Cleaning the Beast

Written by editor on . Posted in Spring 2010

Story and photos by Herb Helbig

I’ve always enjoyed washing my cars. It’s time I spend by myself lavishing TLC on my favorite iron. I’ve noticed over the years that it has a calming effect on me, allows me to order my thoughts, gain new perspectives and think about things. It’s become a kind of Zen thing for me and I thought I’d share some insight on the subject. I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an expert but as I washed my VOI.10 coupe this afternoon, I kept coming up with ideas I thought other Viper owners might enjoy and benefit from.

I don’t normally endorse products but you’ll notice that I refer to a few along the way in this article because they work well and I enjoy sharing what I know works.
For me, washing my Viper is a special time and an enjoyable experience. It’s way more than just “washing the car.” I firmly believe in the “soul of the machine” and she enjoys being pampered and returns the favor with hours of joyous bonding on the road. It is very possible I might fire up a good cigar along with a glass of Jack to enhance the experience.

Although at first glance, washing your Viper might seem straightforward, it gets complicated when you break it down. Taking the right amount of time and the right time of day sets the tone. Making sure you set aside enough time to do the job right ensures that you won’t be pissed off when it’s over because you rushed. This is not about being pissed off but a strong sense of satisfaction and pleasure at the conclusion. So give yourself plenty of time. If you’re going to wax your Snake, following the bath, it might take 4-6 hours by the time you’re all done.

Typically, washing in the bright, hot sunlight is trouble, especially if you have a dark color car. Water spots and dried soap film create a mess. Cloudy days work well along with shady spots that kill the hot spots. Early morning or early evening sun also is acceptable. I enjoy the early evening when the sun is low and the shadows are long. This way you don’t have to worry about the car drying out.

Water needs to be the right kind, in other words, soft—softer the better. If I could, I’d take the water right out of the softener. City water usually works pretty well because it’s treated and is usually pretty soft. I have well water and even with a softener it’s still pretty hard. Use lots of water to start with. Soak the car really well, let lots of water run off and carry away the loose dirt and road grime. Don’t rush this part. Take a look at the beads of water on the car. If you look close you can actually see the dust/dirt on the surface of the bead. If the bead looks dirty, keep hosing her down—the car that is. The beads should be clear and show no trace of dirt.

I use plenty of soap in warm water, lots of suds. I found that Turtle Wax’s Ice Car Wash works well and seems to cut down on water spots. I use two cloths to wash my Viper, one for the show surfaces and one on the very lowest areas that pick up road debris. As well, I always do the show surfaces first to eliminate the chance of accidentally picking up debris and contaminating the water in the bucket. Speaking of debris, make sure your bucket has a screen about one inch from the bottom. This allows the debris to settle down below the screen and it won’t get picked up by your washcloth. Take your time washing panel by panel starting at the top. Remember, this is a labor of love. By working each panel you can examine the paint as you go and rinse off before the soap has a chance to start to dry. Use lots of rinse water as you work your way down. Once you reach the lower sections, switch washcloths. My definition of lower sections include panels that are exposed to road/tire blast etc. These would be the lower lip of the front fascia, fender-lips, underside of the sills and the lower sections of the rear quarters behind the tires including the lower section of the rear fascia. As you wash these areas, rinse your cloth often to prevent debris buildup. Do the wheels and calipers last, especially if you use some aftermarket wheel cleaner as it will contaminate the wash water. I usually turn the side view mirrors down so they drain. It makes it easier when you wipe the car down. I do this right at the beginning so the soap and rinse drain quickly. Treat the door jams, trunk and hood jams as show surfaces, but be careful because lots of grit can collect in these spots. Consider using a third rag just for these areas. If you use your show surface cloth, rinse it really well and ?do these areas last before moving on to the low sections.

Everybody has their favorite drying rag. I’ve used numerous different types of cloths including chamois, microfibers and even those Shamwow things the crazy guy on TV sells. I follow the two rag theory, similar to the wash cloths, one for the show surfaces and one for everything else. I take my time drying the car, trying not to rub too much but more of the gentle sweeping motions to get the water off. Here’s where it helps to be working in the shade so that it cuts down on water spots especially on the dark colors. A little sunshine is good as it helps evaporate the last little bit of H2O. The deck, doors and engine bay also get the wipe down treatment. I especially enjoy the engine bay as it always looks great when it’s all done. My car collects a noticeable amount of water thru the hood vents even though I’m careful with the hose.

I usually wipe down the interior using the damp cloth from the show surfaces to collect up the dust off the I/P and trim. I use leather wipes on the seats—they leave a nice finish and keep the leather soft and moist.

Don’t forget about the wheels and calipers. They should be treated like show surfaces but I use my low surface rag to take care of them. I am not a fanatic who cleans the inside of the rim. I take care of the show surfaces and allow the brake dust to give that dark patina to the inside. Yes, I know that the dust is corrosive, but in the course of hosing the wheels, most of it is washed away anyway.
When I’m all done, I like to sit back and admire my work, finish my Jack and smoke the last of my cigar, and revel in a job well done. Life is good!

Maybe next time we’ll delve into the Zen of waxing your Viper—also very satisfying.

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