Car washing seems to be one of those Marmite topics; some enjoy the simplicity of the task and the instant improvement it produces. Others detest the chore with a vengeance, says Tim Shallcross, IAM RoadSmart head of technical policy.
This time of year, mud, drizzle and the start of the road-salting season all prove a challenge to keeping the paintwork shiny. However there are good practical reasons to keep your car looking like your pride and joy, even if it isn’t.
The first is a product of wider cars and narrow parking bays. Nothing is more irritating than getting a filthy smudge on your clothes as you squeeze between two dirty cars – at least if yours is clean you stand a chance of exiting untarnished.
More important is the fact that a layer of grime, salt, tree sap and road grease will dull the paintwork if left undisturbed. The caked-on chemicals gradually eat into the ultra-smooth top layer, making it rougher at a microscopic level, which stops that glossy showroom sheen.
A thorough wash will stop that action and even if the car gets covered in road dirt the following day, the dulling process will take time to re-start. If you polish it as well, the new look will last even longer as the polish acts as a barrier between the paint and the dirt. Regular washing will keep the car looking new underneath the dirt for much longer!
If you only wash the car when the “clean me” scrawls get too embarrassing, restoring a showroom look when it comes to selling the car will need an awful lot of elbow grease, or you risk quite a slice off the resale value.
There’s also the problem of bird droppings. Car factories do much less damage to the surrounding environment than they used to and one of the major contributors is the move to eco-friendly paints. No longer do clouds of fumes issue from the paint shop ventilation shafts to poison nearby wildlife; the paints are low odour and the ingredients much less harmful.
Unfortunately, they are also softer than their toxic predecessors and very prone to being permanently marked by bird droppings that are left on for any more than a couple of days.
So, you face two choices. If you really can’t stand the thought of getting a bucket and sponge out, a hand car wash near you is one of the best value things a fiver will buy these days; maybe a couple of quid more if you have an SUV or stretch limo. They do an excellent and thorough job – wheels, door shuts, tyre shine and all.
Alternatively, the bucket and sponge option is, for those of us so inclined, very satisfying and it is very healthy exercise. Various estimates fly around the internet, but burning about 325 calories by washing a car and anything up to 1,000 if you polish it as well seems a common view.
Use a proper car shampoo, NOT washing up liquid. Fill a bucket with hot water (saves your hands freezing), and don’t overdo the shampoo – too much and you’ll have lots of streaks. Use a hose with a trigger spray attachment to wet the body all over first, to soften the dirt, then plunge in with the sponge.
You can get decent sponges for 99p almost anywhere these days, so don’t use a worn out ragged one – and two makes life even easier, one in the bucket soaking while you scrub away with the other.
Start with the roof and end with the wheels, then rinse off, stand back and admire your work. Use a leather or microfibre cloth to dry it – or just go for a drive for a couple of miles then wipe off the few remaining drops.
Finally, get a cloth, open the doors, wipe the sills and door shut areas and enjoy the smug feeling as you look at your gleaming pride next to all the mud spattered, salt encrusted neighbours.
Until tomorrow, of course, when your car will be indistinguishable from the rest. But you had some healthy exercise, the dirt isn’t eating away at the shine and anyway, you know it’s gleaming underneath the dirt.