• Do Not touch or wipe off a dirty car, (wet or dry), without a polymer lubricant or automotive shampoo and water. For all you artistic, “wash me jokers”, this includes the glass! The reflection and gloss level of your paint, chrome and glass primarily depends on your cleaning methods, driving habits and the storage environment– in that order.
  • Do Not fall into the WASH TUNNEL TRAP! Mechanical wash tunnels, (especially the cloth ones), are one of the primary causes of swirl marks and micro abrasions. Over time, trips through the mechanical wash tunnel will make your car look dull and dated.
  • Do Not follow other vehicles too closely. Sand, gravel, salt spray and even exhaust contaminants from other vehicles will affect and degrade the outer surfaces of your car. At highway speeds, stay back at least ten car lengths and avoid following big trucks to avoid stones, brake dust and diesel soot.
  • Do Not ignore bird droppings and insect marks. Remove them as soon as possible with warm water and a lubricating solution that also emulsifies solids. If left to dry on the surface for a day or more, these bio-contaminants will stain and chemically etch into your paint. It’s fixable, but avoidable if you simply pay attention to your car.
  • Do Not break up ice or plow off snow with shovels or ice scrapers on painted surfaces. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I see people doing this every winter. Warm up your car for 20 minutes or more, then wrap a large towel around the arm of your coat to gently remove snow and ice from your hood and other painted surfaces. The heat from the engine and defrosters will create a liquid film between the surface and the snow or ice, which will make removal safer and easier. Bonus tip: lift the wipers up and clear away snow and ice around the wipers and fresh air intake vents, and don’t forget to clear the mirrors and back up camera.
  • Do Not park your car under a tree, close to other cars or near sprinkler systems. In general, park away from other vehicles, trees and irrigated landscaping. Minerals within ground water can chemically etch spots in the clear coat as the water dries on the surface. Birds perch in trees and trees drop all kinds of bad stuff on cars. If you want to reduce the heat load inside your car, vent the sunroof and ask about window tinting options. Avoid door dings and pedestrian scratches. It’s a bad habit to park in tight spaces or along busy walkways, so get some exercise and park away from other vehicles, if and when possible.
  • Do Not eat in your car while driving. This is a tough one, I know. But, it’s also a hygiene and safety issue. If you must have that burger or snack, pull over in a safe area so you can focus 100% on getting all the food in your mouth. Tip: If you do spill that latte or drip mayo on carpets or fabric, all is not lost. Just act within 20 minutes. Blot up as much as possible with a dry cloth and make an appointment with a professional auto detailer. They have powerful extractors and the right cleaning products to address bio contamination. If you avoid professional remediation, you could be in for some nasty developments. Among these are yeast, fungus, mold, bacteria and associated odors. Worse, you and your family could get sick.
  • Do Not bucket wash your car without proper training and the right products. That’s right… DIY bucket washing and hand drying is second only to mechanical wash tunnels when it comes to damaging the gloss level of your paint. There’s only one method and product that I endorse for DIY car washing, and it’s a subject in itself that I’m happy to expand upon by request.
  • Do Not use high pressure washers. If you must use pressure, I recommend a range of 300 – 500 psi with a 25 degree nozzle. Why? Pressures above 600 psi tend to pulverize stuck on dirt, when the goal of washing a car is to emulsify the dirt and safely carry it away. Hydro blasting dry dirt under high pressure can be a close equivalent to hydro sand blasting, which is a great way to remove paint. High pressure is indeed faster, but pressure washers can’t remove that last layer of film off the paint anyway, so why damage your paint in an effort to get it “somewhat clean”. You’ll need to hand wash the paint and glass anyway, so reserve the pressure washer for the wheel wells, lower body sections and engine bay. 400 psi is more than enough to remove mud and heavy dirt from those areas. Especially if you apply a pre-cleaner that starts to emulsify, soften and break down the dirt before pressure washing.
  • Do Not allow smoking in your vehicle, ever! Heavy smokers can even transfer odors from their hair, clothing and fingers to interior fabrics and surfaces. Tobacco smoke leaves a yellow residue on glass. It also gets into the ventilation system, vent filter, headliner, carpets and seats. It can be treated and mitigated, but not eliminated by cleaning alone.
