Words and photos by Andrew Coles
The British summer has well and truly arrived, and with the increased warmth comes far more frequent use of our MX-5s. But keeping them in a clean and presentable state is of utmost importance – for some reason, clean cars feel like nicer cars to drive. And part of making the most of this unseasonably warm summer is enjoying every moment you spend behind the wheel!
Here is our guide to detailing your MX-5 this summer.
Step One: Do you do it yourself?
First, you need to ensure that you have enough time and the right equipment to properly enjoy the process. Detailing your MX-5 should be relaxing and enjoyable, and if you are rushed or making do without the right tools then you’ll not only come to resent the task, but you’ll probably damage the paintwork too.
There’s no shame in letting the professionals do it – drop your MX-5 off to the right people, have a relaxing coffee or two, and enjoy driving away in a clean car a few hours later.
This would be a short article if it ended there, so let’s assume that you’ve got the time, tools and inspiration to do it yourself…
Step Two: Start with the interior
Starting with the interior first means you aren’t stepping in wet slush and dragging the vacuum through puddles. Work top down; using a microfiber cloth, dust the dash and then console, remove the mats and thoroughly vacuum the seats and floors. Clean the inside of the windows with window cleaning paper. If you have leather seats, treat them with a good quality leather conditioner.
Step Three: The wheels
The wheels are the dirtiest, so it makes sense to clean them first. Spray with a wheel cleaner, then use a dedicated mitt, bucket and brush to thoroughly clean them. If you have the time, consider removing the wheels to properly clean inside the rims. Ensure that the equipment used to clean the wheels never touches the paintwork.
Step Four: Pre-cleaner
Everyone hates bugs and built up grime, but not only is repeated scrubbing an onerous task, it can damage the paintwork. Spray the front and lower areas of the car with a pre-cleaner and allow it to sit for a few minutes – this will loosen anything stuck to the surface.
Step Five: Snow foam
Invest in a high-pressure cleaner that has a snow foam attachment. Snow foam will break down stubborn dirt and will remove loose dust before the contact washing stage – removing dust without contact will help to reduce swirls in the paintwork, especially visible on dark coloured cars.
Cover the car in snow foam, allow it to sit for a few minutes, and then wash it off with water.
Step Six: The two-bucket contact wash
The contact wash is unavoidable, but it’s also here where the majority of damage is likely to occur. To begin with, choose a good quality shampoo. Cheap car wash shampoos are effective, but they are acidic and will also strip any waxes or protection you’ve previously applied to the paintwork. Choose a specialist product.
Use two buckets – one with shampoo, and one with plain water. Take your mitt, soak it in the shampoo, wash a small section of paintwork on the same ark as the vehicle’s body lines, then rinse it out in the water. Repeat until you’ve covered the whole car.
This will ensure that none of the removed dirt makes it into the shampoo and will keep it from scratching the paintwork – this is especially important when washing during winter.
Step Steven: Removing debris from the paintwork
Industrial fallout and iron filings from train lines can become embedded into the paintwork, and now is the time to check. With wet paintwork, run your hand over the surface – if you feel any lumps or grit, you’ll need to remove them. On white cars, you may even notice a slight speckling of brown as the iron oxidises.
If your car has fallout in the paint, use a good quality clay bar to remove it. Follow the instructions on the package –time-consuming, but well worth the effort.
This step is not always necessary, especially for cars that are garaged or detailed regularly, but any MX-5 that is daily driven or frequently parked outside will almost always need a clay bar every few months.
This is a good time to use a wax remover to clean away any tar or gunk that is stuck to the paintwork – just remember to re-wash any paintwork that has come in contact with the wax remover.
Step Eight: Drying
It’s important to keep the car wet while you are cleaning it, and to then dry it as soon as possible to avoid water marks. A good quality leather chamois or detailing towel will work best.
If you have stored rainwater available to you, use it to wash the car or at least rinse after you finish. Rainwater has none of the minerals that cause water spots from tap water and will make drying the car a far easier task.
Step Nine: Polishing
How you approach the polish will depend on your skills, equipment and the condition of the paint. Even the best cars will benefit from a light polish before a show or club drive, and an MX-5 with unloved paintwork can be transformed with some effort.
A machine polish will always deliver better results than a hand polish, but you need to know what you’re doing. If you’re not experienced with machine polishing, don’t attempt it – you can burn through the paintwork, causing costly and irreparable damage.
Machine polishing isn’t difficult, but you just need some practise before you set on a prized vehicle. Watch some tutorials on YouTube, then go to a wrecking yard and buy some cheap panels that you can use to hone your skills on.
Step Ten: Sealing the paintwork
The paintwork needs to be protected, and the application of a good quality wax or sealant will keep your MX-5 looking nicer for longer. Apply from scratch if previous wax has worn away (it will usually last two or three washes), or regularly top it up at each wash. This is especially important during winter, when the wax will help to protect the paint from debris.
Step Eleven: The details
Now is the time to go around the vehicle and touch up the details. Apply tyre shine (avoid petroleum-based products at all cost – they’re quick and easy but will make your MX-5 look as if it’s just come from a used car lot), apply plastic dressing products to return trim to its correct colour, and clean the outside of the windows.
Step Twelve: The final wipe down
Using a waterless detail product and a clean microfiber cloth, wipe the entire car down to remove any fingerprints, stray polish or bits missed.
Step Thirteen: The appreciation
This is the most important part! Take a seat in view of your MX-5, make a coffee or open a beer, and appreciate the results of your effort.
It may seem like a lot of work, especially if you are starting with a car that has not been fully loved in the past. But once you get your MX-5 to a level that you are happy with, it becomes an easier task to clean it regularly and to keep it at that standard.