Trim is anything the manufacturer or
you apply to the car to enhance its style and appearance. It is trim
that makes the difference between an otherwise plain-looking car and a
sharp automobile. However, due to the time involved in maintaining
trim, it is often overlooked.
Over time, trim that is not
maintained will become dirty, dull and worn, making the whole car look
bad. Well-maintained trim stands out and makes the whole car look
Common trim items include chrome
bumpers, window molding, chrome light rings, chrome door handles, rubber
door and bumper guards, window wipers, emblems and antennas. On
classic and antique cars, you might also have horns, leather straps, hood
ornaments and exposed exhaust manifolds.
Most cars made during the 1980s and 1990s featured some black trim.
Most black trim pieces are made of plastic, rubber, anodized aluminum or
satin black painted metal.
All black trim should be regularly
cleaned with car wash shampoo. If extra scrubbing power is required,
use a toothbrush, paintbrush or a soft detailing brush. Do not use a
stiff bristle brush on black trim, as it will scratch.
To keep black trim in good condition,
it must be treated with a protectant several times a year. There are
different treatments for different materials.
On smooth black plastic, you can use
any vinyl and rubber dressing. For best long-term results, choose a
vinyl and rubber dressing that contains ultraviolet (UV) protection to
prevent sun fading. I use and recommend Sonus
Total Eclipse or 303
On textured black plastic, use a
vinyl and rubber dressing. If your textured black plastic is
starting to weather, use one of the restoration products available, such
as Mothers Back-to-Black or Black Again Exterior Trim Restorer.
These products are not permanent solutions for faded trim, but they last
longer, make the trim darker, and add a little more gloss than most vinyl
and rubber protectants.
If your textured black plastic is
heavily weathered or faded, you can bring it back to life with a product
like Forever Black, which is a dye system for black plastic and rubber
trim. It's advertised as a permanent solution, but in my experience
it will only last a couple of years if the vehicle remains in the sun.
Also, don't think that Forever Black is a replacement for vinyl and rubber
dressing. It's not. After Forever Black cures, you still
need to keep the trim protected and looking good with vinyl and rubber
To maintain black anodized trim, use
a noncleaning wax or sealant. Anodized aluminum must be treated with
great care. The coating is very thin. Even the mildest
abrasives (polish and cleaners) will quickly scuff or remove the coating.
The sun is a problem, too, as exposure to UV rays will fade black anodized
Painted black trim is often difficult
to properly maintain. If you wax it, the original satin finish will
begin to take on gloss. If you don't treat it, the trim will fade
and become flat. The best solution I've found so far is to treat
satin black trim (windshield wipers are a good example) with Autoglym
Bumper Black Aerosol. Bumper Black creates a dark satin look,
wipes off to a greaseless finish, and won't soften the black paint.
Simply spray it on, allow it to sit for a while, then thoroughly buff dry
after with a detailing towel.
Rubber seals and moldings around windows, doors, lights, hood, trunk and
bumpers are designed to protect the car from water, wind and dirt.
These rubber components also trim the car to enhance its appearance.
If you do not maintain rubber seals, they will become stiff and brittle,
and will eventually crack or tear.
Clean rubber door, trunk and hood
seals with soap and water twice a year. Treat the seals with a
water-based vinyl and rubber dressing. After coating the seals,
allow the dressing to penetrate for 10 to 15 minutes, then dry the seals
with a clean towel. I use Autoglym
Bumper Black on seals. It dries completely oil-free, and the
aerosol spray makes it very easy to apply.
Some car manufacturers, such as
Porsche and BMW, recommend using talcum powder on door and hood seals to
provide lubrication. This will extend the life of the door seal.
Simply sprinkle a small amount of talcum powder on a small piece of
T-shirt material and wipe it onto the seal after applying rubber and vinyl
Rubber seals around windows, lights,
door handles and mirrors should also be cleaned twice a year using a brush
and soapy water. However, these "exposed" rubber seals
should be treated more frequently than door and hood seals, as they get
heavy UV radiation from the sun.
I recommend treating window seals
with rubber and vinyl protectant once a month. Apply the protectant
prior to cleaning your windows. Use a generous amount, and allow it
to penetrate before buffing dry. When working in tight areas, use a
cotton or foam swab to apply the dressing. Use a quick detailing
spray to clean off excess protectant from painted surfaces.
Many cars have badges or emblems sporting the manufacturer's crest or the
name of the automobile. These badges are easily cleaned with a soft
toothbrush or detailing brush and soapy water.
