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Wilson's Auto Restoration Blog

6 Tips to Keep Your Classic Car Looking Show Ready

Maintaining your classic car or truck in “show ready” condition can be a challenge to say the least. It is also time consuming to detail a car properly even if it is a labor of love.   To help you keep your prized possession looking its best, here are six tips you can use to keep your classic looking great.

1. Clean the engine compartment and undercarriage.

When cleaning your car and getting it show ready, we suggest you clean out the engine bay first.  No point in washing or waxing your car first if you might splash grease and other engine grime onto the paint.  Here is a great article that explains how to properly clean your engine bay and undercarriage. In addition to covering up sensitive parts before degreasing your engine (sensors, distributor, etc.), it’s probably a good idea to try and cover the windshield and fenders while you are cleaning it to help avoid making a mess on the car and getting degreaser everywhere.

2. Understand Your Paint Finish

Prior to the 1990s, vehicles typically received a “single-stage-paint”. This means it may not have a clear coat over the colored paint unless it was added by aftermarket painters. Single-stage-paint is not only susceptible to fading but can also make cleaning and waxing your vehicle a risky task. To protect the original finish on your car, you should respray your vehicle with a base coat and if possible, add a clear coat finish.

Without a proper finish, you stand a good chance of damaging the original paint. For instance, if you wax a classic car with single-stage-paint, you might notice that some of the paint possibly rubs off on the waxing pad. Knowing what type of paint and finish your classic has will prevent you from going too far into the paint when polishing.

3. Remove Contaminates and Oxidation Before Waxing

If the current state of your classic car or truck allows, it is imperative that you remove all contaminates and treat any rust as soon as you possibly can to keep it looking its best. We offer two great articles on keeping your classic car rust free and how to repair surface rust on your classic car or truck.

If your paint appears to be shiny but feels rough when you touch it, you may need to treat the paint with a clay bar and polish. If the paint appears to be dull you probably need to buff it to get back the original shine. It is crucial that you determine your paint depth before you begin buffing. If you buff too much you could go right through the paint. The only way to fix that mistake is to have new paint matched and applied to the damaged area. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable about buffing your paint, we highly suggest that you leave this to the professionals.

4. Regularly Wash and Wax Your Classic

After applying either a clay bar and/or buffing out your vehicle’s paint you will want to wash it and add a new coating of wax to help protect the finish. Maintaining you car’s paint with a scheduled cleaning and waxing routine will help you maintain that show-car shine.  If your classic is stored and not being driven often you probably don’t have to wash it weekly. On the other hand, if you are cruising it around a couple times per week, then you should make it a weekly ritual to clean your car.

Even if the weather is perfect there are still contaminants in the air that can damage the paint on your car. Insects, for example, are likely to meet their demise on your windshield or grille. Bugs can be one of the most damaging things for a classic car and need to be removed as soon as possible. Hopefully they aren’t large enough to cause any scratches upon impact, but bugs that are left on the paint will start to deteriorate your paint and can even cause corrosion.

When it comes time to wash your classic car or truck you want to make sure that you have the right tools to make sure your classic collector doesn’t get damaged. The worst thing you could do is use something that could scratch your paint while you attempt to “clean” your car.

When washing your car at home make sure you use sheepskin or cotton chenille washing mitts. These will glide over your paint without causing any scratches on the body. They can also usually get into the smaller and harder to reach areas of the car compared to a brush or sponge.

You will also want to apply a good coat of wax at least once every 4 months.  Wax is an excellent way to add an additional layer to your paint job.  Buffing out the wax can be a time-consuming task to get a great shine.  Use that time to also inspect for bubbling, cracks, scratches and chips in the car’s paint job as you are buffing out the wax.  Be sure to address any damages to your paint job as soon as possible.  Any exposed and unprotected steel is obviously susceptible to oxidation.

5. Keep the Interior Clean

This might be the one thing that owners overlook when it comes to keeping a classic show ready.  After all, who is going to see the dust and debris under the passenger seat right?  And unless you have your trunk open, no one is going to notice if you vacuumed or not.  While onlookers might not notice, you certainly should.  A detailed interior is a sign of an owner that cares about the details.

Be sure to thoroughly clean the door jams and hinges as well as the door panels.  Seats, the dash and all other leather, vinyl and plastic parts can be wiped down with warm water and a mild detergent. Best not to use harsh cleaners on any part of your interior unless you know it is safe to use.  You might want to consider leather cleaner intended for car seats.  You might also want to wipe down any weather stripping and apply a protectant to prevent it from fading, drying out and cracking.  We suggest that you vacuum last as you will be in and out of the car with other interior cleaning tasks and saving it for last allows the dust to settle.  And don’t forget to vacuum and detail the trunk.

6. Cover Your Classic in A Garage

Just about every make and model of car or truck has a cover that was specifically designed for it.  In rare cases it may need to be custom made if a one-size-fits-most does not do the trick.  A car cover is definitely one of the best things you can do to protect your paint and help keep dust and grime from building up on your finish.

We suggest selecting an indoor cover rather than an outdoor cover.  Indoor are much softer and are designed to protect your finish rather than protect the entire car from outdoor elements.  We have another article that tells all about the pros and cons of car covers and goes more into depth about the different types of indoor covers.

Of course, an indoor cover is only useful if you have an indoor area like a garage to store your classic car or truck.  A garage not only helps protect your vehicle from the elements, but it also keeps it safe from thieves and vandals. Using a garage with a cover can almost keep your car in perfect show room condition. If your garage is damp or if you live in a humid climate, we suggest getting a dehumidifier for your garage to keep the moisture levels at a minimum to help combat oxidation.

These certainly are not the only tips used to keep classic cars looking show ready, however they are in our opinion vital to keeping your classic car or truck looking its best.

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