Vehicle Care

This article outlines options for prolonging the life and looks of your vehicle - especially one that is used for outback travelling where it is subjected to temperature extremes, excessive dust, dirt, mud and even salt water.

Caring for Your Vehicle

Whether you drive a top of the line luxury model, or a bush beast, all vehicles benefit from a little care. Protecting your vehicle against the elements under a carport or garage or at home is usually straightforward, but when embarking on an extended trip one should think about the effects of prolonged temperature extremes, UV rays, dust, mud and maybe even salt spray, and water submerssion and how you might find alternative ways to protect your vehicle to minimise the damage such a trip may make upon your vehicles interior and exterior.

Since caravan parks and bush camps don't come with garages you could consider additional rust preventatives or covers to protect the exterior. The interior will also gather excess dust so seats should be covered to minimise permanent damage and to simplify the post-trip cleaning process.

Once you have returned from your trek, a thorough interior and exterior clean is a must. High pressure cleaners are not widely available in country towns and after a trip through dusty or muddy roads, and importantly where any salt from sands or water may have reached the chasis or splashed up into the engine bay you should immediately remove all residue to minimise damage.

A vehicle service that includes a tune-up, changing the oil, changing all the filters and a safety check should be the minimum. Checking brakes, wheel bearings, fans and belts, rotating tyres, in fact all working parts should be checked, cleaned and maintained. Even if you are not mechanically minded, it is advisable to get to know your vehicle.

Rust Prevention

What is Rust?

Rust is a common form of corrosion, which attacks steel especially when the material is untreated and is constantly exposed to air and water particles. Any vehicle that is used by travellers, and especially four wheel drives, are highly prone to rust due to the typical outdoor conditions in which they are used. Beach driving for example, is one of the worst scenarios because salt (sodium chloride) can accelerate the rusting process.

The age old method for protecting steel against rust has always been with paint, oil or grease. Advances in chemical technology has led to more choices when it comes to rust prevention and these include; water based, oil or solvent based, lanolin based and wax based products.

Water Based

Some products that are water based work by converting rust to a stable black surface of Iron Tannate/Haematite (Fe2O3) and Magnetite (Fe3O4). It basically converts rust to a stable, non-growing material, which is black in appearance. Being a water based product, it acts as a travelling agent for the tannin chemicals to penetrate the porous rust. It's also claimed to work more efficiently because it works through the rust and not just on the surface as some other products do.

Oil or Solvent Based

The popular WD-40 is a common example of this type of product. They are generally used for lubrication and rust prevention by leaving a light oily protective film on the surface.

Lanolin Based

Lanolin is a natural greasy yellow substance derived from wool-bearing animals. It is commonly used in skin ointments and shoe polish because it acts as a water proofing agent. Many people have reported that Lanolin based products can provide a very adequate protection barrier against rust.

Wax Based

These products are used by car manufacturers and are applied through small holes which are later sealed. This product is usually sprayed under pressure and can penetrate seams and cavities to provide a protective barrier which seals out air, moisture, salt and dust. Wax based products are usually clean and odourless and can also acts as a rust neutraliser.

Electronic Rust Prevention

The problem with such treatments that cover the surface is they can eventually chip, break down or just wash away. It's also very hard to 100 percent fully protect and coat every panel, seam or bolt from the elements. Salt water from ocean spray and wet mud from a shallow creek crossing will easily find ways into the vehicle's nooks and crannies which can be quite difficult to remove and clean. This build-up will act as moisture traps and if they are not removed, the potential for rust to develop is substantially increased. One option that seems to be gaining incredible popularity is electronic rust prevention. These devices are designed to help prevent rust from growing on metallic panels and objects by means of electricity. These small units apply a measurable current (about as much current as an LCD clock) to every metallic component of the vehicle that’s earthed to a battery. It creates an electrostatic field that helps keep the metallic components and surfaces electron-rich. It works by generating a high-frequency negative electric charge to these components, which in turn, slows and retards the oxidisation or rusting process. It slows it down because these free electrons are used instead of depleting the electrons from the metal. Seams and welds are areas in a vehicle that’s susceptible to rusting and considering some vehicles can have over 3000 welds, electronic rust protection seems logical.

Some other advantages of electronic rust prevention are:
  • Can eliminate static shocks from your car

  • Air-borne dust will no longer be attracted to your car

  • Not even scratches in the paintwork will rust
Obviously a car that is rust free will give the owner a higher resale value because it looks better and is much safer. When it comes to rust – “prevention is better than cure”.