If the dirt is stubborn, use a
higher-strength cleaner, such as P21S
Total Auto Wash. Be sure to flush thoroughly with water after
using one of these cleaners.
After cleaning, protect the badge
with a coat of wax or sealant. Remove any excess wax with a quick
detailing spray and a clean toothbrush or detailing brush.
Car name emblems are often more
difficult to clean and wax around than a badge. Most often, the
emblem is a script that sits right on the paint. Waxing around these
emblems is a challenge, as a polishing cloth won't reach between the
letters to remove wax residue. In this case, use cotton swabs, or
wrap the head of a tooth brush with a single layer of cotton T-shirt
Door & Bumper Guards
Many cars include door and bumper molding that serves to protect the car
from door dings and soft bumps. Treat these pieces of trim with
rubber and vinyl protectant once a month to keep them in good shape.
Not long ago I discovered Wurth
Rubber Care, which has quickly become one of my favorite products to
use on rubber moldings. Works great under the hood, too.
Door and bumper molding should be
thoroughly cleaned twice a year with soapy water and a toothbrush or
detailing brush. Dirt commonly builds up on the bottom edges, in
cracks or around the small caps used to terminate the ends of molding
pieces. Use the brush and soapy water to get in the cracks as deeply
Plastic light covers scratch easily. After only a few months on the
road, light covers will begin to show signs of wear. To keep light
covers looking good, they must be regularly cleaned and polished.
You can clean and polish light covers
with the part on the car, but I find it useful to remove the light covers
at least twice a year. Doing so allows me to inspect the seal for
wear, check for corrosion, and clean the painted area around the light.
It also allows me to clean and polish the light cover much better than I
could if the part was on the car. Most can be removed with a
For thorough cleaning and polishing,
I use Meguiar's
PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner & Plastic Polish. To
clean and lightly polish light covers while still on the car (monthly), I
License Plate Frames
License plates and their frames should be removed from the car at least
once a year for cleaning, polishing and treating. You'd be amazed at
the dirt that collects behind your license plate and behind its frame,
too. A good time to do this cleaning is when you renew your tags.
With the license plate removed, you
can take it to a deep sink and give it a good scrub. After cleaning,
give the plate a quick buff with a paint cleaner or fine polish, and then
protect the plate with your wax or sealant. Clean and protect the
Retractable antennas, manual or electric, require regular maintenance.
The antenna mast should be cleaned and lubricated twice a year using a
paper towel or rag sprayed with a penetrating lubricant. Wipe off
the excess lubricant with a clean towel.
If the antenna mast shows a lot of
dirt or signs of corrosion, use an SOS pad before treating with lubricant.
Scrub gently, and be sure to rinse all of the SOS pad residue off of the
antenna and painted surfaces.
Most car fanatics love bright, shiny, polished
metal. There's nothing quite like perfect chrome, polished aluminum
wheels or bright exhaust tips to improve the good looks of a car.
Engine compartments with polished manifolds and other bright work really
make a difference, too.
While polished metal is great to look
at, it's not always easy to achieve, especially if it has been neglected.
This section gives some quick tips on metal polishing. With the
right tools and a little work, you can achieve great results.
Chrome is by far the most common bright work on an automobile.
Chromium, the metal used to chrome-plate steel and other metals, resists
tarnishing and holds a shine better than all other metals, including
platinum. Chrome has a single enemy: rust. Over time, chrome
oxidizes and develops rust spots. The higher quality the chrome
plating, the more it will resist rusting, but eventually, it will happen.
If you allow chrome to go too long without removing rust, it will become
Heavy rust on chromed parts requires
a decision: polish or rechrome. Replating small parts is pretty
easy. Simply remove the part and hand it to your local plating
company. A few days later you'll have your part back looking
like new. However, what if it's a
large part, like a bumper or a window frame? Replating a medium or
large part is expensive. Even modest-sized parts, such as hubcaps,
can cost $100 or more. If you think there's even a remote chance the
rusted chrome part is salvageable, you should try to save it.
Removing rust and polishing chrome
can usually restore chrome to a reasonable-looking condition. If the
rust simply coats and is not deeply embedded, the chrome should come back
to life. As long as the chrome is not flaking off, you have a chance
of saving it.
Most pro detailers use fine grades of
steel wool to remove rust from chrome. It's quick and easy.
