Keeping your car looking its best requires regular cleaning and maintenance. However, there are some common mistakes people make when detailing their cars that can cause damage or leave the car looking worse than before.
Now, we will go over the top 10 car detailing mistakes you should avoid to care for your vehicle’s appearance. We will cover mistakes like using the wrong products, applying too much pressure when polishing, neglecting certain areas, and more. Plus, we will offer tips on the right techniques and best practices so you can get professional-looking results.
Using Household Cleaners
It may be tempting to save money by using kitchen and bathroom cleaners on your car. However, most household cleaners are too harsh for a vehicle’s delicate surfaces. The strong chemicals can strip away protective finishes, cause discoloration, or leave behind soapy residue. Instead, invest in cleaners made specifically for auto detailing. Look for car care products that specify they are safe for use on finishes.
Ignoring the Wheels and Tires
It’s easy to focus all your attention on the paint and exterior when detailing a car. But skipping over the wheels and tires leaves more than 30% of the vehicle looking dirty. Use a separate wheel cleaner to break up baked-on brake dust and grime. Get into the crevices of the rims with a soft brush. Then wipe tires down with a protectant to restore their rich black color while preventing premature cracking and aging.
Using Dirty Towels
It may save a few minutes to grab whatever towel is within reach when drying your freshly cleaned car. However, using old, dirty rags and reused microfiber cloths transfers contaminants back to the paint, glass, and trim.
Dedicate specific microfiber towels just for auto detailing—never use the same ones you clean the house with. Wash microfiber towels often using a mild detergent without fabric softener which reduces their absorbency. Always start your car wash using fresh clean towels for the best results.
Forgetting to Clay and Decontaminate
Washing alone won’t fully clean a vehicle’s paint. Tree sap, bug guts, industrial fallout, and other grime create embedded particles all over the exterior. If you apply wax or sealant without removing contaminants first, you seal the gunk underneath for an inferior shine.
Detail spray, bug remover, or all-purpose cleaners won’t fix this. Use a clay bar kit every six months to draw out stuck-on debris from the clear coat for a perfectly smooth, cleaner base.
Not Drying Your Car Properly
Letting your car air dry after washing allows water to spot and leave mineral deposits behind. Use high-quality microfiber drying towels to gently blot moisture until the vehicle is completely dry. Take extra care to dry crevices, mirrors, and glass to reduce water staining. Don’t rely solely on chamois or waffle weave towels that spread water around. Properly drying improves wax bonding and prevents water etching paint damage over time.
Forgetting Glass and Mirrors
It’s easy to completely overlook glass and mirrors when detailing a vehicle. But water spots, fingerprints, and other marks on the windows and mirrors take away from your car’s overall shine. Give attention to these transparent surfaces by cleaning them inside and out. Use a glass cleaner formulated for automotive use to leave flawless clarity without greasy residue. Don’t forget to take care of foggy headlights and taillights as well while you’re at it.
Using Products Incorrectly
Whether you choose waxes, polishes, all-in-one liquids, or spray sealants, the car care product you use is only as good as the application. Applying too little leaves you without the protection promised on the label.
Putting on too much wastes money and time. Read instructions carefully and always do test spots first, especially on self-cleaning ceramic coatings. Correct use of detailing products prevents spending money to fix problems later.
Cleaning Under Direct Sunlight
Parking in the shade may add time to your detailing session but prevent frustrating results. Sunlight causes cleaning solutions and soap to dry out too quickly before they have a chance to do their job. Direct sunlight also warms the vehicle body and makes waxing or polishing less effective.
Find shade to allow each step to work as intended without the product drying out too fast. If shade isn’t possible, work in small sections to keep your detailing sponge, wash media, and towels moist.
Focusing Only On Paint
A complete auto detail requires tending to more than just the exterior paint—it means thoroughly cleaning every inch inside and out. Vacuum upholstery, carpets, trunk, and floor mats so grime doesn’t transfer back to freshly detailed paint.
Clean leather, vinyl, and plastic surfaces throughout the cabin using appropriate auto interior cleaners for each material. Finish by treating relics of past detailing like dried polish on exterior trim and dress tires for a flawless look.
Incorrect Car Wash Practices
Do-it-yourself car washes may seem convenient, but they cause all types of paint damage if used improperly. Brush scrubs swirl clearcoats, tire cleaners stain bodywork, and high-pressure rinses drive debris into cracks. Instead, rinse first using low pressure while the dirt is still dry. Use the pressure washer at least 12 inches back from the paint.
Then use proper car-specific soaps with lambswool or microfiber wash mitts–never stiff brushes. Rinsing before and after soaping prevents scratching. And always finish by hand drying with clean microfiber towels.
Considering top 10 car detailing mistakes you should avoid will help you get results that look like they were done by a professional and keep swirls, scratches, and other damage from happening. Follow best practices, such as cleaning the paint properly with automotive cleaners, working in manageable parts, and making sure you get every spot. If you do it right, the paint, upholstery, glass, and wheels of your car will shine.
Make sure you wash, clay, shine, and protect your paint regularly with good auto-care products that you apply by hand using very little pressure. Follow the directions on cleaners and protectants very carefully so they do what they say they will do.
And pay the same amount of attention to the glass, wheels, and outside trim on the inside and outside. If you’re patient and have the right tools, you can keep your car looking brand new without having to pay a lot of money for cleaning.