Salt Corrosion

Driving on the beach and around ocean spray can leave films of salt on your vehicle. This film of salt, which is the first stage of corrosion, bonds to your vehicle. There are a few products on the market that work; by deactivating, dissolving and removing this film. Although these cleaners are specifically designed to remove stubborn salt build up, some can also be used as a general purpose cleaner to remove mild to medium soils, grease and hydrocarbons. Both the vehicle's body work and undercarriage must be protected from salt damage.

Exterior Care

When it comes to providing exterior care for your vehicle, there are many things to consider. You may ask yourself things like; what are suitable cleaning agents for cleaning the vehicle? What about the tyres and the chrome bullbar? How often should I clean the vehicle and should I wipe it dry afterwards?
There is no real right or wrong way to do these duties; however, you can obtain professional results with the right products and equipment. There are also some products out there that may be detrimental to your paintwork so always carefully read the product label and look for additional advice.

Where to Wash?

It is a preferable idea to wash your vehicle in a cool shady spot or in the sunshine of a mild to warm day, rather than a 40 plus degree day and directly under the sun. If your vehicle is very hot to touch, then good chance the water droplets will evaporate or boil quickly and cause streaking and water spots. These water stains in the paintwork can be quite tough to remove so prevention is better.


When washing your vehicle, it is a good idea to use proper car washing detergent. You may unintentionally breakdown the good grease from your vehicle by using detergent that’s intended for the dishes in your kitchen. Firstly wet the vehicle to help loosen and saturate the dirt and grime. Mix up a bucket of preferably warm soapy water and follow the instructions carefully with the amount directed on the car-wash detergent label. Work from top to bottom in circular and side to side motions using a high quality wash mitt or a large sponge. This will prevent tracking dirt from the lower part of the car onto the sides, where it can scratch. Dry all panelling with a synthetic chamois and dry all door jambs with a clean, soft, 100% cotton terry towel.

Important note: If you are out in the outback or the country, washing with detergents or any other pollutants in or near creeks or rivers is a big no no. This water supply is usually a source of drinking water for farmers and their livestock.

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

There are many products out there that are biodegradable and friendly to our environment. Some of these products contain a concentration of plant and vegetable based ingredients such as citrus oils. It is advisable to follow the directions carefully for the mix ratios because the wrong mix could be damaging to paintwork, plastics and vinyl. Remember to treat your paintwork like your skin and be extra vigilant of ingredients that may be used in a product to help speed up the cleaning process such as acids.

High Pressure Cleaner

A great device to use is a high pressure cleaner that’s purposefully designed for car washing. These cleaners are very efficient because the high pressure action pre-cleans and rinses far more effectively then the mains pressure. They can get into areas that are hard to reach by hand and the high pressure will blast away built-up mud and grime. These cleaners use at least 60% less water than an ordinary hose and nozzle and this is important since most states in Australia has water restrictions.


Water will eventually evaporate, so why use time and energy drying the vehicle after it’s been washed and rinsed? Spending the additional effort in drying the paintwork with a chamois or a large micro fibre towel will give your vehicle a streak-free and watermark-free finish.


Waxing your vehicle will add a protection film and keep your paintwork gleaming like new. It can take some time to wax and polish a vehicle but the end results are astounding. If you do decide to wax and polish your vehicle, make sure you are in the shade on a very hot day and work in a small circular motion. Use a very soft terry cloth or cloth diaper, work on one section at a time and remember where you first started. Keep working until all the wax had been worked in and keep an eye out for any remaining wax residue on the paintwork. Also, you may notice the wax will build up on the cloth, so give it a sharp shake every now and then to remove it.

Paint Protector

There are many paint protectors out there and knowing which one to purchase can be very confusing. More than 80% of paint protectors on the market today are of a limited basic compound or core ingredient, be it wax, Teflon, polymer or silicone. Each of these ingredients can provide different levels of protection and shine. When looking for a product make sure it protects your paint against:
  • UV rays

  • Acid rain

  • Insect residue

  • Road salt

  • Bird Droppings
A good paint protector will provide a very strong barrier between the elements and the paint surface. This barrier should provide a long lasting shine and reduce surface friction which can help with:
  • Protection against surface marks from frequent washing

  • Increasing the cars aerodynamics

Paint Sealant

These products are used to seal the paint with a resin type coating to protect the paintwork on a more long term basis. Since paint no longer contains lead, it will oxidise if left unprotected or unsealed. The painted surface will oxidize and deteriorate mainly due to road grime, salt in the air and ultra violet rays from the sun. Paint sealants provide an impervious barrier to nearly all known chemical oxidation, combustion debris and insects. Some paint sealants offer a high quality shine, which will leave the paintwork with a showroom “wet look”.