Please use caution if you choose this route, as even fine (#000) or
superfine (#0000) steel wool leaves minor scratches that you will need to
polish with a metal or chrome polish to remove. Another product that
works well is the household steel wool soap pad. The soap acts as
both a cleaner and a lubricant to prevent scratching (use plenty of
water). Warning: Keep steel wool away from painted surfaces.
If you have rust in cracks and
crevices you can't reach, use a toothbrush and household cleanser.
Wet the toothbrush, dip it in the cleanser, and start scrubbing. The
abrasives in the cleanser remove rust very fast. Rinse well with
plenty of fresh water.
The final step for chrome is to
polish it with a good
chrome or metal polish. Use a polish specifically made for
chrome. With most metal polishes, a little goes a long way, so use
just a little dab at a time. Also, the best metal-polishing cloth is
soft cotton, such as T-shirt material. Cotton fleece, such as from
an old sweatshirt, works great, too.
Aluminum is an easy metal to polish. It's soft enough that even
the roughest aluminum parts can be quickly polished to a bright shine.
A few years ago, in a fit of craziness, I decided to polish all of the
aluminum parts on the top side of my 1989 Silver Anniversary 911's engine.
I went nuts. Everything was subject to being polished, including the
intake manifold and the distributor. It was beautiful!
Polished aluminum has a fault: it
tarnishes quickly. Most factory-polished aluminum parts are sprayed
with a clear lacquer, acrylic or urethane to seal the part. This is
very common on polished wheels.
If you're trying to restore a
polished aluminum part that has been anodized or clear coated, you must
first remove the coating. Many professional polishing shops use an
aircraft-strength stripper for this job. You must use these
chemicals with extreme caution, and never let them come near your car.
You can polish aluminum by machine or
by hand. When using a machine, such as a buffing wheel or buffing
cones, I prefer to use several grades of jeweler's rouge, which generally
comes in a bar form. Simply apply a bit of rouge to the wheel (while
it is spinning), and begin buffing. Avoid using too much pressure.
As the part begins to polish to brightness, use the next finer grade of
Polishing aluminum by hand, while not
as fast as by machine, is pretty easy. Use aluminum or mag polish
and a soft cloth. I like Wenol
for hand-polishing aluminum. Apply the polish to your cloth, working
it into the polishing cloth, and then begin polishing your part. The
cloth will turn black; this is normal.> Keep polishing. Use
a clean, dry, soft towel to buff the polish off of the part and inspect
your work. Repeat until you have achieved your desired results.
If you want to polish rough aluminum,
such as an intake manifold or a distributor, you will first need to
prepare the part by sanding it smooth. To do so, use coarse emery
paper, followed by medium, then fine. To make the polishing faster,
use 600-grit wet and dry paper (wet) as the final sanding step before
These polished aluminum Kinesis
wheels require polishing every six months to keep their shine. I
polish them with a polish wadding, which gets around the small details,
including the 40 chrome bolts holding the wheels together.
Prior to polishing, my wheels were tarnished and
dull. The difficulty with these wheels is polishing between
all of the bolts.
After polishing, the wheels are very bright,
almost like chrome.
Stainless steel is a wonderful metal. Although it does not
polish as brightly as chrome or aluminum, it will take on a good shine.
The only problem is that stainless steel is very hard.
A common use for stainless steel is
the exhaust system, including the exhaust tip. Many people choose to
cover unpolished stainless steel exhaust tips with chrome sleeves, often
for as much as $400. With a relatively new polishing cloth, called
Luster Lace, you can polish that exhaust tip to a bright shine in just a
Luster Lace, made by Luster Care, is
a patented, polish-impregnated material in widths from .5" to 1"
wide. To use Luster Lace, you wrap
it around a round or oval object (360 degrees), and pull back and forth
(like buffing the tip of your shoe with a buffing cloth). The
surface area of the cloth makes really quick work of exhaust tips and
other round objects. It's great on chrome and aluminum, too.
This stainless steel exhaust tip on
the bottom was polished using Luster Lace. It took less than 10
minutes to achieve excellent results.
Stainless steel is one of the more difficult
metals to polish. It is very hard, so if the metal has
imperfections, it will take some work to create a nice finish.
I was lucky. Although rough, the tailpipes
did not have any deep pits or imperfections. They polished
to a bright shine very quickly.
It's the small details that make the difference between a good-looking car
and one that's stunning. In a recent visit to the San Diego
Automobile Museum, I couldn't help but notice how the beautifully
restored, polished and treated trim on some of the vintage and exotic cars
made for a stunning display. Pay attention to your trim and see what
a big difference it makes in your car's final appearance.