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How to Detail Your SUV

The difference really is in the details


How to Detail Your SUV

Moose before detailing.

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Your SUV represents a big investment. You know that you have to maintain it in order to keep it in top condition -- regular oil changes, tune ups and tire rotations, along with suspension and transmission maintenance keep your SUV running well, and help to avoid costly repairs down the road. Detailing your vehicle is another form of maintenance, and while it won't make your SUV run any better, it will certainly make it look better and can ultimately have a big impact on the resale value if you every need to sell your SUV.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with the car care experts at Meguiar's at their headquarters in Irvine, California. They invited me down for a hands-on, one-on-one car care clinic, and suggested that I bring my own vehicle. I decided to bring Moose, my beloved 1994 Toyota 4Runner, because I knew that he would present every possible challenge that a detailer might encounter.

Moose had a hard life before I adopted him back in 2005. His previous owners didn't wash him on a regular basis, and he lived outside in the harsh Southern California sun. As a result, some of Moose's paint is damaged, and some of his other surfaces are in tough shape. I have done my best to stabilize Moose's condition, but I've never really done anything to restore the damaged surfaces.

Moose and I arrived at Meguiar's first thing in the morning, and were greeted by Mike Pennington, Director of Training and Consumer Relations, along with RJ de Vera, Associate Director Public Relations and Event Marketing, and Joseph Thomas, Special Events Representative, each proudly dressed in Meguiar's shirts. I pulled in to the detailing garage, a great well-lit space with ample elbow room, power outlets, cabinets and counter space to serve as an ideal detailing station.

During the day, we moved from the detailing station into an adjacent classroom, as Mike guided me through the conceptual aspects of detailing in classroom sessions, and then we went into the practical application by applying the concepts into action by detailing Moose from top to bottom.

The folks at Meguiar's take detailing and car care very seriously. The company was founded in 1901 by Frank Meguiar, and sold products primarily to professional detailers and car dealers before launching a consumer line in 1973. Now owned by 3M, Meguiar's still does its own research and development, creating new product advances that trickle down to the consumer line from the professional over the course of time. But even with a serious business purpose in mind, there's a foundation of fun beneath the surface. Mike Pennington repeated a favorite quote several times during the day while we were working on Moose: "Car care shouldn't cause a need for therapy; car care is therapy." Mike, RJ and Joseph all love their work, and their enthusiasm was contagious. I had a great time working with the guys at Meguiar's for the day, and Moose certainly benefitted from professional attention.

Most of the techniques, tips and tricks that I learned in Irvine apply to cars and minivans as well as SUVs. SUVs are simply a larger canvas, with bigger surfaces to care for and maintain. An SUV roof is usually higher than a car roof, and roof racks and rails present unique obstacles. Don't ignore your SUV's roof, or you may have to face paint failure. Add a sturdy stepladder to your detailing arsenal, and work your detailing day from the top down.

Off-roaders face more intense challenges, with heavy dirt and muck to deal with. Get the dirt off as soon as possible after off-roading, and be sure to pay particular attention to wheels, inner fenders and the undercarriage. Carrying around dirt can lead to premature wear on suspension parts. Dirt can even work its way into differentials and transmission components.

The best advice I got all day from Mike, RJ and Joseph was simple, yet essential advice: "Frequent care is easy care." The more consistently you care for your SUV, the less effort it will take in the long run. Don't let your SUV get into as bad a shape as Moose, and you'll never need an all-day car care clinic to put it back in order. Sorry, Moose. I can only blame your previous owner for so much, and the rest of the neglect is my responsibility. I promise to do better in the future.

Oh, yeah, one other piece of advice I got from Meguiar's, and it applies to many walks of life. Whichever products you choose to use on your SUV, whether they are from Meguiar's or from another car care company, always read the directions before using the product. Many car care products can actually do more harm than good if they are used incorrectly, or if they are used on the wrong kinds of surfaces and materials. If you're not sure about how to use a cleaner, wax or polish, call the manufacturer and ask. Most manufacturers have Customer Service help lines like Meguiar's Customer Care center. The Internet is also a very good source for advice and information, with numerous forum sites and manufacturer-hosted discussion groups to choose from.

The Five Steps to Detailing Your SUV

According to Meguiar's, there are five steps to detailing your SUV:

  1. Wash
  2. Clean
  3. Polish
  4. Protect
  5. Maintain

I'm going to cover each of these steps in a separate article. Yes, there is that much to know, believe it or not.

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