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The Cobalt Unclean

The Cobalt's Dirty Little Secret

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

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I have a confession to make:

I haven't washed the Cobalt in two years.

This week, I embarked on a journey to remove two years of road trips and other sundry driving escapades from her, inside and out. I have literally never seen a car I own this bad before. There are layers — not one, but multiple — of pollen, tree sap, clay, pine needles, dirt, and bugs.

So many bugs.

I priced out all the supplies I would ideally use to achieve a complete detail job and found out I didn't have even close to that much money, so I was forced to pair it down to just washing the exterior and vacuuming the interior.

I was trying to do this for under $100 — and even with just washing and vacuuming it didn't happen.

I write this after day one of the actual cleaning. The process ended up being so much worse than I imagined. The caking was severe enough that I was pulling out clumps of debris so hard they wouldn't break apart when I dropped them on black top.

Initially my plan was to start by vacuuming the jams of the accumulated crap — but it wouldn't come off. After analyzing the baked-on crud, I realized that soap and water wasn't going to work, either — it was thick, hardened organic material, not merely caked on dirt. It required a multistep process where I dry scrubbed the seams with a soft detail brush from Mothers and vacuumed the loosened particles to get the thick build up off. Even with that initial step, it didn't come completely clean — but at least I can probably break down the thin film left behind with a strong cleaner like GreaseMaster, which won't harm the paint.

After three hours of work I'm still not done with the dry scrub and I'm pretty sure I scratched up the paint beneath the pollen/clay/sap amalgam a fair amount — and a black car covered in clouds of hazy scratches really isn't my cup of tea.

That's okay, two years ago — when I washed the car the last time — I had to remove some scratches using 3M Rubbing Compound (awesome stuff, by the way), which, while sufficient for light colored paint, does leave a hazy swirl behind on dark paint, requiring the use of a second, finer cutting polish to remove. I didn't have time then — or the money for that matter — to grab 3M Machine Polish or Scratch Remover, so getting an opportunity to remove those hazy spots now, won't hurt my feelings.

Since I still can't afford to go 3M all the way this time, either, I'll compound out the scratches and follow up with Mothers' Ultimate Wax System. It's a three-step process that starts with a fine polish they call Pure Polish, followed by a glaze with even finer abrasive particles in it they call Micro-Polishing Glaze (glazes can come with or without abrasives in them like 3M Hand Glaze), and finish it off with their liquid Pure Brazilian Carnauba Wax.

With all the additional obstacles, I'm now into this "simple" wash and vacuum more than double my initial outlay.

It seems that even with sufficient knowledge, skill, and planning, that's how my car projects tend to go.

I'll let you know how this one unfolds.


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