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FAQ: Engines, Tops, Wheels, Tires, and Trim
- I thought getting my engine wet was bad. How do you clean engines? And are silicone dressings bad?
Engines are cleaned with high-pressure water and degreaser, with products such as Simple Green, Valugard Tar Remover, or Greased Lightning. Engines can get wet as long as you take some precautions. When cleaning an engine compartment, certain components must be covered and protected, such as engine computers, O2 sensors, distributors, coils, plug wires, and any other prominent electrical devices. Due to the high-pressure water used to ensure a quality engine detail, damage to your vehicle's electrical or mechanical systems is possible, however rare. Most problems are cured when the engine and engine compartment are allowed to dry. The older the vehicle, the better the chance of problems, and because of this, Water Spot requires a signature on a disclaimer for engine cleaning. That being said, I have cleaned countless engines with very few problems. The same caution applies when applying protectants to engine compartments-avoid silicone-based protectants, as they can degrade the plastic, rubber, and vinyl components under your hood. Silicone protectants can also be quite damaging to O2 sensors. Your owner's manual may have guidelines on engine cleaning and protectants.
- Is it true that chrome isn't really chrome anymore? Why is the chrome peeling off of my emblems?
Yes, for the most part. Be aware that most chrome on cars today is not really chrome at all, but laminated plastic, and it must be cared for differently. Even chrome bumpers aren't really chrome-plated but rather nickel-plated steel nowadays. This saves weight and cost. Regardless of what it's really made of, the bright shiny stuff on your car can be brought back to life. The best product I have found for cleaning chrome or chrome-style trim is the wadding polish called Nevr-Dull by Eagle One. This stuff really works well.
One big problem exists with laminated plastic-many makes of cars, especially Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth cars from the 90's to the present, have a huge problem with the emblems and letters delaminating. The chrome-like stuff peels off of the letters. Check out a late model Dodge Caravan and you're likely to see the chrome layer peeling off of the letters on the body, even on a car that's only a year or two old. The only cure for this is replacing the letters at the dealer, or just removing them for good, which is something a detailer can do for you. Even if your lettering on one of these vehicles seems to be in good shape, expect it to peel. Remember this when you have your vehicle detailed-some of the chrome-style layer is likely to come off in the cleaning process, no matter how much caution is used.
- How do you care for gold plating?
Real gold plating is delicate, and should be cleaned with mild cleaners only. It can be polished with polish made for gold and/or silver. I'd just as soon not touch the stuff at all, since it is done in the aftermarket and you never know what the quality or durability is. Many cars, like some Toyota Camrys, have gold emblems but this is not the real gold used in gold plating, so don't worry about those. Treat those like the regular emblems that they are.
- What do you use to clean wheels? Do you remove wheels for detailing?
I can remove wheels on request. The rims on your vehicle will often have brake dust & dirt on the backside that can't be removed easily even with a spoke brush, and the backside of the tire will also be dirty. Obviously, the backside of the tire & rim are somewhat neglected during a detail job unless the wheels are removed from the car, but for most people, this is not a concern since it's largely invisible dirt. It is, however, more noticeable on vehicles with big rims that have large openings. This is especially true for those of you who are "Rollin' on Dubs". If you want to go the extra mile and have the wheels removed, you can expect a much cleaner wheel, although it's the part of the wheel most people never see. It is an opportunity to do a really good job detailing the wheelwell, though, since the wheels will be out of the way. This can all be done for an extra charge. Most rims & tires will clean up quite well without removal, using soap and water. If brake dust and dirt is heavier, try Valugard's Custom Wheel Cleaner on the rims and Westley's Bleche-Wite on the tires as well as the rims-that's what I use. If brake dust and dirt is caked on, let these chemicals soak for a while. Just be careful that the chemicals don't dry on, as they can easily etch. For care of specialty rims, read on.
- What can you do for aluminum rims?
Be aware there are several types of aluminum rims. The most common type of rims on cars nowadays are either clearcoated aluminum, clearcoated aluminum alloy, or chrome plated aluminum. They save weight and are often more attractive in appearance when compared to steel rims. The clearcoat saves on polishing and prevents corrosion of the aluminum, but if the clearcoat is scratched, it will allow the aluminum to corrode. This is most likely to happen on the edges from hitting curbs and from the installation of wheel weights. Not only do wheel weights scratch the clearcoat, but also the dissimilar metals (aluminum plus lead or steel) will speed up corrosion. If your wheels show this corrosion, you're pretty much stuck with it.
