Whether buying a new car or a pre-owned car, it's a significant investment, and you want to keep it looking new as long as possible. This maintenance is beneficial when it comes time to sell or trade in the vehicle for something newer. 

What makes keeping your car looking new a challenge is that it's constantly subjected to the elements, especially in Canada's harsh winters and road salt. 

With the right care, though, keeping your car looking new for many years is relatively simple. It does, however, require some time and effort, but it's well worth the investment. 

Here are some tips for keeping your car's exterior and interior in like-new condition. 

Keeping Your Car Looking New on the Outside

Countless car care methods can help keep your car looking like-new for many years. Let's dig into some of the tricks and tools for keeping that new car look. 

Frequent Hand Car Washes 

The basic car wash is the foundation of car cleaning and keeping your car looking new. Hand washing a car rids it of all the dirt, grime, debris, salt, bug guts, bird droppings, and other contaminants that can damage your car's paint over time. 

When setting up a car washing schedule, plan to do it at least once every two weeks. In some cases, owners will do it once a week, but that may be too much for some peoples' busy lives. 

Never try to shortcut this important process by taking your car to an automatic car wash. The brushes in these car washes often pick up rocks and other debris that can damage your vehicle. 

When washing a car, use the right tools for the job. Some must-have tools for a proper car wash include: 

  • Two buckets
  • Two bucket dirt traps
  • Microfibre wash mitt
  • Microfibre towels
  • Car wash soap (never use dish soap — it'll damage the paint over time)
  • Wheel-cleaning brush set (typically one large brush and several smaller crevice brushes)
  • Car window cleaner (Only use a cleaner formulated for car windows, as ammonia in household cleaners can strip the factory or aftermarket tint film)
  • Step stool or ladder (optional)
  • Hose with a pressure-building attachment or a pressure washer

During the process, open all the doors and clean out the door jambs, as dirt, grime, and salt tend to collect here and cause damage or rust. Plus, pay careful attention to the wheel wells and other areas facing the road. Salt tends to collect in these areas and can cause serious rusting issues. Hit these areas with a high-pressure blast of water to remove all that salt and debris. 

You may also want to consider undercoat protection. This adds a protective layer in the wheel wells, on the rocker panels, and under the vehicle that locks out moisture and road salt, thereby preventing rust. 

Don't forget the roof too. If you have a van or SUV with a high roof, you may need a step stool or ladder to reach it. 

Also, wash your car in the shade, as the water droplets can magnify the sun's rays and damage the paint. 

Finally, always dry the vehicle with two microfibre towels — one to collect the large amounts of water and one for a final wipedown. 

Pro Tip: Always wash and dry your towels and car wash mitt after each wash, as dirt and debris collects in them and can damage your paint

Touch-Up Wash Between Full Washes

You will have a full two weeks between car washes, and there's a lot that can happen during that time. From bird droppings to bug guts, you're bound to get some smaller messes here and there. 

Every few days, use a microfibre cloth, a bucket of water, and car wash soap to touch up these trouble areas. Leaving these contaminants, especially bug guts and bird droppings, can cause permanent paint damage. 

Periodic Clay Bar Treatment

Have you ever run your hand across a car after a professional detailer finishes their job, and it feels like smooth glass? This is thanks to a clay bar.  

We're not talking about modelling clay — this is specialized detailing clay with fine abrasive properties. When used with a proper lubricant, like detailing spray or water and car wash soap, it carefully polishes away all the fine environmental debris on the paint surface. This leaves behind the smooth-as-glass feel you can't achieve with regular washing. 

Clay barring a car is time-consuming, but the immediate results and long-term benefits are well worth it. Fortunately, you only need to do this about three to four times per year, but you always want to do it right after a hand car wash. 

Pro Tip: Does your windshield look permanently dirty? You can clay bar your windshield too and return it to the smooth finish it had when it was new.

Paint Protection

What really keeps your car's exterior looking fresh is its paint and clearcoat. These give your car its deep finish and shininess, so you need to protect them with car wax or paint sealant. 

Car waxes are extremely common at local auto parts stores and well-understood. You can get a liquid or paste wax, and they can be natural waxes or synthetic polymers. Regardless of the type of wax you choose, they all work the same way. Waxes create an invisible barrier that acts as a protectant from the elements — sun, rain, snow, salt and more — for your car's paint and clearcoat.

Paint sealers are similar to waxes, but they are always synthetic and last four to six months compared to several weeks to three months for waxes. Plus, paint sealants offer the diamond-like sparkle you see at car shows, whereas waxes leave a deeper-looking finish. 

Pro Tip: Applying wax or paint sealer after a good clay bar treatment can deliver a show-car-like finish.

Eliminate Swirl Marks

Over time, even the most cared-after car will develop swirl marks in the paint from washing and just general wear and tear. In many vehicles, these marks are unnoticeable, but they're impossible to miss in dark-coloured cars. Fortunately, you can easily eliminate these with the right products. 

After a full wash and clay bar treatment, use a light to medium car polish. Like the clay bar, this is an abrasive, but it's slightly harsher than clay. 

