure that you find any rock chips that go to the primer or below and spot fix them according to directions," Kriston says. "If not, that is a rust spot looking to happen."

By being proactive about car washing, you’ll have a vehicle you can be proud to drive for years to come.

Nancy Dunham is based in Washington, D.C. and writes for Automotive News, National Automobile Dealers Association and other major publishers.
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