  • Do Not use greasy surface conditioners like traditional ArmorAll on the interior surfaces, trim or tires. These products just attract more dust/dirt that sticks in corners and crevices. These products also collect finger prints, and are dangerously slippery when applied to the pedals, floor mats, seats or tires. They tend to look overly glossy as well, which can result in windshield glare. The goal is to use non-greasy conditioners that protect the surfaces while maintaining a factory new appearance with a satin glow.
  • Do Not use paper towels or cotton fabrics to clean any part of your car. Invest in a large drying towel, a pack of quality microfiber cleaning towels, and keep them clean by machine washing with a quality detergent in warm water, but don’t use fabric softener or mix them with your new white blouse!
    Never wipe your paint with any sponge or cloth, including a microfiber cloth, unless you’re in the process of cleaning it with lubricated water, or drying off the lubricated water. Dust, pollen and dirt that you may not be able to see, will scratch the paint as you wipe the surface. This includes drying rain drops or spot cleaning debris off your car. Always use a lubricant like a Quick Detailer or Optimum No Rinse, Wash & Wax if you need to touch or wipe anything off your paint when it’s not been freshly washed within an hour. Dust, pollen and other contaminants can collect very quickly on the surface.



  • Unless you’re a crazy car nut with knowledge, experience and a lot of time on your hands, have your car professionally detailed inside and out– at least twice per year. The pro’s can remove interior stains, odors, minerals, tar and other paint contaminants before they become permanent issues. Having your car professionally detailed more often means less time & effort for the detailer, so quarterly maintenance programs can actually cost the same or less than semi-annual or annual services. The goal is to maintain that new car feeling during your ownership, while also maximizing the value of your car in the end, so maintenance frequency is part of the equation.
  • Wash and Clean your car often and properly, but avoid wash tunnels and high pressure hydro blasting. Most professional detailing services offer monthly and even weekly wash programs that come to you. Having your car professionally washed and decontaminated by hand will ensure that the paint maintains a mirror reflection by safely removing contaminates like iron oxide, soot, road oils, mud, tar, salts and stuff that simple washing won’t remove. Moreover, a professional knows what not to do, and takes great care not to harm the paint.
  • Select the right Detailing Company. Make sure your detailer has nothing but good reviews and a strong portfolio online. Then interview them to see what they know, and how they interact with you personally. Ask for a reference or two and call them. Finally, ask for a firm quote and compare it with at least one other detailing company. This is a relationship that can be just as important as your barber or beautician, so get it right and don’t choose based on price alone.
  • Have a nano-ceramic or polymer protectant applied to the exterior surfaces of your car. The new polymer waxes, sealants and liquid barriers produce amazing gloss, are ultra hydrophobic and last for 3-6 months or longer if applied properly. They even protect the glass and plastic surfaces. So, throw away the old paste wax and ask a pro about polymer protection options!
  • Keep your door jams, engine bay and wheel wells clean. Grease and oils collect contaminants like calcium and iron that can scar the paint and lead to build-up and corrosion. It can be a time consuming DIY task, but who wants filthy door jams, right? Ask your detailer if they include cleaning the door jams and wheel wells with each service. They should, and most will maintain a clean engine bay as well.
  • Clean and protect your wheels weekly. Chances are good that your wheels are painted aluminum, so the finish is no different than the paint on your car. Wheels take a lot of abuse from brake dust, iron oxide, various oils, road debris and calcium chloride. Again, this is an area that you may want professionally maintained. Cleaning your wheels properly takes time, special brushes and at least 3 separate products to properly clean and protect them. You’ll need an iron remover + wheel cleaner/degreaser + clay bar + polymer protectant. A tire brush, barrel brush and lug nut brush make the job much easier. Your detailer can color match any paint chips or scratches as well. If you have chrome wheels, the process is the same, but you’ll want to add chrome cleaning and polishing to the process, seasonally.
  • Clean and condition your door seals after cleaning the door jams and engine bay. Door seals can dry out, deform and oxidize if not properly cleaned and conditioned. This deformation and oxidation can lead to cabin noise, water intrusion and a poor appearance.
