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Finally, it's time for spring cleaning

What's the fastest, most enjoyable, cheapest way to clear winter's grime from your car?

  • CarWash1

It couldn’t be put off any longer. Months of grime and salt would not disappear with the first rain.

My editor wanted a car-wash story but, far more pressing, my wife wanted a clean car. I filled the bucket and went outside to assess the challenge.

In fact, my editor wanted a comparison. He knew full well he could take his Chevy to the full-service car wash near his Mississauga home and have it spic-and-span in an hour, for $30 plus tax.

Ten minutes to drive there, 20 minutes to wait in line, 20 minutes for a platoon of cleaners to swarm over his vehicle inside and out, and 10 minutes to drive home.

Add half an hour for chatting to the manager and stopping at Tim?s, and the car would be a new vehicle in 90 minutes.

So how does this compare with doing it yourself? He wanted me to find out.

First, I went to my local PartSource store and bought some basic supplies and equipment. They cost $90, although they?ll last all year. Then I went outside and started cleaning our Toyota RAV4.

Noon: Turned on the hose for the first time this year. Relieved it works properly. Found a bucket and filled it with hot water. Spent five minutes negotiating with wife to use a kitchen measuring cup to measure 100 ml of Wash & Wax to add to water. Won her over by pointing out it?s her car being cleaned.

12:10 p.m.: Soaked car thoroughly with hose, then applied Wash & Wax with strange orange Raggedy Anne sponge from store. Negotiated with wife to use kitchen footstool to reach the car roof.

12:15 p.m.: Noticed new scratches on the side doors. Noticed strange red paint on the front right fender, from rubbing up against something red. Hmmm.

12:20 p.m.: Rinsed car with hose and then dried car with super-duper, $15, drying towel. It claims ?the ultimate in softness and absorbancy,? but it still got soaked halfway through. Considered using bathroom towel instead, but abandoned plan when wife reclaimed the measuring cup.

12:30 p.m.: Paused to chat with neighbour for half an hour.

1 p.m.: The outside is clean, now it?s time for inside. Pulled out rubber car mats and removable carpets. Waited for wife to go upstairs before sneaking Dyson vacuum out onto the driveway.

1:10 p.m.: Blasted the rubber mats with the hose to remove three months of salt and mud. Blasted hockey-playing teenagers on street with the hose to remove years of aggravation.

1:15 p.m.: Asked teenagers how much they?d charge to clean the car. They said $7 an hour. One of them is my son, so I know an hourly rate will be expensive. Went back to removing garbage from the car.

1:20 p.m.: Started wiping down plastic surfaces with special cleaning wipes. Much easier and more effective than a damp facecloth, and more diplomatic, too. It took four wipes to clean everything inside.

1:30 p.m.: Vacuumed carpet inside car. It was slow work with the Dyson until I realized there was a giant ball of cat hair stuck in the tube, and no suction. Poked out cat hair and then it was quick work.

1:40 p.m.: Found a toonie, a loonie, a quarter and a dime under the seats. Felt victorious over the teenagers.

1:45 p.m.: Tried to remove gum from the carpet beneath the back seats. Spent five minutes chipping away. Gave up and covered it with the car mat.

1:50 p.m.: A new teenager arrived to play hockey. Asked him how much he?d charge and he said $5, maybe $10 for the whole job. Told him how much the others were charging, and he turned to them with admonishment: ?You should do it for free,? he said, ?otherwise your dad will take the Internet away.? Paused to admire my neighbour?s superior parenting skills.

2 p.m.: Wife came out and said she needed the car. Looked wide-eyed when she saw the Dyson sitting on the damp driveway. Looked flinty-eyed when she saw previously unnoticed scratches on the now shiny doors.

?Well, this is okay,? she said. ?You couldn?t clean the pedals? Or the wheels? Or make it smell nice?? She drove away to leave me to tidy up the driveway.

So, 90 minutes to clean the car at home if you don?t include the half-hour chat with the neighbour, which is part of the pleasure of it all. Now I had to clean my own Saturn sedan, but this time I took it to the local self-service wand-wash.

There was no lineup for a stall and the machine promised 5-1/2 minutes for $4, everything provided.

It really was everything, too. The first four bucks gave blasts of tire cleaner, wheel and chrome cleaner, pre-soak, soap, and then a foam brush to rub all over.

The second four minutes gave blasts of gloss wax for the paint, anti-rust for the wheel wells, a high-pressure rinse and then a low-pressure spot-free rinse to finish, so no need to dry the car.

The high-pressure was good for cleaning underneath, and an extra buck gave an extra minute with the spot-free rinse, just to clean the last of the grime. Ten minutes to do the job properly.

Outside, powerful vacuums promised five minutes of strong suction for $2.50. One machine even offered shampoo and vacuum, but there was a large pickup truck parked alongside with a large guy cleaning his truck mats, in no hurry.

The garbage cans were full, but I somehow found space for the Saturn?s litter ? no recycling was offered ? and it took just five minutes to suck out the sand and grit.

If it had been a warmer day, I?d have felt pressured to get a move on by others waiting, but it was cold, so the pickup driver and I took our time.

Little packets of cleaning products were available for $2.50 each but I already had everything I needed. I came home to finish the job.

My wife had returned and the outside of her car was filthy.

The next day, I took the RAV4 to the local Petro-Canada station for a touchless wash. It cost $11.99 for the full works, which is $13.55 after tax.

On a sunny morning, each car ahead in the line adds five minutes to the wait but, on this day, there was no wait, so the car was cleaned thoroughly in 15 minutes, including the drive to and from the station.

