Automotive, Road Test Special, Tips & Advice

Best Car Cleaning Article – EVER!

According to the calendar, it’s Spring!  According to the thermometer, Spring is a myth here in South Central Ontario and we’re experiencing “Sprinter” (Spring/Winter). Regardless, in your region it’s either time to Spring clean your vehicle, or it soon will be!

If you’re interested in getting the best out of your vehicle in terms of performance, economy, efficiency, longevity, value and head-turning admiration, you should give it some special care at least a couple of times each year. That said, has decided to bring you some Spring Cleaning tips for your vehicle. (While a thorough cleaning inside and out could take you half a day, there’s nothing wrong with splitting these tasks up into more manageable chunks that may fit better with your schedule. Just don’t cheat yourself – or your car – do them all!)


Clear out before you cleanout. Grab a garbage bag for the trash and have a box or basket handy for all those items you will be keeping. Empty your vehicle of all the unnecessary bits and pieces that you’ve been carrying around. Throw out all the trash – check all the corners, crevices and under the seats. Check your glove box and give it a quick purge and tidy too – it’s amazing how many napkins you accumulate from the drive-thru! Put away your winter emergency kits, that bag of kitty litter you been lugging around in case of emergency, snow brushes, snowboards and especially those heavy hockey bags! Every little bit counts and extra weight can create additional drag which means your vehicle is less efficient.

Dust and Vacuum – In that order! Start by pulling out all of the mats – both the winter ones and the removable carpet mats. Now that your car is empty, focus on the dust bunnies. Since it’s probably been a few months since you dusted the interior of your car, you’re best to use some mild soapy water and a microfiber cloth (or the multi-purpose cleaner mentioned below)  to clean all of the hard surfaces in your vehicle. Employ a few Q-tips or an old toothbrush for those hard-to-reach tiny areas. Once the dusting/washing is done, it’s time to capture the remaining dust bunnies with the heavy artillery … that’s right boys … dig out the shop vac! If you don’t have a shop vac and you’re going to use the little lady’s vacuum from the house, you should be sure to pick up all larger bits by hand – aka – stones, coins, chunks of mud, etc.. Barring that, take a quick trip to your local car wash and use the coin-operated super-suckers there. Be thorough – really get into all the cracks and corners, vacuum the seats first and then the carpets (every good cleaner knows that you clean from top to bottom).

Mat-tastic! Don’t forget those mats … that’s right, the ones laying there on the lawn behind you! Shake them out, give them a good vacuuming and in the case of your rubber mats scrub them like crazy with some hot, soapy water and a stiff scrub brush. For carpet mats that have taken a beating, you can scrub those salt stains with soapy water too – just be a little gentler, and be sure to hang them to dry completely before putting them back in your vehicle (NOTE: Putting damp mats back in your car is going to create a horrible musty smell – patience is of the essence).

Spots and Stains – If you’ve had one too many meals on the road, dribbled coffee or soda on your seats, it might be a good idea to grab a bottle of automotive-upholstery-and-carpet cleaner and a soft scrub brush. Follow the directions on the label and it should be looking like new in no time.

Windows with WOW! You’ll have to agree with us that there’s just something about really clean windows! Dirty windows are not only ugly, but they can be hazardous because they create decreased visibility. Clean windows are easier to see out in glaring light, and your defroster can clear your windows faster if they’re clean. If you keep on top of your windows all you need is a streak-free cloth moistened with water – BUT if you’ve fallen behind, you’re going to need something with a little “grunt” first. We suggest mixing a solution in a spray bottle – 1 part water, 1 part white vinegar and a squirt of dishwashing liquid (about a tablespoon) – this makes a great window and multi-purpose cleaner. NOTE: the vinegar smell will dissipate quickly (TIP: Want to impress the ladies? Add a 10-15 drops of essential oil – such as lavender, coconut, lemon, orange, rosemary, vanilla or peppermint to the mix and your car will smell amazing! And, because this multi-purpose magic elixir can be used as an air-freshener too – just mist the carpets and seats to get rid of any funk.) Using a wet cloth and some of your new, natural, multi-purpose cleaner give your windows a good washing. WOW TIP: Finish up with a streak-free cloth that has been wet with only water – ring it out well and wipe your windows “dry” (if you’re using a good streak-free cloth the window doesn’t need to be completely dry -those minor water streaks are going to dry right up to a flawless, clear, streak-free finish … and you’ll have WOW Windows!  We recommend Shinex Glass Cloths – $2.50 for 5 at HomeDepot – in the cleaning aisle – and it’s just another good excuse to go to Homey-D’s!