  • Clean and condition fabrics, carpet, leather and plastic surfaces. Body oils, makeup, blue jeans and sunblock can discolor materials if not removed regularly. Keep leather, vinyl, rubber and plastic surfaces clean and lightly conditioned to protect them from contaminants, discoloration and UV deterioration. Vacuum carpets weekly and apply a light protectant quarterly… like Scotch-Guard to block road salt staining from your shoes and mitigate absorption from liquid spills, grease and oils. Always dry out carpets and fabrics completely before calling the job done, or you’ll be dealing with mold, mildew, bacteria and funky odors.
  • Maintain crystal clear interior glass. Smoke, oily films and airborne contaminants can build up over time, making them difficult to remove, especially around the tight perimeters. Glass cleaners are largely ineffective on the inside of the windshield. A 70% rubbing alcohol & water solution is recommended for removing oils and greasy films from the interior glass. Tip: Be sure to lower the side windows about 4-6 inches to clean the top perimeter edges of the glass. Better yet, make sure your detailer includes all this in each service.
  • If possible, rinse off salt spray, mud and bio contaminants before they have a chance to fully dry. This is one situation where the local coin wash can be a good solution in a pinch, but you can address this at home as well. Use a lubricating quick detail spray or rinseless wash product to gently emulsify these contaminants one section at a time. Then, gently wipe with a clean section of a microfiber cloth. Try not to let mud or salt spray dry on your vehicle. If it does, call your detailer to schedule an express maintenance wash.
  • Place protective, form fitting mats on all floor areas if you transport pets. The carpet in most vehicles today tends to trap hair, making it very difficult to remove. Form fitting mats will also protect the carpets from dirt, grass, mud, spills, pet oils and odors. It’s a great investment for your new vehicle if you have pets, kids or live in a rural area.
  • Have your detailer or body shop address deep paint scratches and stone chips right away to avoid rust, delamination and further damage. Always check with your insurance company first when you notice any damage to your vehicle. Take pictures and do a bit of investigation on your own. Accidents happen, but someone else may be liable for the repair costs.
  • So far, we’ve addressed a lot of visual maintenance items, but the smell of a car is another indicator of the health of a car. Those scented gizmos and perfume sprays may temporarily mask odors but they don’t fool anyone, and they’re more likely to turn buyers off, than impress them. First, the interior must be clean, dry and professionally decontaminated. The professionals use commercial equipment and products that smell like a new car. Ask for cleaning products that contain enzymes that actively attack residual odors. Popular resale fragrances include leather scent and new car smell. Avoid perfumes and botanical scents when it’s time to sell or trade, but during ownership, knock yourself out with Pina Colada if that’s your thing. Your detailer should have many fragrance options for you to sample, and they should last 4-6 weeks or more.
  • There are very few ways to safely wash your car, and many ways to do it wrong. Unfortunately, machines and wash tunnels do more damage than good, and there’s no such thing as a magic protective barrier. That said, pro detailers have the knowledge, equipment and products to safely wash and maintain your vehicle’s appearance while providing the best protection possible. The best can even correct problems and bring your car back to like new, or even better than new condition without repainting or a major restoration effort.
  • Lastly, If you’re a busy person who doesn’t have time to drop off your car or jump through a bunch of logistical hoops to get your car detailed, you’re in luck. Many Pro Detailing Companies are offering free valet style pick up and delivery, and some even perform maintenance details in your driveway, or place of business. Convenience is an important consideration when selecting any service provider, so make sure your provider goes out of their way to deliver value and convenience.

If you execute these tips and invest in a professional maintenance program for the interior and exterior, you’ll get top dollar for your car in the end. That could put an extra grand or more in your pocket, but perhaps more importantly, you’ll enjoy your car more while you own it, and everyone else will think you’re always driving a new car. So leverage that new car feeling as long as possible while protecting your investment. For a list of Auto Detailing Service providers in your area, do a local Google search and interview a few with 5-star ratings.

If you happen to live in South Central Pennsylvania or the Maryland / West Virginia panhandles, check out or call them at 717-360-5667.

– Phil Black, IDSA