Details..., Details..., Details...
So, you're afraid of this thing they call Concours. "Why should I have some team of judges come around and tell me why or where my car's not clean?" Because it's fun and lightly competitive, and it helps to perpetuate the care and feeding of your beloved BMW! Everybody knows that a well cared for car (both mechanically and cosmetically) is worth more than one that has not been maintained. The following tips should help in several ways. First, it should help ease your tension about participating in a Concours. Second, you may pick up a few tips that will give you an edge if you do decide to participate. Third, you'll have learned how to squeak just a little bit more performance out of your BMW. What, you didn't know that? No one ever told you that by properly cleaning and detailing your car, you effectively reduce weight, thereby redistributing the power-to-weight ratio while lowering the drag coefficient, due to the reduction of "dirt" particles attached to the car? Why do you think race cars are always clean at the start?
How do you wash your car and what do you use? When washing a car, the surface should be cool and not in direct sunlight if possible; direct sunlight just requires more water usage or rinsing, as the soap tends to dry faster. A well-diluted mild liquid soap or commercial car wash product should be used with a soft terry cloth towel, wash mitt, or natural sponge. Avoid the use of cellulose sponges; they are hard when dry and become soft when wet but still may scratch the paint surface.
The car should be "sprayed" down with the hose before washing with soapy solution. You should wash your car from the top down -- never from the bottom up. You will find most of the road debris and grit at the lower edges of the vehicle, and washing from the bottom up will distribute this debris and grit throughout the surface of the vehicle, causing scratches. The terrycloth towel used for washing should be thoroughly rinsed and used for drying, as the towel loops will pick up dirt particles to minimize scratching the paint. You may use a chamois on your second time around the vehicle, but only on the upper surfaces. Don't forget to wipe down areas such as door jambs (fore and aft), inside of gas tank door, sunroof openings, and the engine and trunk rain channels; these areas are often overlooked by owners and so-called "detailers" alike.
For wheels, use a mild wheel cleaner, such as P-21S or Turtle Wax wheel cleaner, to help get brake pad dust out of crevices. Never use cleaners with high acid content, as they will damage your wheel's finish. Windows are usually overlooked, because they were "wiped" during the initial wash. The usual problem with windows is the accumulation of finger prints or film on either side the glass. At least it's easy to clean. I recommend, for the sake of time, good old Windex. I prefer the aerosol spray and the use of newspaper or paper hand towels, such as those found in public bathrooms.
Wax and Polish
When time comes to wax and/or polish your vehicle, the same cautions on scratch-avoidance should be continued. Again, use good, clean terrycloth towels or cloth baby diapers, if you can find them. You should also know that there is a difference between "polish" and "wax." Polish leaves a high gloss but does not seal the surface and therefore will not last very long by itself. If the vehicle lives a sheltered life and is not exposed to the elements, except when in use, frequent use of a polish may be all that's required. Wax on the other hand, will "seal" and protect the surface and the shine. Polish and wax may be used in combination to achieve the high gloss, cut down on frequency of application (work), and protect the finish.
The vehicle should be polished first with a product such as Meguiar's , 3M Imperial Hand Glaze, or Zymol HD Cleanse. Polish should then be followed by a pure wax, such as Harley's, Blitz, or Zymol, all of which are pure carnauba waxes. Believe it or not, Simonize is also pretty good. Two things to remember: if the car has been previously waxed, then the old wax needs to be stripped. Washing the vehicle as described above will achieve this if a good dishwashing detergent is used. Also, never use polishes, glazes, or waxes that contain silicones. Silicones adhere to the paint and make it difficult to repair or refinish, should the need arise.
Interior and Storage Compartments
Interiors take much abuse over time, due to the "ins and outs" of the daily routine and the effects of sun and heat. Protective floor mats, such as those sold by the dealer, are a wise investment, as they preserve the main areas of the original carpet. A lot of people complain about the cost, around $100, but they are a lot cheaper than a new carpet set. Carpets, of course, should be vacuumed and shampooed. Nothing special here; just off-the-shelf carpet shampoo.
Seat covers go a long way to protect leather from wearing and becoming scuffed on the side bolsters. Cotton-twill style covers seem to be easiest to live with and are quickly removable. Use of an inexpensive windshield screen or a Turkish towel is an inexpensive way to protect your dash from the sun's harmful rays.
Some of the safest cleaning items to use on your interior include Tuff Stuff and Soft Scrub, along with a mild solution of soap and water. Many of the so called "interior protectants" tend to leave a greasy or shiny finish. These are OK to use but should be wiped down after application to reduce the "sheen" effect.
If your car has a leather interior, then care should be maintained to reduce cracking and tearing. This is usually due to the lack of "feeding" of the leather, which dries out over time due to heat and cold. Your leather should be treated at least once a year with either Lexol or Hide Food. Application is simple and straightforward, and directions are on the package.
For those of you who require a little more because your leather has cracked or faded, then Color Plus is the item you need. Color Plus is a polymer-based dye that can be applied with a soft cotton towel (I prefer cheesecloth) or a pure bristle brush. The application requires a prep, which consists of wiping down the seat or area to be dyed with either lacquer thinner or Prep-Sol. If the leather is hard or dry, Lexol, Hide Food, or Rejuvenator oil should be applied first and allowed to dry.
Storage compartments see a lot of use and should also be protected. Not much can be done about glove boxes; if the interior surface becomes stained, it may have to be replaced. Other than that, a simple wipe with a damp cloth and maybe a few strokes with and old toothbrush to remove any lint or grit will do. The trunk areas should be protected when possible by an old blanket or rug. This is especially true if one is carrying loose or metallic objects, as this will help protect the interior carpeting and metalwork from damage. Trunk carpeting that has been stained can be cleaned with a good rug shampoo and/or soil and stain removers. If these fail, it may have to be replaced...that is, if it really bothers you.
This is an area that really gets overlooked when cleaning a vehicle. It can be a messy job, but it's definitely worth the effort. Get the engine warm (not hot) and use a mild degreaser such as Gunk or Simple Green to loosen the caked-on and built-up dirt and grime. Keep the cleaner and the water away from your fuse box and distributor; you may want to cover these with a plastic bag. Once the solvent has set for a few minutes, you may begin to rinse and wash the dirt away. I like to do this part with the engine running; that way, if I get water where I shouldn't, I'll immediately know it. Care should be used while performing this procedure, as the engine is running with the fan turning! A good place to perform this task is at the self-serve car wash, as they are set up to handle the subsequent runoff of gunk. More detailed cleaning on stubborn areas can be accomplished with tar remover or a degreasing solvent, such as Prep-Sol, or Zep. Kerosene is also a good choice.
Okay, that just about covers the basics for cleaning and detailing your car. All you do is add or subtract effort where needed.
The above also outlines the four areas that are judged in our "Top Only" Concours: exterior, interior, storage compartments, and engine. The term "Top Only" refers to the areas judged, i.e., we do not judge the undercarriage or wheel wells of the vehicle, and the engine compartment is optional. Should you choose not to show your engine, be aware that you will not garner the points provided by this section and thus will end up with a lower overall score than your competitors.
Cars are also broken out into classes, i.e., 02, early 3-series, late 3-series, early coupe, late coupe, sedan, special interest, and race car. All classes are awarded trophies for first through third places. We also have a "display/wash and shine" class. All cars in this class are lumped together, regardless of series or body style. They are then voted upon by your peers, rather than scored by a team of judges. This class is also awarded trophies for the first three places.
We hope this eases your fears and answers your questions about Concours participation. So whatever your car and whatever your class, get it clean, get it ready and come out and show it. Until next time...keep the shiny side up!