Polished aluminum rims-pray that you don't have them. These are typically uncoated bare aluminum, which require special care when cleaning (mild cleaners) to avoid etching, and also require lots of polishing to keep them looking shiny. Unless you are a car enthusiast who loves to get on your hands and knees to polish, avoid having polished aluminum rims on your vehicle. Polished aluminum rims require a lot of elbow grease, especially if they are neglected. If your aluminum rims are pitted and rough, they will never be like new again and require a ton of time to restore. The dull gray color of a neglected aluminum rim often looks better than one that has been polished and still has pits & imperfections. Consider leaving them alone or replacing them. Be advised that some new cars have what are called "polished aluminum rims" but are actually clearcoated aluminum (a good thing.) Or they may have aluminum-appearing plastic covers (like on Jeep Liberty Limiteds) which is a rip-off, but are still better than genuine bare polished aluminum. The GMC Yukon Denali has uncoated aluminum rims-be careful with these, as well as many other aftermarket aluminum rims.
So how do you tell what kind of aluminum rim you have? Buff a small area with a mild aluminum polish and a white towel-if the towel turns gray, the rim is bare aluminum. If it stays white, it's either clearcoated aluminum or an aluminum-style product.
- What about mag wheels? How do you care for those?
True mag wheels, made from magnesium, are just as delicate as bare aluminum. They can only be cleaned with mild cleaners. Treat them like bare aluminum. Use mag wheel cleaner, available at auto parts stores and Wal-Mart. If you'd like to see something really cool, set the rim on fire. Magnesium burns with the intensity of the sun. (Don't do this if the rim is still on your car. Matter of fact, don't do it at all; I don't need the liability of you burning your garage down because I said it would be cool.)
- What about other types of rims, and hubcaps?
Chrome rims are easy to care for. They need polishing too, but the surface is usually quite durable unless the rims are cheap. The biggest problem with chrome rims is rust. The cheaper the rim, the more rust you'll have. The best way to keep up with it is to polish the rusty areas with metal polish to remove the brown stains. Nevr-Dull also works great on chrome rims. If the metal is pitted with rust, you might try rust converter to stop it from spreading, and clean them often to avoid more rust. It's just like your teeth-brushing and flossing keeps the cavities away.
Black painted steel rims are common on newer cars, especially when used with plastic hubcaps. If you notice the black paint is faded and dull, you can cheat by putting tire dressing on the rim and wiping it down to a satin gloss, but this is only a temporary fix. The best way to fix the problem is to repaint the semi-gloss black, which Water Spot can do on request. It can be a bit time-consuming, though, so consider the cheat method. You will often see police cars with the black painted steel rims, and when I used to detail a police fleet, cheating with the tire dressing made the rims & tires look great.
Plastic hubcaps (typically called "wheel covers" today) can often peel or dull. These can be repainted with special paint, or the cheat method with tire gloss can be done. Just remember that the tire gloss may attract brake dust, which will make the hubcap dirtier quicker. (On the black painted steel rims, the brake dust isn't as noticeable with the cheat method.) If you have metal hubcaps-good for you! You must be driving something old and no doubt very cool. Metal hubcaps can be polished, and paint touched up, if any. If you have problems with any type of hubcap, let me know and I can advise you on the best way to care for them.
- How do you clean tires? How about whitewalls and white letters?
The best product I've found is Westley's Bleche-Wite. I use it on all tires, not just those with whitewalls and white letters. The Bleche-Wite removes the dirt & brake dust from the white parts of the tire and also removes the dead, oxidized rubber (caused by UV rays and ozone) and brake dust from the black section of the tire. Use a stiff brush and/or a brass bristle brush to scrub the tire sidewalls, lettering, and/or whitewalls. This brings back the satin black look of a new tire, rather than a dull blackish-brown, and makes the white parts gleaming white, instead of a dull gray-brown.