Tyre Care

If you have just driven through mud and slosh, then you need a good tyre cleaner. There are products on the market that can be sprayed or brushed onto your muddy tyres and then simply hosed off to reveal brand new looking tyres. These applications can also provide a protective barrier so mud and dirt will not stick as easily to your tyres or mud flaps. Look for products preferably in a clear liquid, which is not just a tyre blackener that will wash off after rain or cleaning.

Interior Care

Window Care

There isn’t much of a science to cleaning car windows – you just spray the liquid on the glass, wipe and scrub the liquid around and then buff the glass surface dry. May seem easy enough, although there are a few do’s and don’ts and some neat tips such as using a quality microfibre towel to obtain premium results.

Water and Vinegar

You may have heard that using water with some vinegar and sheets of newspaper is a cheap and efficient way to clean windows. Well, it’s true – many people use this method and it works. Please be aware that if you have window tinting, you have to be very careful using vinegar and some other cleaning products. If you are unsure, it’s best to read the product label or seek additional advice.

Automotive Glass Cleaner

Look for an automotive glass cleaner that specifically states that it’s safe to use on window tinting and it will not harm the plastic and rubber surfaces around the windows.

Ammonia Based Cleaners

Unfortunately with these cleaners, they can be quite harmful to many vehicle surfaces, including vinyl, rubber and leather. They may also be harmful to your health especially when you are working in a confined interior of a vehicle.


This is a real cheap method to clean windows and help the environment by recycling at the same time. Newspaper doesn’t leave lint behind like some paper or cotton towels do and the ink will act like a polish. The only downside is the ink tends to go on your hands.

Paper or Cotton Towels

Using paper or cotton towels is more than adequate for cleaning windows, however if you want the best results – use a lint and scratch-free microfibre towel. Please note that tinting film scratches quite easily, so make sure the towel you use if very soft.

Microfibre Towels

If you prefer to use a microfibre towel, then look for ones that are purposely suited for cleaning glass. If you’re not sure, then look for a towel that has a low pile and a very tight weave – similar to a polishing towel. Be vigilant on cheap microfibre towels, especially those that are bought in bulk. You may find they will leave lint behind which is very annoying. When using quality microfibre towels, a good idea is to keep one that is slightly damp with water or window solution for cleaning the glass and keep a second one that is dry for buffing.

Cleaning the Interior

Vacuuming is probably the most important thing to do after removing large items and small bits of rubbish from the vehicle interior. Begin by removing all interior floor mats and shake vigorously to loosen any sand or dirt to the surface. Next, vacuum the whole interior which includes; the vehicle seats, under the seats, the floor, boot, the headliner and the floor mats. You may need to use a narrow vacuum head to get into those hard to reach areas such as between the seats and in the consoles.
Many service stations provide vacuum services that are either coin operated or provided for a small hire charge. An alternative to this is to bring your own portable vacuum cleaner. Many of these portable vehicle vacuum cleaners are rechargeable and can plug into a 12 volt cigarette lighter point.

Vinyl Care

Vehicle manufacturers work very hard to design various vinyl components and test how they can withstand the punishments of high heat and UV rays. The proper care of your vinyl interior will ensure they don't crack or discolour although be wary of your choice of chemical cleaners. If you do a little research you'll see there are advocates of oil based cleaners, and those that oppose them, suggesting that only water-based products are safe.

The main area of controversy is the Petroleum Distillate found in oil-based cleaners. You'll find various arguments as to its detrimental effects to the plasticisers that keep vinyl soft. Petroleum Distillates have been argued as a cause of break down to the polymer substrate that in turn releases the plastisers from the vinyl. Plastisers keep the vinyl soft and flexible and if these plastisers continue to evaporate, the vinyl will dry out and start to crack. Interestingly enough, some products from the well-known Armor-All range contain petroleum distillates – so it’s up to you if you wish to take up the new arguments against it.

Whatever your thoughts on chemical compounds might be, any product that meets the features outlined below, will be useful for protecting your vinyl:
  • High protection against the sun’s Ultraviolet (UV) rays

  • Repels dust, grease and dirt

  • Repels the growth of mildew

  • Can be used safely on other interior components

  • Is non-toxic, non-corrosive, non-flammable and odourless

  • Easy to apply, just spray & wipe over


An excellent means of protecting the vinyl and other interior components against the sun’s damaging UV rays is to buy a windscreen protector. These protectors totally block the sun and will protect your vehicle’s dash, steering wheel and upholstery.

