Winter may not typically be the best time to detail a car, but many seasonal climates have had pretty mild winters thus far. The next day that the sun is out and it's warm enough to leave your coat unbuttoned, you might want to take advantage of the pleasant weather and detail your car. This is a step above a basic wash-and-wax job, and can make a car shine like it's on display at an auto show. It will also help to protect the car's paint job against damage from road salt.
Detailing your car is a lot like spring cleaning. Instead of just tidying up, you pay attention to everything, from the dirt that builds up behind radio knobs to grime between each slot in the front grille. Since the days are shorter during winter, you might want to start with the outside and get that done before it gets dark.
Start out by washing the vehicle with soap designed to be used on cars. Regular household cleaners can be damaging to a vehicle's finish. Work from top to bottom, as the lower half of the car will have the most grime. If you start at the bottom of the vehicle, you can get grains of dirt and debris in the sponge you're using to scrub the car. This can scratch the paint if it is getting dragged across the vehicle's surface.
Even when you're saving the dirtiest part for last, you still need to take caution with the sponge or brush. Try to get as much dirt off the cleaning device as possible before bringing it back to the car to protect the paint. This is the best time to wash the wheels as well. Using an all-purpose cleaner and water pressure will serve to remove most of the build-up, but you may need to use a small brush to get anything that's really caked on.
When the car has been washed effectively, spray it clean with a hose. You can now inspect the body for signs of paint damage, such as chips or scratches. Minor ones will likely be removed with a good waxing job, but larger ones could need more work.
Next up is the wax. Channel your inner Karate Kid and get to work, but don't forget to pay attention to areas near bumpers, door hinges and handles. If your car's paint job is looking a bit dull, you might want to polish it before you wax. This will not only restore the gloss, but also deliver essential oils to the paint so it does not dry out.
On older models, chrome highlights and accents are actually made of chrome and need to be polished with a product designed specifically for metals. Manufacturers began replacing chrome with plastic pieces painted to resemble the shiny metal, and these parts can be waxed just like the rest of the car. This will protect the pieces from chipping and keep them shining as though they were real chrome.
Once the exterior is clean, move on to the interior. Clean out all the clutter, vacuum the easy-to-reach surfaces and use upholstery cleaner to get any stains out of the carpets and seats. Then, you can move on to the dash and door panels. For hard-to-reach spots, such as behind knobs or door handles, use a cotton swab or a can of compressed air.
Once you're done detailing your ride, you'll feel like you have a whole new car, and the exterior will be protected against any harsh winter weather.