A Freshly Scrubbed Oldsmobile

Alright, alright, it was time to stop disgracing myself (and, more disgracefully, my brother-in-law Tom, who fastidiously maintains all his vehicles) with my unforgivably dirty car.

What can I say? I drive it to and from work, and occasionally take Vince for rides in it, and don't really give it much thought. With me, it's kind of all about the motorcycle. Besides, my commute is short enough (15 minutes) that the car isn't really in the "destination" category of my brain, so it's a little like the driveway leading up to your house -- You rely on it daily, recognize its importance, and hose off anything particularly revolting, but you're not going to lavish it with the care and attention you'd give, say, the living room.

It's kind of a thoroughfare to get from one place to the other, is what I'm saying.

But this is no good, for a couple of reasons:
- it's not fair to the car, which is a fine automobile deserving of at least *competent* maintenance, and neglecting it so that it expires before its time is not only lazy, it's wasteful.
- it's bound to get expensive eventually.

So on the expensive front, I do intend to buy my Oldsmobile some new shocks, which appear to be a little rough-ridin' these days, and a change of its transmission fluid, which technically should have happened a few thousand miles ago. Also the brake rotors may be warped, according to Penelope, who complains about the shuddering under deceleration that I barely even notice.

Until I bite the bullet and make *that* appointment, though, (this week, I hope) I can devote a little low-cost elbow grease to the cause of what my friend Kevin calls "lovin' on the car." It is important here that you picture Kevin as a South Carolina native, which he is, and pronouncing the word "car" as "core," like that of an apple. That's how Kevin says it.

Kevin's been resisting the familiar itch lately to replace his Saab convertible with something newer (or older, perhaps -- he has a soft spot for Citroen station wagons) and figured he could quell the urge by rekindling the interest in his current ride... detailing, hand-waxing, etc.

Here's how the Alero has looked for the last two months:

Bear in mind that this is *after* I ran it through the car wash. It was one of those "touchless" jobbers, a term they use because "useless" doesn't sound as good, and after I brought the car home, carefully swerving around any lurking mudpuddles or gravel patches, I again had to hose off my allegedly "clean" car in preparation for its Big Treat -- a waxing.

Now in some cases, for example with supremely irresponsible writer-dudes, there is a sufficient amount of build-up on a car to necessitate something beyond your standard rub-down. Sometimes the particulate matter from ten thousand miles of interstate travel and months of outdoor parking can accumulate on a finish and sort of solidify there, defying even the most determined scrubbing. And you don't want to just wax *over* these little bits of airborne fallout, as entombing them under a layer of carnauba will only protect them in their quest to wreck your car's finish.

So what they offer these days is the Clay Treatment. And the clay treatment involves a little bar of clay, about the size of a deck of cards, with the consistency of that stuff you use to mount posters when you're not allowed to use thumbtacks. You take this tacky blob and swipe it all over the car's painted surfaces, spritzing now and again with a pre-waxer to help it slide, and watch as the gunk peels off into the bar. Or rather, I should say you *feel* it peel away, because the primary result of this clay-ing business when you're done is that the car is smoother to the touch. More like a smooth mirror, less like an orangepeel with a skin disease.

It's like a woodworking joint -- you look with your fingertips; that's how you know when it's right.

Unfortunately, the Alero never came "right." I clayed; I cleaner-waxed; I followed up with regular wax. However you slice it, it's been six years since that paint was originally applied, and almost none of those were spent in a garage. Hundreds of tiny -- I'd like to say "microscopic," but they're clearly visible to the naked eye -- divots and specks in the black paint on the hood provide testament to the endless miles of highway the car has traversed.

Gouges in the rear quarter-panel evidence a handful of driveway mishaps. The rich tapestry of scratches in the wheels, ground effects and spoiler reveals every careless curb clipping and trunk slamming.

You might prefer to call these character lines, as I do. But they're there, whatever we call them, and when you're done waxing the car (and dragging a silly blob of clay over every square inch of it) you're intimately familiar with each one.

Which I kind of like. There's a world of difference between how I saw the car before -- which was basically not at all, or at best as a haze of dirty windshield in between me and where I wanted to be -- and how I see it now.

I have more appreciation for the materials it's composed of. The metal. The rubber. The plastic. Even the leather on the inside, which I scrubbed with conditioner on a clean towel this morning, and wiped down parts I was pretty sure were vinyl too, because hey -- why not? The wiper blades got a wiping with some Armor-All, making them lustrous and black and pliable once more.

Someday all these parts will sit in a landfill. Someday their useful lives will be over. In the meantime, I think, it's good to help them last a little bit longer, to work a little bit better. I think Kevin is right... sometimes you need to "love on your car" a little bit.

It sure beats just using it up and replacing it.


The first picture is the dirt that was still on the car *after* I had it washed and hosed down again and clay-barred: (I applied the wax with just this corner of the cloth)

Then there's the dirt that came off the car when I buffed off the wax...

And below you can see how it ultimately came out.

I hope it's good enough to make Tom proud.

Or at least less ashamed.


Alison said...

Oh she looks so pretty! I miss her. :( But I'm glad you are finally taking care of her. :) That's alot of work. I'm so proud! And I know for sure Tom will be.

-T- said...

I sure AM proud! YES!!!!! That's awesome. Just look at it! I never got it looking that good. And a few thousand miles? try 20k... You can't tell me the second picture doesn't just make the hair on the back of your neck stick up!