You can apply polish by hand with its recommended applicator, but you can also use a foam pad and a random orbital buffer. If you use a buffer, only use low speeds and never hold it in one spot for longer than a few seconds to avoid damaging the paint. 

The polish strips away a tiny layer of the clearcoat, taking the swirls out along with it. Once you complete the polishing, wipe the vehicle clean with a detailing spray and apply a wax or paint sealant to finish the job. 

Pro Tip: Rotary polishers are also available, but these require a special touch, as they operate at high speeds and can quickly damage the paint. An orbital buffer is the best option for a novice.

Watch Where You Park

You may be used to parking in the closest spot you can find, but this can sometimes lead to issues. 

For example, parking under a tree every day can lead to tree sap and other debris landing on your car and potentially damaging the paint. Also, birds frequent trees, and your car will be a perfect target for their droppings. 

Also, parking farther away can help you avoid parking lot dings. If you park farther away from an entrance, fewer cars are likely to park near you. This reduces the chance of a door accidentally hitting your car and causing a dent. 

Consider a Quality Car Cover

This topic is frequently up for debate because there is a lot of variation in the world of car covers. But, if you buy a high-quality, custom-fitted car cover with a fleece liner, you'll extend the life of your car's paint. 

Indoor car covers are great if your car lives in a garage most of its life. This will keep dirt and debris off the finish, so there's less chance of it causing small scratches. Ensure it's custom-fitted, as universal car covers will allow dust and dirt to seep in and can rub the debris into the paint. A custom cover will allow far less dust and debris through. 

If your car lives outside, you'll want an outdoor car cover. Outdoor car covers have more UV protection and are waterproof. Again, make sure to get a custom-fit cover with a fleece lining, as universal covers can have gaps where water can seep in. The water then sits on the paint under the cover and can cause issues. 

As an aside, an outside car cover also prevents harmful UV rays from fading your interior. 

Keeping Your Car Looking New Inside

While the exterior is what everyone who passes by your car sees, you and your passengers will also want to enjoy a new-looking interior. Here are tips on how to keep your car's cabin in top condition. 

Install Floor Mats 

Not every car comes with floor mats, but they are important components that can extend your carpet's life. It's far easier and cheaper to replace a set of stained or worn-out floor mats than it is to replace stained or worn-out carpet. 

You can pick up floor mats at any auto parts store, though they may not be a perfect fit for your vehicle. If you want a more precise fit, you can opt for custom floor mats available online. 

Watch What's in Your Pockets

Rips in a car's upholstery often start as small holes created by pocket-dwelling items, like pens, knives, and other sharp objects. Always check your pockets before sitting down and remove these items. 

Weekly Vacuuming

Dirt and debris can cause your car's upholstery to wear out prematurely, so one key to keeping this space looking new is weekly vacuuming. Using a shop vacuum or a household vacuum with an extension hose, vacuum the dirt and debris from the seats, carpet, floor mats, and crevices. 

Monthly Interior Detailing

Once a month, do a deep dive on the interior with a heavy-duty cleaning. Start at the dashboard with a microfibre towel and clean water to get off heavy dirt and debris. In the small crevices, use a toothbrush or a small paintbrush to remove any debris. 

After removing all the dust, perform a full interior vacuuming, then hit the vinyl, plastic, and leather with appropriate cleaners and conditioners. Vinyl cleaners will include chemicals that protect the plastic and vinyl from the sun's rays. The leather conditioner will ensure the leather or leather-like vinyl upholstery remains flexible and doesn't crack over time. 

For cloth seats, use a cloth cleaner with a scrub brush to loosen stains and blot them out with a microfibre cloth. Verify the cleaner is safe to use and won't damage your fabric by first applying it to a hidden area. Some materials simply don't take well to this kind of cleaning and can suffer damage. 

If your carpets need a good scrubbing, use a brush attachment for a drill and any quality carpet cleaner to scrub them. Alternatively, you can use a handheld brush and old-fashioned elbow grease to scrub the carpets. Use a shop vacuum to suck up any excess water and soap left behind in the carpet. 

Finally, clean the inside windows with an automotive glass cleaner. Don’t use a household glass cleaner with ammonia — the ammonia can damage the tinting on the glass. 

Get an Already Top-Notch Pre-Owned Car at Clutch

The biggest part of keeping your car looking new is starting with a car that looks new. All the hard work and cleaning in the world won't make a worn-out car look new again. 

At Clutch, Canada's first online car-buying website, you can get a quality pre-owned vehicle that's ready for your meticulous maintenance to keep it looking new. 

All our vehicles undergo a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process to ensure they look and run great for years to come. Throw in your careful care using the above tips, and your pre-owned Clutch vehicle will remain in pristine condition for years to come. 

On top of this, all Clutch vehicles include a 6,000 km limited warranty and a 10-day test-own period. If you don't love the vehicle within the first 10 days of ownership, you can return it for a full refund or exchange it for another vehicle. 

Check out our vast pre-owned inventory and find the car that suits you. We can handle all the financing and paperwork for you, and we'll even deliver it to your home for free.