Give Your Car a Post Summer Make-Over

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Tips that will make vehicles shine inside and out; plus, the best cleaning tools

YONKERS, NY--Sept. 5, 2013: Summer road trips can be taxing on a vehicle's interior – cup holders and crevices are likely soiled with dust and dirt. The September 2013 issue of ShopSmart, from Consumer Reports, identifies five ways consumers can give their car a makeover without spending a fortune and the best tools for making it shine.

"Regular cleaning and maintenance can go a long way to keeping your car in valuable condition," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "You don't have to bring your car to a professional detailer to get the best results."

Five Car-Cleaning Tips

Don't wash in direct sunlight. Washing or waxing a car in direct sunlight can cause the paint to get too hot and can cause damage. Also, start at the top and work downwards using a lamb's wool mitt, gentle soap, and water. Lower surfaces are the grimiest, and dirt can end up lodged in the mitt, causing scratches. Give it a rest. Exterior cleaners, especially those for wheels and tires, stay wet for a while, and that can attract dirt when driving. Wait until everything is dry before getting on the road. Get into corners. Special tools aren't needed to clean out tight interior areas. Wood skewers and cotton swabs are great for small spots such as vents, seams, buttons, and switches and old makeup brushes also work well in louvers and vents. Deep-clean fabrics. Spray vacuumed carpets and cloth seats lightly with a foaming aerosol cleaner. After it begins to dry, use a vacuum to remove it. For an even deeper cleaning, rent a carpet extractor from a home center or grocery store. Be gentle with plastics. Use an ammonia-free glass cleaner on plastic surfaces, but be careful because ammonia may cause surfaces to bleach.

Top Car Cleaning Tools ShopSmart found that there's no reason to splurge on cleaners. But don't cheap out either, especially on products for the exterior, such as soaps, waxes, washing mitts, and towels. The wrong tools can easily scratch paint surfaces.

For the exterior:

CAR WASH LIQUID: Dedicated car cleaners are relatively inexpensive (about $10). Just keep away from dish soap and laundry detergent; they're too harsh for auto paint. CAR WAX: Nu Finish NF-76, $8, is a liquid wax that's durable, easy to use, and a top scorer in tests. The finish should last several months. GLASS CLEANER: Skip the vinyl and plastic cleaner. A household glass cleaner works just fine. Just make sure that it is ammonia-free to avoid discoloring surfaces. LAMB'S WOOL MITT: They're a very worthwhile investment, at about $20. The fibers are gentle on the paint, and the nap is deep enough to snatch up loose dirt and sand so that they don't rub against the car. WHEEL AND TIRE CLEANER: For stock wheels, get one labeled as safe for all wheels. Eagle One A2Z (under $10) was tops in our tests. To remove pitting on chrome and metals, use an acid-free dedicated cleaner.

For the interior:

COTTON SWABS, BARBECUE SKEWERS, AND TOOTH- AND MAKEUP BRUSHES: These items are perfect for cleaning vents, corners, and cup holders, and for getting around knobs and controls. A soft-bristled toothbrush can also help scrub out dirt in tight spots. LEATHER CLEANER: Be sure to use a product dedicated for leather surfaces; other cleaners can strip away the natural oils on seats and panels. Most cleaners also moisturize leather and leave a sunscreen to prevent fading. For fabric upholstery and carpeting, look for spray. SPRAY-ON FABRIC CLEANER: Look for foaming cleaners for upholstery and carpeting. MICROFIBER TOWELS: The "split" variety is extremely absorbent, with fibers that create crevices that trap water and debris.

For more car makeover advice, check out the full report in the September issue of ShopSmart; it also features tips for rim care, cleaning hard to reach crevices and more.

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