Coming clean over favoritism in car washing

October 06, 2001|By ROB KASPER

I WOULD LIKE to think I treat my cars like I treat my children. In an equitable, caring manner. The truth is, I play favorites.

This week, for instance, as a cold front approached, I tried to work up some enthusiasm for the autumnal task of washing and waxing the older of our two household vehicles, a 1993 station wagon.

Even before the soapsuds filled the bucket, I filled up with guilt. I was reminded that last fall I had neglected the station wagon. While I had given the younger car, a 1997 sedan, a thorough, four-step (washing, cleaning, polishing, waxing) treatment, I had shortchanged the wagon. By the time I had finished ministering to the younger car, I had no energy left for the older one. I had promised I would wax it later. But as often happens with "second car syndrome," later never came. The old wagon had to weather the winter without a protective coat of wax.

This fall I was determined to make amends to the station wagon. I searched the Internet for car care tips. There is no shortage of advice in cyberspace and I found strong opinions on automotive ablutions. Some came from car-care Web sites; most came from guys and gals who take washing and waxing very seriously. I got the scoop on how to clean windshield wiper blades (apply a little Bon Ami powder), on how to get to hard-to-reach spots (use a soft bristle toothbrush), and on what is the proper environment for applying wax (dust-free shade, but the fanatics of the vintage sports car set also recommend blasting yourself with an air compressor from time to time to minimize the chance of dust getting on the car finish).

The more I read about the intricacies of car washing, the more my jaw dropped in wonder. There was so much I had to learn. For example, I had never thought to cover my belt buckle with a rag to prevent it from scratching the car while waxing. I was also fascinated by the two-bucket theory of how to wash an exceptionally gritty car. The first bucket contains soap and water, the second just water. After a soapy cloth washes a section of the car, it's dipped in the bucket of water to remove grit from the cloth. Then the rinsed-out cloth goes to the bucket of suds to resume washing duties.

After much study, I came to understand the difference between "cleaning" and "polishing." Cleaning, the second step in the four-step washing and waxing procedure, comes right after washing. The bottle of cleaner, which you buy from an automobile parts shop, removes extra dirt from scratches in the paint and gets the paint ready for the next step. That step would be polishing. To polish you buy another bottle from an auto parts store and apply it to the car. Polisher acts like a moisturizer, giving the paint a "wet look."

I thought that applying the wax, Step 4, was the final word in car care. But Thursday afternoon when I walked into a local auto parts shop, I saw the car-beautification process has been extended to nine steps. Each step seemed to require a $5 bottle of something.

I balked at taking that many steps. I had completed the four-step routine last fall, on the younger car, and it had taken me half a day to perform all the procedures.

By the time I got home the other night and got the station wagon ready for its cleansing ritual, daylight was fading.

I did bathe it, in the recommended mild, car-friendly soap; not the harsh stuff used to wash dishes. I did employ the two-bucket method, thereby minimizing the chance any grit on the wash rags would scratch the station wagon's surface.

I did dry the station wagon with the highly regarded, authentic sheepskin chamois.

But instead of going for what I call "The Full Monty" - the laborious process of getting down to the car's bare skin by cleaning, then polishing before waxing - I took a shortcut. I went straight for the waxing. I used a liquid "one-step" product that claimed to combine all the benefits of cleaning, polishing and waxing in one easy application.

As I rubbed the one-step solution on the car, I recalled the disparaging remarks I had read from the car-waxing cognoscenti about taking this approach. I knew that instead of reviving the emollients and oils in the car's paint, I was merely giving it a quick once-over. I could see that instead of covering up scratches, I was highlighting them.

But at least the station wagon is waxed for the winter. It may not glow, but after all, it is only our second car. I have always liked the other car better.

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