Car Care Guide

10 Ways to Improve Appearance and Performance

Kevin Harper - August 01, 2011 09:00 AM


Mid America Motorworks

ImageGreg Harbaugh
ImageGreg Harbaugh

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For many, it’s all about impression. What’s the sense in having a quality car if you don’t strive to keep the quality at the highest possible level?

Those who are committed to their cars understand there is a certain amount of attention that must be given to it. They accept that as part of the territory. They don’t look upon washing, waxing and maintenance as tasks, but rather as labors of love.

No matter what type of car you have, what era it represents or what purpose it serves, there is a certain amount of care required. It’s no different than any other aspect – your home, your family, your work. They all require a little TLC and attention to detail to be the best they can possibly be.

While it’s not everything, we’ve found 10 important areas (listed in no particular order) where car care is key. It’s these areas that can make the difference between having a car and having a quality car.


After a period of taking on the elements, modern headlights really start showing their age. The yellowing seems to come quicker on the present cars, which created a need to have a product to clean those lights.

Companies like 3M have developed “Headlight Lens Restoration Systems.” In a typical system, you will find a compound and buffing pads. You simply apply the cleaner to the lens itself. With a household drill, you use the included buffing pads to clear away the yellowing. The results are immediately noticeable, both in appearance and performance. Your trip down the road at night is greatly improved, and the car looks better than before.

Of course, this will not work on cars equipped with glass headlights. Simple glass cleaner will continue to work just fine there.

 Engine Management

There are cleaning jobs that are not easy. Subsequently, there are those who won’t provide maximum protection to their cars. The engine compartment is an area that can become labor intensive.

Meguiar’s® developed its Engine Cleaner in a convenient spray-on/hose-off formula. Simply spray this powerful cleaner onto the surface of a warm engine and watch the dirt, grime and contaminates rinse away with the flood of a hose. Unlike most caustic engine cleaners on the market, this formulation is safe to use on any engine component. It is specifically designed to be safe and will not degrade sensitive rubber or plastic. This special formula eliminates the need to shield any part of the engine during cleaning, resulting in a truly quick and easy process.

So much for not being easy. It’s now worth it to take the time to clean the engine compartment.


Getting the product to match the component is not as much of a challenge as it used to be. Car care companies are investing in the research necessary to develop products to be effective on automotive materials.

Enthusiasts have plenty of wheel choices, and companies like Mothers have to create its products to meet the needs. The cleaner for aluminum wheels is different than that of chrome (and of steel), so special formulation is required. Getting the right product for the right job has never been more important. You will usually find these products available as a spray or a foaming type, but the important consideration is matching the application.

Topp of the Class

There are several methods for cleaning convertible tops, one of which is the RAGG TOPP convertible top cleaner kit for fabric or vinyl tops from MWorks. Before using the kit, rinse your convertible top to remove loose particles or debris. Apply the cleaner evenly on the surface of your top, scrubbing lightly with a soft brush, terrycloth rag or sponge. For stains, leave the cleaner in place for 10 to 20 minutes before lightly scrubbing to loosen the stain. Rinse thoroughly to remove all cleaner.

To keep your convertible top protected once it’s clean and dry, spray on the RAGG TOPP protectant and let it dry for 10 to 15 minutes. Applying two to three coats will provide better protection. After 48 hours, your convertible top will be ready for a drive.

Buff Stuff

Technology has stepped up to take a little off the emphasis for elbow grease. Some companies are offering better tools. Shurhold’s Dual Action Polisher allows D-I-Y users to achieve a high gloss finish with a rotary buffer/polisher. Traditional rotary polishers have a larger wheel spinning at a high rpm, which means the operator’s technique is important as to avoid burns and swirls. The Shurhold polisher’s dual action, six-inch oscillating head eliminates these issues. General detail maintenance like waxing and buffing can now be done in half the time, with half the effort and half the amount of product. There are several other features that enthusiasts will like. The quick change pads with Velcro® backing, the GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) that cuts off power to the unit should it become submerged or shorted by water, and the addition of a 20-foot power cord (not a stubby pigtail) all combine for quality. This unit is shown with the Buff Magic Compounding Pad, available separately.


No longer a “fact of life,” car care companies have developed an aggressive stance on surface scratches. Quixx offers a two-step repair system to provide permanent removal of scratches from the painted surfaces. A patented compound works with the material surrounding the scratched area. The second step restores the finish. ScratchPro utilizes diamond powder in their buffing paste as part of a three-step process that provides the key ingredient to getting a professional-quality surface restoration.


It’s not something to be taken lightly. They may all be round and black, but they can shine as well as the chrome when done right. Meguiar’s® has extended its popular Endurance gel into spray and aerosol formulas – each providing premium, long-lasting protection with a gloss and durability that lasts weeks, not just days. These products last through both rain and repeated washings with an all-new formula that bonds directly to the tire. After application, the new Meguiar’s® Endurance aerosol and spray products are dry to the touch in just minutes. The variety of delivery methods best suits every user’s needs. Endurance Tire Gel offers a controlled application, Endurance Tire Spray in aerosol delivers a targeted stream of product in 360 degrees and Endurance Tire Spray in trigger enables users to universally coat their tire easily, ensuring consumers always have their preferred product on-hand.