By the time it’s warm enough to get out there and give your car a really good scrub by hand, it’s probably in really grubby shape. There are a lot of reasons to keep your vehicle clean and shiny – at Road-Test, we maintain that a clean car goes faster, so for us that’s top priority! Other good reasons include: looking good, feeling good, not getting grunge on your clothes or hands getting in and out, increasing the longevity of your paint and helping protect against rust and corrosion. So, without further adieu … it’s wet t-shirt time…

The under-belly:
Let’s face it – you know there’s a lot of winter crud, road salt and goodness knows what else under there. We suggest taking your vehicle through a good automatic car wash that includes under-car spraying – OR – for the do-it-yourself-er, dig out your lawn sprinkler (the fan type) and set it up under your car and let it run for a while in various positions.

Basics of car washing:

  • Always wash your car in the shade (premature drying leaves spots)
  • Use car wash soap, not dish soap (dish soap is said to be tough on your car’s wax AND car wash soap usually has anti-spotting agent)
  • Use a wash mitt made of sheepskin or a microfiber cloth – both are designed to HOLD the dirt – not just push it around
  • Use TWO buckets – one with clear water for rinsing your cloth and one with soapy water for washing
  • Wash wheels and tires first (once they’ve cooled) – if they’re really dirty use wheel cleaner – if not, just use THIRD bucket with car wash soap, along with a dedicated wheel brush and old cloth for this job. If you’re detail oriented – grab an old toothbrush to get into those hard-to-reach spots.
  • Always rinse the vehicle first, then wash from top to the bottom and rinse again
  • Often forgotten areas – 1) Open doors and trunks and wash the entry areas, 2) Wash inside and around the fuel filler door, 3) open the hood and clear out any leaves/debris that may have accumulated in the vents around the base of the wind-shield, 4) give those wiper blades a good washing if you’re not replacing them.
  • Dry your vehicle immediately! Use Drying cloths (Chamois are the traditional choice but can scratch paint) choose an absorbent waffle-weave towel or microfiber towels. Open the trunk, hood, doors and other hidden areas and be sure to thoroughly dry everything – otherwise you’ll see water drips and spots appearing a few hours later.
  • Finishing touches – No vehicle is truly clean if its tires are lifeless and dull! Don’t waste your time washing your car unless you’re going to dress your tires. There’s a wide variety of choices at your local hardware or DIY store – so be sure to pick some up and use it – it’s the icing on the cake!

Wax on Wax Off:
While rinsing your vehicle take note of whether that final rinse water beads on the surface and rolls off. If not it’s time to go all Karate Kid on it … break out the wax!


Summer can be just as hard on your vehicle as winter … just in different ways. Be sure to take some time and address your vehicle’s maintenance needs now.

  • Tires – If you haven’t already, change over to your summer tires and deal with proper rotation, balancing and pressures. Check tread wear on those summers before installation. Use the wear bars that are manufactured into the tire treads for a quick visual on their remaining life expectancy.  (Remember: once the weather hits a consistent 7 degrees Celsius you’re degrading your winter tires – so don’t delay).
  • Fluids – This should be done monthly anyway, but make sure your radiator fluid is ready for the heat of summer, you start using regular or de-bugging wind-shield washer fluid, and your oil is topped up or changed according to your manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Wiper Blades – Sleet, snow, salt and road grime takes its toll on your wiper blades so we recommend changing them out seasonally. Don’t wait until you have a tear or they start to streak – it’s a small price to pay for clear, safe vision on the road. (We love Michelin wiper blades and have found them better than RainX or anything Canadian Tire has on offer. Pick up a set at Costco for half the price of other blades.)
  • Air Filter – It’s surprisingly easy to check this one under the hood – a clogged filter ruins fuel economy and your engine can’t breathe as well, so take a peek or have a professional do it for you.
  • Cabin Air Filter – This should be changed at least once a year, so have your mechanic take care of this to keep your vehicle free of dirt pollen and other nasties. Autumn is hard on these filters, so Spring is a great time to change them.
  • Hinges and Locks – Stop squeaks and creaking by lubricating your hinges and locks with some WD-40 or Petroleum Jelly (We suggest Petroleum Jelly since it’s cleaner than grease and stickier than WD-40, so it will stay put and do the job!)

Copyright © 2014 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.