“Moisture is a car’s worst enemy, Gerald. So why are you washing it?”
So says Julie Walters’s character, Jacqueline, in the 1985 comedy Car Trouble, in which she plays an upset housewife whose picky husband has given all of his attention to a Jaguar E-Type. Thus, in that Sunday morning scene, Gerald lovingly polishes the car’s famously phallic bonnet.
These days, it’s rare to see someone clean their own car with foaming water, a sponge, and a piece of chamois leather. For today’s professionals, this kind of manual work is seen as too small, dirty, and time-consuming. This is especially true since every city now has its own version of the team from the best movie about the subject, Car Wash (1976), who will usually give your wheels a once-over.
This kind of set-up and the popularity of the forecourt jet wash put an end to the Sunday tradition of doing chores at home. Even though there were signs that it might come back in the mid-1990s when a double-page spread in the Telegraph magazine showed A-list celebrities “keeping it real” by washing their own cars in the street. One of them was Madonna, who was caught on camera stretching coquettishly to soap her roof.
But hold on to that hose, because in some places, washing your own car has made a big comeback. But now it’s called “detailing” instead of “washing,” and a new book called Hand Wash Only, says that if you want to do it right, you’ll need a lot more than a bucket of water and a few old rags.
The book has 143 pages and it talks about the “wash kit list,” the “decontamination kit list,” the “correction kit list,” the “protection kit list,” the “engine bay kit list,” and the “interior kit list.”
You’d need a whole other garage just for the “kit,” and you might also need more than a basic understanding of chemistry to figure out how to get rid of “hydrocarbons,” “bonded contaminants,” and “fallout.”
Before you even think about polishing, you’ll need to know what kind of paint you have and how thick it is. You should also review your glossary. After all, no one wants to mix up their pigtails and fish eyes, or their orange peel and road rash.
It’s also no longer done by hand. Today, you need a polishing machine and a variety of pads (wool, foam, microfiber), a good set of polishing compounds, and something to protect and seal the paint.
The book has more chapters about fixing up the inside, getting rid of smells, and cleaning the windows, wheels, and engine. Even the right way to buff the headlights and polish the tires is explained in detail.
Car cleaning used to be a job that you paid your kids 50 cents to do, but now it seems to be a multi-million dollar business with specialized operators all over the world. Some of these operators even take brand new supercars off the showroom floor and “detail” them before their owners will even think about getting behind the wheel.