You love it when your collector car looks shiny and clean — but getting it that way may take a bit more effort than a newer car. Washing your classic car is more complicated than simply driving through the neighborhood car wash.

After all, you’ve already made an investment of time and funds in your vintage vehicle. Keeping it in pristine condition is just another one of those routine maintenance activities to put on your list.

These tips will help you (safely) keep your collector car sparkling.

Skip the Mechanical Car Wash

Mechanical car washes are certainly convenient, but they’re not a good choice when it comes to washing your classic car. Why? Because those big brushes that spin along your car’s surface rarely get rinsed out.

That means they can grind leftover particles into your car’s paint, leaving marks in the clear coat. Along with exposing your car to damage, mechanized car washes tend to miss spots. Plus, they don’t dry your car completely, upping the risk of rust.

Skip the mechanical wash and do the job by hand.

Gather the Right Cleaning Materials

Before you start washing your classic car, you’ll need a few special materials. Start with mitts and cleaning cloths made from extra soft materials, such as chenille or cotton sheepskin. Not only are they quicker to use than brushes or sponges, but you’ll avoid scratching or marking your car’s paint.

As for soap, use a high-quality product soap or shampoo that’s specially designed for car washing. Such products are less harsh than dishwasher detergent or other soaps commonly used for household tasks. Plus, they don’t contain abrasives that may harm your paint.

To dry your car, choose soft microfiber towels or leather chamois. Avoid using regular towels, as these can scratch your car’s surface. You may also want to grab a clay bar kit for any hard-to-remove contaminants.

Wash Your Car in a Shady, Covered Area

You probably already know that exposing your car to direct sunlight can fade and damage paint. Exposure while washing is even more risky.

Too much sun, heat and even air flow while washing your classic car will cause soap to dry quickly. Water will evaporate fast, as well.

You don’t want streaks, spots and watermarks on your car, so wash it under cover or in the shade.

Keep Rust at Bay

As any classic car enthusiast knows, rust is your enemy. Once this insidious foe gets a toehold, it keeps eating away at your car, leading to the need for classic car repair.

The way you approach your car wash can help reduce the risk of rust. Start at the top of your car and work your way down. Not only will gravity help drain excess water, but you also won’t contaminate areas you’ve already cleaned.

And speaking of excess water, use water as sparingly as possible while washing your classic car. Judicious use of water — and thorough drying as you go — is key.

Avoid letting water pool on or around your car at all costs.

Work on one section at a time, rather than attempting to wash the entire car at once. This way, you’ll use less water and be able to dry each section carefully, to avoid watermarks.

Clean the wheels last. As these tend to be the dirtiest parts of the car, you’ll likely need to grab a fresh cloth or mitt to get them clean. Finally, apply a tire conditioner after the tires dry completely.

Attention to Detail

Once your car is washed and dry, you may need to use detailing lubricant and a clay bar. This will smooth your finish and get rid of any last bits of grit.

Next, polish the chrome. Use a high-quality chrome polish to clean the brightwork every time you wash your car.

Though you don’t need to wax after every wash, you should regularly apply high-quality wax to your car. This will keep your car shiny while protecting your paint. Just like when you’re washing your car, don’t wax in the sun.

Keeping your car clean is an important part of classic car maintenance. Proper washing technique using the right materials will keep your car shiny for years to come.

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