TECH TIP Technical Index

Cleaning and Detailing Your VW – Article #2

by Mike C. -

So, how’s the interior look? After you’ve eaten the bratwurst burger and come back, take a final look at what you’ve done and see if there are any other things you can touch up. Whenever you go away and come back, you usually will find something you missed earlier. Ahhhhh…CLEAN!

Now let’s turn to the outside of the car. For this job, you will need:

  • Wash bucket

  • Reg. dish soap

  • Car wash soap
  • 2 sponges or rags
  • Cheap paintbrush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Lg. scrub brush
  • Brillo pads
  • Simple Green

Start by squirting some dish soap in the bucket and fill with water and make some soap suds on top. Designate one sponge for cleaning wheels and lower sections that see more mud, rocks, and tar. Use the other sponge for the top of the car, down to about six inches or so from the running boards. That way, the sponge that has no gritty dirt will be used for the most parts of the car that really stand out and have the best finish. The key is to keep from unnecessarily scratching the finish. You should use the dish soap to clean the lower part of the car, and the car wash soap for the upper parts of the car. The car wash soap will not strip wax off the paint when you don’t need the extra cleaning power and will usually enhance the finish. The car wash soaps that contain wax will not protect the paint like a real wax job. They are only meant to enhance the wax job that is already there. There are several different choices, just take your pick. I have tried nearly all of them and the results are comparable between brands.

I personally like to start by cleaning the wheels, tires, and inner fenderwells.

  1. Spray Simple Green all over the tire. Try not to inhale any of the mist that comes from this stuff. You will cough ‘till the cows come home.
  2. Dip the large scrub brush in the soapy water and scrub the tires. Even if you have solid blackwalls, you will be amazed at the dirt that comes off the tire. If you have whitewalls, take the Brillo pad and scrub the whitewall portion. The Brillo pad will turn it white again.
  3. Rinse the tire thoroughly.
  4. Take the cheap paintbrush and scrub the area where the inner and outer rim sections turn in and meet.
  5. Use the old toothbrush to clean around wheel weights where dirt builds up at the edges.
  6. Now take the sponge and clean the rest of the rim and hubcap. Rinse thoroughly. If you have tar or other hard-to-get-off stuff on the hubcaps, or if you have chrome rims, you can use the Brillo pad here to remove the tar and brighten things up.
    Do NOT use a Brillo pad on any painted surfaces, plastic, or non-anodized aluminum wheels. The same goes for clear-coated aluminum wheels. You’ll scratch the dogfuzz out of the finish if you do.

    Under no circumstances should you ever use a ScotchBrite pad on anything. I have put scratches in glass with these pads.

  7. If you have a lot of brake dust on the rims, I highly suggest using the Simple Green. It will not damage the finish of the rims and won’t eat your hands up like wheel cleaners. I have found wheel cleaners to be too harsh for any type of finish and do not recommend them at all.
  8. Now wash down the inner fenderwells with a strong spray from the hose. Spray up in every nook and cranny to get rid of rocks, tar, and stuck-on dirt. If you never have done this, you will have mountains of dirt on the ground when you get through. Take the scrub brush and scrub the inner fenders. Even if they look like they’ve seen better days, you’ll be glad you did this. If you like, spray the Simple Green in there and keep scrubbing. Keeping the inner fenderwells clean helps prevent rust from forming by eliminating pockets of dirt and stuck-on rocks that trap moisture.
  9. Now wash the running boards and bumpers with the sponge. Make sure you direct a strong spray under the running boards, and scrub if necessary. Use a Brillo pad on the bumpers (chrome only) if needed to remove bugs and tar. Wash the rear apron area and scrub the tailpipe tips with a Brillo pad (chrome only). If you have a Jet Hot coated exhaust, just use Brasso metal polish after washing to remove any problem dirt. Don’t use the Brillo pad on Jet Hot coatings. Now wash the front bumper and lower front apron area, and headlights.
  10. If the bugs are really stuck on the paint, leave them for now (unless they are complete, whole bugs – peel these off first) and I’ll tell you how best to remove them later.
  11. Empty the bucket and rinse completely. Make sure that all the old dirt and soap is gone. Put a little car wash soap in the bucket (follow directions on the car wash soap bottle) and fill it up and "suds" the top layer a bit. Pre-rinse the entire car with the hose first. Now use the clean sponge and start by washing the roof. If you are doing this in the sun (not something I prefer but sometimes there is no choice), don’t wash more than half the roof at a time and be sure to rinse often to prevent the soap from drying on the finish. The same goes for any other part of the car.
  12. Next, wash all the glass and then proceed to the rear decklid and fenders. Go on to the front decklid and fenders. Finish up with the doors and front and rear quarters.

    Trick: When you are finished, turn off the hose and relieve the pressure. Remove the nozzle and fold up the hose to kink it (this will shut it off). Turn the hose back on and unkink it. Let the water "flow" all over the top, down the glass, over the decklids, and sides. This makes all the water run off smoothly instead of letting it sit in beads and spotting the car. It also makes for much easier drying.

  13. I like to dry the car using soft bath towels. If you got your VW really clean, you won’t risk dirtying up the towels nearly as much. Don’t rub the tires with the towels, or the towels will get stained. Just blot the tires to dry them. I like to start by drying all the glass first, then from the top, down. Make sure you get your VW good and dry, because we’ll finish by waxing and detailing the rims next article. Anyone ready for a bratwurst-flavored milkshake?

Your VW Maniac and tech specialist,

Mike C.