Then follow up with a good protectant/dressing. I prefer to brush on the tire dressing to avoid getting overspray on the rims and surrounding paint. Then wipe down the excess to avoid runs and to prevent excess from flinging onto the car when driving. Stay away from silicone dressings-when these fling off of the tire and onto the paint of the car, they can leave black spots on the paint around the fenders. This is because the silicone dressings leach out the carbon black (the tire's UV protectant), which stains paint and is especially noticeable on lighter color cars. (The use of carbon black as a UV protectant is the reason why tires are always black, instead of cool designer colors. The whitewalls and white lettering need more TLC because they do not contain carbon black.)
The next time you see a car parked in someone's front yard or in a junkyard, take a look at the tires. You'll notice that tires tend to be more oxidized and dull compared to tires on cars that are driven every day. This is part of the design of the tire. As a car is driven, the sidewall of the tire flexes, which causes the tire to leech out minute amounts of wax-based protectant, which is a sacrificial protectant for the rubber. This is referred to as "blooming". Obviously, this doesn't occur if the car isn't driven, so heavy oxidation and dry-rot is the end result. Blooming, combined with carbon black, help your tires last much longer.
- Should I have my car undercoated/rust proofed?
This stuff is one of my pet peeves. Undercoating and rust proofing go hand-in-hand, and are often considered the same thing and are often sold as such. In my opinion, rust proofing is useless nowadays, and undercoating is useful only for cosmetic purposes. I don't recommend spending money on rust proofing, but undercoating does have some redeeming value.
Rust proofing is what is applied to your doorjambs, undercarriage, and engine compartment to prevent rust. It's a waxy petroleum-based substance, either opaque or black in color, which repels and blocks water to prevent rust. Back when it was first invented in the 1950's, cars benefited from this added rust protection, since the metals used back then did not have galvanizing, zinc coating, high-tech paint, and other innovations common today to protect them from corrosion and rust. Rust proofing was intended to prevent heavy corrosion, like on car frames & underbody panels, which saved cars from an early trip to the junkyard.
But nowadays, cars really don't need that extra rust protection-the standard corrosion protection on cars today (such as the "E-coat" dip process) is so much better than rust proofing could ever be, and it's really not worth the added cost, which usually falls in the range of $500 to $1000. Most car bodies today, even when driven in the rust belt, will last longer than someone is willing to drive it, and the spots that rust on cars now are often on cosmetic areas (such as the exterior of the vehicle) where rust proofing wouldn't help anyway. Plus, I've seen with my own eyes how poorly rust proofing is often applied, and because of that it really doesn't reach all the areas where rust can form. Even if applied well, water will still get around it and the only lasting effect will be getting sticky black junk all over your tools if you ever have to work on the areas where rust proofing was applied.
Then there is undercoating, which is marketed as a sound barrier and undercarriage protection. It's a rubbery petroleum-based product that is designed to deaden road noise and deflect stones & debris. Whether or not it actually deadens noise depends on who is listening, but it does give your chassis & undercarriage an attractive satin black appearance. Undercoating and rust proofing are often considered the same thing, and I would only recommend them if you like that black chassis look. For rust protection, they are obsolete.
- How do you care for convertible tops?
The most common type of convertible material is waterproof, denim-like canvas fabric. These can be scrubbed gently with a brush and mildly abrasive cleaner to remove dirt. Hopefully your top is black or some other dark color, which is easier to clean than, say, a white fabric top. When dry, you might want apply waterproofer to canvas & fabric tops-check your owner's manual. Many European convertible tops need waterproofing on a regular basis. A lint roller is also handy on fabric tops, especially after using a white towel on a black top. If the color of your fabric top is faded, there are special dyes available to bring back the original color.
Other tops can be made of vinyl, which is easier to clean. These too can be gently scrubbed, but abrasive cleaner is not recommended. When dry, vinyl tops should be dressed with protectant, such as Vinylex. Just be sure to use a protectant that doesn't run or streak too much, or the first rainstorm will rinse it off onto the paint. Most protectants will streak a little in the rain, but are typically harmless to the paint as long as you keep it washed. I've been doing just that to my Jeep's vinyl soft top for seven years, and both the paint and vinyl look good for the age.
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