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How-To | Car Show Maintenance


I know summer seems far off, but before long it’s going to be spring and then show season. It is the best time of the year for a car enthusiast. Everyone will be pampering, modifying and enjoying their vehicles. Meets, shows, cruises and rally’s…which ever event you’re attending, you’ll be sure to find a car enthusiast wiping down their paint trying to remove dust and dirt from the drive over.

Now in theory, wiping the paint will remove the dirt from the surface and the spray wax will make it shiny, but at what cost? The cost of that method is swirl marks, light scratches and over time– dull, lifeless paint. If you’re at a car show, you want your paint looking its best and resisting the urge to wipe the paint will go a long way.

My clients often ask me, “How do I care for my car once I’m at the show?” The simple answer is, don’t touch your paint. But is there another way?


The majority of paint marring issues start in two areas, washing and drying. By mastering proper washing and drying techniques, you can minimize unsightly scratches and keep you paint looking concours ready. To learn how to master proper washing techniques, Todd’s article is an excellent guide to help you clean your paint safely.

Okay, you’re back. Now you have the know-how and tools to clean your paint safely and make your car the envy of the show. So we know washing and drying properly is the key to clean swirl free paint, but it does require a few tools to complete the job–water, soap, buckets, wash mitts, wheel cleaner and the list is endless. So what if you want to clean your paint at the car show or anywhere else where you don’t have access to a hose, is it possible?

The answer is yes! There is a specific method called rinse-less car washing. Before I delve into this in more depth, I do always advise that you use a tradition wash method when possible, using the two-bucket method and lots of lubrication to release the dirt without rubbing it into the paint. In my experience, this method is the safest way to remove dirt and minimize fine scratches.

With that said, it’s on to the car show cleaning. When you’re thinking about the rinse less wash method keep a few of these questions in mind.

  • How dirty is my car?
  • Do I have sealant/coating protection on the paint?
  • Where will I be washing?

The rinse-less wash method is a great tool for cleaning your car when you don’t have access to a hose and your main detailing arsenal. It does, however, have some limitations. Always think about the questions above when deciding whether to use this method. If the car is too dirty or if the show you are attending is in a dusty area, then the traditional wash method might be better suited at home to eliminate potential damage.

If you’re going to a show, the morning before the event do a traditional wash and seal the paint with your favorite sealant such as CarPro Reload–which if you’re a car crazy nut I’m sure you will be doing already. At this point the car is cleaned, protected and ready for the show. Here are the tools you will need to bring with you to remove light dust and dirt from the drive over.

Presoak 5 Microfiber towels, add more if it’s a larger vehicle in the 5-gallon bucket and add 2.5 ounces of Optimum No Rinse (roughly 2 caps full). Then, grab a spray bottle and fill with water and 1 once of ONR. Take the 5-gallon bucket with your presoaked towels, screw the top on and lay it down on a seat in your car. You might want to put down a general purpose towel to avoid putting any marks in the seat. Lock the bucket in place using the seat belt, then grab the rest of the tools and hop in the car.

Once you get to the show inspect the paint, if it’s too dirty–leave it alone. However, if only a light film of dust is on the surface, proceed with this wash method.  Start by grabbing your ready to use bottle of ONR and mist one panel no bigger than half a door at a time. Wait a few seconds, letting the ONR encapsulate the dirt, bringing it to the surface. Grab one of the presoaked towels and fold it into fours and ring it out slightly. Proceed to wipe the panel using very light pressure checking the towel often for dirt build up. As soon as you see a line of dirt on the towel, flip to a new side. Then grab one of the dry microfiber towels and buff the remaining residue leaving behind a crisp clean finish. Do this around the whole vehicle switching towels often once dirt accumulates, and use one separate towel for the rockers and dirtiest areas. Use the dedicated wheel towel for all the wheels utilizing the same method.  Once the whole car is clean and free of dirt, if you want to add a little more gloss grab the Optimum Instant Shine Detailer and with a clean dry microfiber wipe down the vehicle in small sections using straight lines and no pressure.

Once the car is done, give the tires a little pop by dressing them with CarPro Perl. I always like to wait and dress the tires at the show to avoid possible splatter and any dulling of the dressing itself.

I hope this method helps avoid potential marring and keeps your car looking great. Always remember, if you think you might scratch your paint for whatever reason, resist the urge to wipe down and always go for the safest method possible.

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James Melfi
Holliston, MA
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5 comments on How-To | Car Show Maintenance

  1. Kevin George says:

    Great topic James! Car shows typically drive me crazy seeing a guy with a really nice car pull out that dirty mf towel from his trunk that has been in there for years wipe down his car with quick detailer or even worse is the California Duster! I literally don’t touch my car once I am at a show.

  2. Phil says:

    This looks like Larz Anderson park in Brookline?

  3. Peter says:

    Do you enter a car in the shows James, or do you just go as a spectator? I try to make it there a few times during the summer. It would be cool to see car there owned by one of the Pro Detailers from this blog.

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