- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

Can you imagine going to sleep at night without performing your nightly skin care regime even if it's only a good soap-and-water wash?
Beauty may only be skin deep, but if you want it to stick around you have to take care of it. Otherwise the wicked witch of free radicals and gravity will get you with her wrinkle stick.
Taking care of your car on the outside and cleaning the interior on a regular basis is no different. Here are a few things you can do to keep your car looking younger and worth more at trade in.

Interior

Good car care begins on the inside. It's best to start at the front of the vehicle and work to the rear. The sun can turn your dashboard into a hot oven causing the vinyl and leather to crack and fade. To protect it, clean it with a vinyl cleaner and protectant. Apply the products to a cloth or applicator first and use them sparingly. Too much liquid can seep down into the dashboard's sensitive electrical innards and cause havoc.
Now vacuum the interior carefully, and don't forget the trunk. Take the floor mats out and clean them separately. Clean the upholstery and carpet with a specifically designed household cleaner. If you have children, attack the "french fry zone" with a stain remover. But again, be careful not to overdo the liquids that can cause mildew. If you have leather upholstery, use a cleaner specifically designed for that great long-lasting fabric, and follow the directions on the bottle. With most products you'll have to let the leather cleaner sit, wipe it off with a clean cloth afterward and finish with a leather conditioner.
Now clean the car's glass with any good household glass cleaner. Pay particular attention to the windshield not just for the view, but also for your safety. And afterward leave the doors open long enough for complete drying.

Exterior

The best defense against the premature aging of your car's finish is to wash it frequently. While rain may look like it's helping, it's not. Air pollution adds a weakened form of sulfuric acid to the raindrops that attacks the paint. Find a cool shady spot or your cleaning products will dry too fast. Use a squeaky clean wash mitt or sponge that you designate for that purpose, and a cleanser designed specifically for automotive finishes.
Regular household detergents will strip the paint of any protective wax and cause streaking. Always start at the top and work down. Pay special attention to the area around the gas cap any gasoline drool will stain the paint. And be sure to wash the underbelly of your car and the wheel wells. Use two different cloths, one for the upper part of the car and one for the lower. Rinse the cloths or sponges often. Even a small amount of dirt or sand (that you may not even see) can leave scratches in your paint. I like to use a separate cloth for every stage. Dry with a chamois, or soft clean cloth. Diapers work great.
Alternatively you can opt for a coin operated or a professional carwash.
If water doesn't bead on the paint into drops the size of a nickel or larger after washing, you'll want to apply a coat of wax. If the paint has faded from the damaging effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays, you'll need to polish as well. Many good products polish and wax in one step, and are heavily favored by many drivers except the pickiest.
Most new vehicles are painted with a top colorless coat of paint called a clear coat that protects the color and shine, so choose products that are designed to work with "clear coat finishes." By the way, the wax that goes on in the drive-through carwash is gone within a few days. Finish work by applying a good tire dressing.
You can bypass all of the above by opting for a $75 to $200 or more professional "detailing." Need a recommendation? Try your local auto dealer, repair shop or auto-parts store.
Now that your car is clean and shining, how about pampering yourself with a trip to your local salon for a relaxing facial or massage? It may not increase your trade-in value, but I guarantee you'll feel better.
Besides, you deserve it.

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