Protect Your Vehicle: A Guide To Exterior Car Care

There's a lot of information out there about the regular routine maintenance you have to perform to keep your car in stellar shape and running at peak performance. Everyone knows how important it is to have regular oil changes and tune-ups and to get your tires rotated, your fluid levels checked, and your air filter clean.

What about the exterior of your car, though? You don't often see information on the importance of maintaining your car's exterior, and yet this is every bit as important as engine upkeep. Not only does a great-looking car make you feel better about the vehicle you're driving, but it also keeps the body functioning towards its primary goal, which is to shield you and the parts under the hood from the environment. Check out this guide to exterior car care, discover why it's so important, and learn how to protect your vehicle from sun, heat, wind, rain, and snow.

General Car Care Tips to Protect Your Vehicle

There are a number of actions and preventative maintenance you can perform on your car year-round to keep the body in great shape. From washing your car with recommended products to keeping it covered and more, let's break down these important car care tips in detail.

Keep It Clean

Washing your car on a regular basis is the most essential exterior car care step you can take to protect your vehicle against the elements. Washing the car correctly, however, is something that few people do. Those drive-thru and DIY coin-op car washes can actually be very damaging to your vehicle, and they rarely do what you need to get it truly clean.

When you wash your car, take the time to do it by hand. Choose a manufacturer-recommended high-quality car wash and a soft cloth, preferably one with non-abrasive microfibers. A wash mitt and plush sponge are must-use accessories for washing the car. When you start the process, do so out of direct sunlight and make sure the car is cool to the touch.

Rinse the vehicle thoroughly before applying car wash detergent. This will help to remove any loose debris and dirt. As you go, wash and rinse in sections to keep the soap from drying on the car. Don't neglect your tires and wheels! Consider a paint cleaner, also known as a pre-wax cleaner or pre-cleaner, if you have stubborn issues like bugs or sap, but be careful: These can be abrasive.

When you're done, thoroughly dry the car using a detailing cloth or chamois.  

Finishing: Claying and Waxing

Your job isn't finished when you dry the car. Consider claying to remove tough contaminants and further protect your paint. Secure a clay bar kit and carefully follow the instructions. You'll need a fine clay bar and matching lubricant spray. The lubricant spray is essential — don't clay your car without it!

Squeeze the clay in your hand until it's soft and easy to form. Flatten it into a disc about 3/4-inch thick. Spray the lubricant over a 2-by-2-foot area, being sure to use plenty of lubricant on the area. Saturate it. Then give an extra light spray to the clay disc. Start at a clean area and work your way toward more heavily contaminated areas, gently sliding the clay back and forth, holding it down with the palm and fingers. You'll actually hear it picking up the contaminants. Don't use a circular motion, as this can scratch the vehicle.

Check the clay every so often as you go. If it seems full of contaminants, fold it over, then re-flatten it so the contaminants are inside and the surface is clean again. Re-lubricate and continue. Do this section-by-section, with each section overlapping the last one you did.

After the claying is complete, waxing your car is essential. Waxing not only restores the shine and look of your car, but it also protects it moving forward. Apply the wax evenly, in circular patterns, using a proper non-abrasive wax sponge. Many brands of wax come with such a sponge. After you have applied the wax, rub it off with a second, clean sponge. This will polish out your paint and leave a shine that also protects against damage from rain and sun.

Fix Scratches and Paint Chips

Scratches and chipped paint are a gateway to rust and rot. As soon as you see you have such a problem, fix it right away. You should be able to find touch-up paint to match your make, model, and year of the car so that touching up is possible without being too obvious.

Small scratches can sometimes be rubbed out with rubbing compound, but be very careful to follow the instructions on the can to the last detail, as rubbing compound can dull and damage your paint if overused.

Using rubbing compound takes some bravery, as you'll be essentially sanding down the scratch and then polishing it out. Adding a little soap and water over the scratch makes it a bit easier to sand out. Use an ultra-fine sandpaper, 2000-3000 grit wet/dry variety, and approach the scratch to sand on a block, using a 60-degree angle. You're trying to sand around the scratch, not over it. Keep the sandpaper lubricated with soapy water. Then wipe off any residual soap, dust, and grit with a damp cloth.

Apply the rubbing compound either with a professional orbital polisher or using a soft, clean, microfiber cloth by hand. Apply a thin coat over the scratches, covering them completely. Make sure you are out of direct sunlight while doing this. Rub in the compound with moderate force until it's invisible. Finally, rinse any residual compound. Your scratch should vanish, and the car should look great!

Exterior Car Care in the Summer

Aside from the basic precaution of washing your car regularly, there are special concerns to take into account during the summer when the sun is bright and the heat is high. The thing to remember in the summer is that in many ways, just like you, your car can get sunburned. Ultraviolet rays do a major number on your car's finish. They can cause paint to become brittle, fade, and crack, which leads to eventual body damage.

Ultraviolet radiation causes your clear coat to oxidize and turn cloudy. Polymers and plastics on your car can become brittle or warp. The most important things to do to protect your car in the summer include:

  • Keep It in the Shade: Avoid parking your car in the direct sun as much as possible. A physical barrier is the best protection. Keep it in the garage or park in the shade whenever you can.

  • Keep It Waxed: Again, waxing your car after washing it adds a physical shield to protect your car from UV rays.

  • Use Product: Plastic polishes and rubber protectants like those sold by BMW Of South Atlanta can go a long way toward defending your vehicle against solar rays.

  • Check Your Tires: Heat can lead to a blowout if your tires are under inflated. Check your air pressure once a month.

Protecting Your Vehicle in the Winter

The winter brings with it additional and unique problems. Not only are the cold weather, ice, and snow hard on your car, but the treatments used on the roads like salt are really bad for your finish. There are a number of things you can do in the wintertime to defend your vehicle against the unique hazards of the cold season:

  • Keep It in the Garage: Just like in the summer, the best way to protect your car in the winter is to keep it in the garage. This protects from trucks spraying corrosive salt on your car as they drive past and from damage by other cars speeding past on icy roads. It's also good protection from the cold to keep moisture and ice away.

  • Beware of Ice Scrapers: You can't always avoid scraping ice off your windshield, but it's much better to brush snow off with a soft-bristled or foam-headed snow broom, then use your defrosters to de-ice. Ice scrapers can scratch and damage your finish.

  • Wash Often: Washing your car often will keep the salt from wearing away your finish, and it'll keep it looking great, too! As above, keep it waxed as well as washed. There are UV rays in the winter, too!

  • Consider Coatings and Sealants: Paint coatings and sealants can provide an extra layer of protection against ice, snow, and cold. There are also coatings and sealants to protect your tires. These can last a long while and are a great extra shield.

Protect Your Paint

Whether it's summer, winter, fall, or spring, the basic tactics of keeping your car washed, touching up chipped paint, and removing scratches are all considerations you should stay on top of year-round. The single best way to keep your car ready to face the elements and running like a champ for a long time is to protect your paint job. Your paint and the clear coat over it are your car's most important line of defense against rust, corrosion, dry rot, and damage.

If you'd like more tips on exterior car care, including how to protect your vehicle and keep it in great running shape, take some time to explore our blog, and be sure to search our website for any parts and accessories you need. You can search by make, model, year, part name, or keyword to find the perfect fit for your car at an unbeatable price. Check it out today!