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There's something about driving a clean, shiny car that makes your day brighter and more cheerful.
And somehow a car not only looks better after having been washed and waxed but seems to go better as well - even if it's purely in our imagination.
It is a fact, though, that the condition of the bodywork has an important influence on the resale value of a vehicle. So let's see what you can do to protect the gleaming body with which your car left the factory.
The kindest thing you can do for your car's body is to give it a regular wash. That gets rid of any deposits of road grime, industrial pollutants, tree sap and dead insects before these become hardened by the sun.
Use a soft sponge and bucket of water to which good quality car shampoo has been added.
Don't use a dishwashing detergent from the kitchen - it is specially formulated to remove greasiness and will also remove the layer of wax that you want to leave on the paint.
Before going to work with the sponge and soapy water, give the whole car a good rinsing with a hose pipe or a few buckets full of clean, cool water to flush away mud and coarse grit that might embed itself in the sponge and scratch the paint. Work only on a cool car and never in strong, direct sunlight.
Pay particular attention to places where mud can accumulate. Inside wheel wells, for instance. Mud will remain damp longer after driving in the rain, often giving rust its first foothold on a car.
Stubborn, dried tar and grease should be removed with a specially formulated tar remover that is available at automotive supplies shops.
A car should be given a thorough waxing at least twice a year after being washed. In spite of modern miracle waxes, many professional retailers still swear by Carnauba wax. A paste wax is easier to apply in a thin, even layer than a liquid wax.
If the top layer of paint is oxidised, waxing will have to be preceded by treatment with a slightly abrasive product such as a polish or cleaner, but this has to be chosen and used carefully.
Many late model cars have a clearcoat finish, which is a transparent polyurethane layer applied over a thin basecoat containing the colour pigment.
While this has certain advantages over conventional finishes, it does not take kindly to abrasive rubbing compounds.
To find out if your car has a clearcoat finish, gently rub an out-of-sight part of the paintwork with a mild cleaner. If colour comes off on your cloth you probably have a conventional finish. If no colour comes off the chances are that it's clearcoated.
In the latter case, you should only use a polish or cleaner clearly marked as safe for clearcoat.
Always use polishes and cleaners gently - just enough to remove the oxidised layer. Chrome parts should be cleaned with a chrome cleaner and then waxed with the same wax used on the paintwork.
Cleaning alloy wheels requires particular care. They are often clearcoated and the finish can easily be damaged by the wrong cleaner.
Stick to a special cleaner, marked as safe for all alloy wheels, and use only a brush with soft bristles. An old toothbrush works well to get into recesses.