Petro-Canada offers all kinds of deals on car washes, including a 90-day ?season pass? that costs $170 for a daily wash. If there?s no lineup and you don?t want to chat with your neighbour or caress your hood with wax, that?s still about $12 for a weekly wash, although you can use it every day. It?s more of a bargain if you wash more than one car.

But the wand-wash is a more thorough process that gets your car as clean as you like. For just removing grime, you can do the whole job for $4 with a power-washer and then a rinse.

Then there?s the intimacy of the driveway wash, with a hose and a bucket and sponge. You can take your time, enjoy a coffee or beer, meet your neighbours and get to know your car better.

It?s a date, not an appointment. On a warm day, you should enjoy it if you can.

Mark Richardson loves to drive cars and motorcycles, particularly to interesting places. A former editor of Toronto Star Wheels, he?s now a freelance writer who?s written two road trip books and frequently contributes automotive reviews and features to Wheels.

Stuff you need

If you?re going to do the job yourself, here?s what Rick Rose, manager of the PartSource store in Cobourg, recommends for a basic inside-and-out. Prices are full list, and most should last all season.

A bucket: If you don?t have one, it?ll cost $6, but there?s a special on now for 99 cents if you spend $20 on car-cleaning chemicals.

Terrycloth towels: All-purpose towels for lifting dirt and streak-free wiping. Better than rags, or raiding the linen cupboard. $10 for a pack of eight.

Dry-cleaning towel: 555,000 microfibre strands per square inch absorbs and dries more quickly than regular towels. This was a bit of a luxury but nice to have. $15.

Microtex chenille sponge: Thick orange ?tentacles? on one side get into all the corners, while the scrubber surface on the other side deals with bugs and caked-on dirt. Invaluable, but priced at $7.

Simoniz deluxe interior brush: Small, stiff-bristled and comfortable in the hand, this works out the dirt from carpets and fabric, ready for vacuuming. $6.

ArmorAll Ultra Wash & Wax: Rub onto a pre-soaked surface and it soaps and leaves a layer of wax, like shampoo and conditioner in one. $15, good for 18 washes.

ArmorAll multi-purpose wipes: Just wipe them on plastic and leather inside and they do a better job than a damp cloth. I used four. $9 for 25 wipes.

Stoner Invisible Glass cleaner: Quick and easy to spray on and wipe off, it doesn?t streak and lifts everything from fingerprints to bugs, inside and out. $7.

Turtle Wax PowerOut upholstery cleaner: Effective but not so easy to use, the aerosol packed in after the first spray and wouldn?t shoot foam through the nozzle. Made a mess, but cleaned up well. $8.

ArmorAll Tire Foam protectant: Another luxury, which I didn?t end up using on my soon-to-be-removed winter tires. Next time, I?d spend the money on carpet cleaner and an air freshener. $9.

How do they compare

Driveway wash

Cost of products: about $5 for a weekly wash on 20 weekends.

Time: 90 minutes.

Pro: You meet your neighbours and your car.

Con: You need a driveway, a nice day, and capital for buying the products.

Wand-wash

Cost of wash: about $8 for exterior, $2.50 for interior, $4 for products (over20 washes).

Time: 20 minutes once you?ve driven there, if there is no lineup, plus 30 minutes for interior cleaning after vacuum.

Pro: Quick and thorough.

Con: On a nice day, you?ll feel pressured to hurry at the stalls.

Full-service car wash

Cost of wash: about $35.

Time: 40 minutes once you?ve driven there.

Pro: Someone else does all the work.

Con: You?re paying for labour.

Automated car wash

Cost of wash: $13.55, if no discount for quantity, then $4 for interior cleaning products (over 20 washes)

Time: Five minutes once you?ve driven there, plus five minutes for each vehicle ahead in line, then an hour at home to clean the interior.

Pro: Quick and easy if there?s no lineup.

Con: You?ve still got to clean the inside.

  • Finally, it's time for spring cleaning Subject: Wheels story on car washing by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 10 of 10 On 2014-03-29, at 6:55 PM, Mark Richardson wrote: Wheels story on car washing by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 10 of 10 Mark Richardson vacuums his Saturn at the local spray-wash in Cobourg. Photo by Tristan Richardson for the Toronto Star. IMG_2994.JPG
  • Finally, it's time for spring cleaning Subject: Wheels story on car washing by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 6 of 10 On 2014-03-29, at 6:54 PM, Mark Richardson wrote: Wheels story on car washing by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 6 of 10 Mark Richardson washes his Saturn at the local spray-wash in Cobourg. Photo by Tristan Richardson for the Toronto Star. IMG_2854.JPG
  • Finally, it's time for spring cleaning Subject: Wheels story on car washes by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 1 of 2 On 2014-03-30, at 2:31 PM, Mark Richardson wrote: Wheels story on car washes by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 1 of 2 Mark Richardson's Toyota RAV4 gets its wheels sprayed as it enters the automatic car wash. Photo by Mark Richardson for the Toronto Star. IMG_3023.JPG
  • Finally, it's time for spring cleaning Subject: Wheels story on car washes by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 2 of 2 On 2014-03-30, at 2:31 PM, Mark Richardson wrote: Wheels story on car washes by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 2 of 2 Mark Richardson's Toyota RAV4 emerges nice and clean under the dryer at the automatic car wash. Photo by Mark Richardson for the Toronto Star. IMG_3033.JPG
  • Finally, it's time for spring cleaning Subject: Wheels story on car washing by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 8 of 10 On 2014-03-29, at 6:55 PM, Mark Richardson wrote: Wheels story on car washing by Mark Richardson for Norris McDonald, 8 of 10 Tristan Richardson washes his dad's Saturn at the local spray-wash in Cobourg. Photo by Mark Richardson for the Toronto Star. IMG_2936.JPG

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