What you can’t see can help you. There is a protective film offered by 3M that can offer an extra level on the surface to ward off contaminants. The film can be professionally installed for best results. The durable high-grade urethane film can add lasting value to the car in addition to keeping it looking great.

Simple Maintenance

Car care is more than cleaning and polishing. It’s maintaining. Caring for your car means checking the fluids on a regular basis and changing them at required intervals. Many of the collector cars don’t get the road miles that the commuters do and may not need this treatment as often, but the best performance always comes with fresh lubricants. Don’t forget the wipers and filters and any other aspect that could stand a little attention.

Inside job

The work you do on the wheels, tires and exterior are done for your benefit, but also the benefit of others. In the interior, it’s more about you, the one who will be driving or riding inside. You will want to enjoy a clean, odor-free ride, and there are a variety of products on the market to address the need.

Eco Touch’s Dashboard Protect features ingredients derived from plants that don’t go toward greasy and glossy. You apply the product to a microfiber towel and apply it, drying it with a second microfiber. The company also addresses carpet and upholstery with a non-toxic, bio-degradable cleaner. You simply spray it on the spot, let it penetrate and blot it.

For enthusiasts who prefer a two-step process to maintain the look and feel of leather surfaces, Meguiar’s® has Gold Class Leather and Vinyl Cleaner and Gold Class Leather Conditioner. Formulated to remove both oil and water-based stains, Gold Class Leather and Vinyl Cleaner is the dedicated cleaning solution that provides the first step. As step two, Meguiar’s® Gold Class Leather Conditioner moisturizes and conditions leather. It prevents aging and fading of leather with UV protection.


1. Dishwashing detergent as a car washing solution

"People still do it," said Pennington. "It works, makes a lot of suds, but it is too aggressive. It strips off the wax. It leaves the vehicle unprotected, and then the wax gets blamed as not being any good. The contaminants land directly on the top coat. The detergent hasn't changed with paint technology. It's best to get something designed for automotive surfaces."

2. Washing and cleaning are the same

“Here again, it’s what people think, but they are separate steps in the process. When you wash the vehicle, the first step, what you are doing is removing the loose contaminants. The next step, cleaning, involves getting into the surface and getting what the washing process left behind. Cleaning involves using the clay bar, which we’ll talk about shortly, to get the bonded contaminants out. This is the step where you deal with oxidation and swirls, the below-surface defects. If you use the wrong products or the wrong order, you’re not going to get the results you want, and it won’t be because of the quality of the product.”

3. There is no difference between polishing and waxing

“With all of the manufacturers making products out there, the consumer faces what we call a ‘Wall of Confusion’ when they walk down the car care aisle. Some companies use the words ‘wax’ and ‘polish’ interchangeably and stretch the verbiage. There are five steps – wash, clean, polish, wax and maintain. The polish step means you are creating a high gloss, not protection. Because the paint has gotten so good, some actually skip this step. Then you wax. It’s like putting sunscreen on. It’s offering protection. As verbs, they are similar, but as processes, they are very different things.”

4.Clay bars should only be used by professionals

“This is one that is really interesting. When our Meguiar’s classes ramped up online in about 2004, we could ask a class of about 35 students ‘What’s a clay bar?’ and no one would know. The awareness of the product has come to life, but so has the misinformation. The awareness is there, but the knowledge of the proper use has been lagging behind, and that’s why many think it’s for professionals only. When we talk about the bar, start to tell people how to use it, the do-it-yourselfer has a revelation. He starts to think, ‘Wow. I can do that.’ You need to make sure you use it for the proper purpose. Some of the most frequent calls we get are those saying the clay bar didn’t take out swirls or it didn’t do this. It’s not supposed to do those things. You have to use it for its proper purpose. The important part is an education of what it does. We have videos that are available on YouTube or our website ( that help people understand and better use the product.”

5. Diapers, T-shirts and flannel make good cleaning cloths

“We cannot stress enough how important toweling is to a good finish. You can take swirls out, but if you’re using abrasive materials, you’re just putting swirls back into it. The same can happen with the wash mitt. If it is not clean and clear of grit, what is that doing to the surface? More harm than good. People say using cotton is the way to go, but just how abrasive is it? Levi’s 501 jeans are cotton, but would you think about using them as a drying cloth? What is most important is absorbency. If you’re going to use cotton, it has to be a high-quality, super absorbent type, like the robes at a five-star resort. There has to be lots of nap to it. A T-shirt doesn’t offer that. Today’s clears are very sensitive to abrasion, so the nappier, the better. Microfibers are better, but there are different types and you must be careful to use the right cloth for the right job and not mix them up. After you’re done, don’t wash your cotton and microfiber cloths together. The microfiber will trap the cotton particles, and you will basically make both of them decrease in value. Another important consideration is towel management. If you’re going to spend money on a towel to do the proper job, take care of it. Don’t just wad it up and leave it in the bucket.”