Cleaning Car

It’s that time of the year again – time for the spring car wash.

The weather is warming, the sun is mostly shining, and the April rain has mostly eased off. It’s time to visit the carwash, if it hasn’t already been done – to get rid of the winter grime, the salt, the sticky film of early season pollen. Since I still have my car, I’m going to have my boyfriend drive me to a carwash next weekend.

One thing I’ve realized, since he’s been in possession of my car these past few months, is how much of a difference we have in understanding the nuances and necessities of car ownership. Washing a car, for example, is, for him, something that can be left undone. It’s not a necessity. And if it is done – go through the automat.

When I fell in love the first time, I remember being excited about caring for my automobile. I was talking about taking it to the automatic carwash. Someone in my family advised me against it. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Wash your car by hand. Dirt gets caught in the automatic brushes and foaming spinners. You’ll get your car scratched. It’s not worth it.”

So the first time I took a car through the automat was with my present car a few years ago. Definitely not worth it. Several light scratches along the doors. And the places that needed a bit of a scrub were untouched. I needed to go around and pick and rub off road dirt and bird droppings afterwards.

The first car I really loved I washed twice a year. Once in the spring and once, lightly, in the fall before it got too cold. The spring wash was a day-long event. I loved that ’78 Ford.

The driveway was gravel, so it was easy to wash at home. It was blue with a red vinyl interior, and, as a two-door, large windows. It was built back when cars were still mostly metal. My ’78’s bumpers were metal and chromed. Only a few clips and non-essentials were plastic.

Each spring for the years I drove her, I would put aside a Saturday to make her shine. First came cleaning inside. A vacuum to the floors. ArmorAll to the vinyl seats and dash. Glass cleaner.  At some point, I’d get the washing soap in a bucket – proper car soap, no dishwashing crap like we’d do at school fundraisers. There were soft sponges and cloths that had been stored away from dirt or debris.  The car air-dried after a rinse. Then a slow study around the exterior with a polish.

The first time I did this, after the car had been sitting two years in a garage, it took me six hours. The car didn’t have any real value except to me, but I thought that it looked like a million bucks after that work. As a kid just out of high school, I didn’t  have a lot of money, so the polish wasn’t great and by autumn’s end, a few months after wash number 2, the paint would have returned to that matte look.

My boyfriend, who didn’t learn how to drive  or have a car until coming to the US, thinks I’m crazy for wanting to wash my car. It hasn’t been washed yet this year, and after all the snow and being left on the street to be regularly salted by plowtrucks and traffic, I’m getting edgy. I’ve tried to explain wear and rust and upkeep, but he looks at me blankly.

I told him that this weekend, when we’re up visiting my parents, that he should be prepared to drive to the nearby carwash with vacuums. I’m going to use the pull-through wash with the various scrubbers and water pressures I can control. I’ll have to hope that the last person in there didn’t run the sponges over the dirt after they finished.

The car could probably use a polish like my ’78, but I won’t have the time to spare. But I want to do one last really good wash and clean while it’s still mine.