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Clean and valet your SAAB effectively: introduction

Washing the car is a time honoured weekend routine that many of us have carried out since schooldays, when the family car still had chrome bumpers and hub caps to clean and polish. Some regard it as a bit of a chore and either use a car wash (not good!) or else may just use a professional valet or detailing service. Either way, it makes sense to keep your SAAB looking good for not only will you help maintain the value but there is the additional benefit that a smart-looking car is less likely to attract the attentions of a highway patrol. In Russia, it is an offence to drive a dirty vehicle but here in the UK, traffic officers told the author that it doesn't take Clousseau to deduce that a car covered in bird droppings or in a filthy condition may not have been driven in a while and as such may not be licensed, insured or well-maintained.

Commercial car washes, as commonly encountered at petrol stations, represent a substantial investment with on-going running costs.  Roller type car washes are quite efficient at removing the grime from your car but can be unkind to mirrors and aerials. The cost of renewing a roller brush is considerable, so it makes sense to get the maximum use from them before replacement. Unfortunately, close study of vehicle bodywork routinely subject to rotary car washes reveals a profusion of tiny scratches, mostly caused by nylon bristles that have broken off. Pressure washing is equally risky because there is a risk that paint can be lifted from panels and wheel trims but safety experts warn that tyres can be weakened dangerously by pressure washing, so this is best avoided.

The difference: cleaning, valeting and detailing

Having established that it is best to avoid rotary brush car washes and that pressure washers need using with care, it seems that cleaning by hand is the best way to keep your car looking good in the long run. Whether you wish to clean and valet your own car or not, the scope of the operation needs to be established. Basically, there are three degrees, namely, cleaning, valeting and detailing. Cleaning is the quick fix ‘lick and a promise’ approach that should include washing and finishing the bodywork and glass with a wash leather.  Leathering is essential because droplets of water can mark paintwork to leave behind residues –the same sort that cause limescale in pipes and heating systems. Inside the car, basic cleaning will involve nothing more than removing all clutter, emptying the ashtrays, tipping all the grit/dirt from the floor mats into the nearest bin and vacuuming the cabin.

Just some of the kit a pro might use on just the vehicle bodywork

Valeting is a more thorough process altogether because it should involve treating the interior and exterior but not necessarily the engine bay or underneath.

Exterior bodywork should be washed, along with door shuts, then the body should be either waxed (sealant) or polished (a mildly abrasive process that will tend to restore slightly faded paintwork). In addition, the glass should be cleaned inside and out with a spirit or cream polish and plastic mouldings, trims and bumpers should be restored with some form of dressing. 

The wheels too, should come in for special attention. Believe it or not, effective cleaning and preparation of wheels and windows makes a big difference to a vehicle’s overall appearance. Valeting the inside of the vehicle would typically involve treating all internal surfaces (including leather seat facings). The luggage boot would also be cleaned to some degree, dependent upon the time allocated and the cost of the job.

Detailing is the most thorough cleaning regime and typically would take a full working day or more to complete. Detailing involves almost obsessive attention to every area of the car –though may specifically exclude work under the bonnet. An example may be seen by a detailers approach to tackling a superficially clean looking vehicle exterior. The bodywork would be washed carefully and leathered and the wheels and doorshuts would be treated with detergents and degreasers. Further work on the body might include use of a clay bar (requires care) to remove tar, tree sap and other contaminants, followed by a mildly abrasive polish, which might in turn be over-coated with a glaze or sealing wax (typically carnauba). Some preparations are trade only because the risk that the user may not use the product correctly is too great but others, while available, are prohibitively expensive.

Type Pros Cons Time Typical cost
Quick, cheap and easy-ish

Only scratches
the surface (not
literally, we hope!)

A quick wash & vac
operation should
take around 1hr.
FREE if DIY or from
£10 or so, depending
upon location
Good results and very cost
Costs more in terms of time and materials
3-5 hrs or more but
dependent on the number of staff.
FREE if DIY or from £55-75, depending on
Should result in the best
possible appearance both
inside and out.
Car off the road longer
At least one whole day but possibly much longer

FREE if DIY or from £85 but the best will cost
several hundred £££s


Coming soon: in Part 1, we get our hands dirty, tackling the outside of a SAAB 9-5, as we show you how a professional detailer works and how you can apply some of the knowledge to achieve a showroom finish on your SAAB.


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