Leather Care

You must be very careful when choosing the right cleaner for leather as you can unintentionally remove the dye, the leather’s natural oils and/or the clear protective coating. It is important to find out if your leather has been protected by a special clear coating, which is usually polymer based and applied by the manufacturer. Some leather protectors use oils which can be great for “feeding” the leather and protecting it against drying, cracking, and fading; however these oils can also break down the clear polymer coating. A simple test that is known among circles is to take some caustic interior cleaner and rub it on a tiny area of the seat that no one sees. If you see the colour of the leather on your cloth, then you most likely have leather that isn’t clear coated. It you don’t see any colour at all, then the leather is probably clear coated and it’s best to use a water-based polymer style dressing. This is a mere guide and it would be a good idea to get further advice and recommendations from professional vehicle detailers.


Obviously the best protection for a vehicle is to park it inside a garage, although this is not practical when you are travelling. Vehicle covers can be a little tedious to set up but they offer the most protection against the elements. When looking for a quality vehicle cover, make sure it has elastic sewn into the front and rear hems to help hold the cover in place.
Some other features to look for are:
  • Being breathable will allow the air to circulate quickly through the fabric and dry quickly. This also allows for easy installation because it will not trap air and “parachute”

  • Naturally moisture resistant to protect against acid rain, tree sap, bird droppings and industrial pollutants

  • Multi-layered fabrics can act as a filtration against most airborne pollutants and dust

  • The more layers the better when it comes to protecting against nicks, dings, dents and scratches

  • 2 or more years warranty against defects in workmanship

Seat Covers

There are many seat covers available in a range of colours, fabrics and styles in most department stores and auto shops. All of these covers will protect your seats from the elements and normal wear and tear to varying degrees. A product that is starting to open eyes – are canvas seat covers. They are not at all like the canvas you may associate with oil paintings or tents. The canvas made for these products are especially soft and extremely comfortable and are designed to withstand the extremes of the Australian climate. They will resist dust, mud and dirt and even spills, making them very ideal for recreation and work vehicles.

More Covers

You can purchase covers for just about everything these days and they all offer various forms of protection. A list of covers and deflectors, you may want to consider are below:
  • Floor Mats

  • Spare wheel covers

  • Dash covers

  • Steering wheel covers

  • Rubber or carpet mats

  • Headlight protectors

  • Bonnet protectors

  • Weathershields

  • Rear dust deflectors

  • Scuff plates

  • Cargo carpet mats or hard plastic liners

  • Chrome towball covers

  • Door mirror covers

  • Door edge protectors

Window Tinting

Many people consider window tinting to be of particular benefit when travelling because it can assist with reducing glare and keeping the vehicle interior cool. Keep in mind however, there are regulations regarding window tinting such as those stipulated in the Road Traffic Vehicle Standards Rules 2002 for WA:
  • Glazing used in a windscreen of a motor vehicle must have a luminous transmittance of at least 75% for a motor vehicle built after 1971 and 70% for another motor vehicle

  • The windscreen must not be tinted apart from a band at the top of the windscreen, which must not exceed more than 10% of the windscreen depth or below the sweep of the wipers, whichever is greater

  • The tint on side or rear windows should not be darker than 35% visible light transmission (VLT), which means at least 35% of the available light should pass through the window
We recommend you use this information as a guide only and always check your specific vehicle against your state rulings and regulations.

Window Sox

Other products on the market such as window sox and blinds are also popular with travellers, especially those with children in the backseats that may find daytime sleeps interrupted by excessive glare. These products are made of a fine mesh which is custom fitting over the rear passenger door-window frames. They allow the windows to be opened for fresh air and provide adequate shade and insect protection.

Vehicle Detailing Services

Vehicle care is about prolonging the life of your vehicle. The efforts that you put into regular washing and cleaning now, will pay good dividends in the future. When it comes to using products that contain chemicals, carefully read the directions on the label and confirm that it’s suitable for your requirements. There is a wealth of information regarding auto cleaning products and protectors on the internet. You could also get some good advice from someone in the know at your local auto shop.

A good vehicle wash after a major offroad trip should take 1 -2 days. There are many panels inside the vehicle that when removed you'll find are full of dust which will take a substantial amount of water to remove - especially if you've been driving along long dusty tracks, or through bulldust. The vehicle's underbody is extremely difficult to completely clean if you don't have a good high pressure cleaner so if you haven't got one, they cost around $300 from the hardware and is money well spent if you reguarly have a very dirty vehicle, and of course it can be used for general cleaning around the yard also.

Your other option is the car wash centre, but unfortunately the timers don't allow a thorough clean of a very dirty, large four wheel drive.

The option of using a detailing service may initially seem rather excessive however when you consider that a full vehicle detail of both inside and out can be done at your home, or your workplace, often by 1 - 2 people and they'll bring all their own equipment and will spend the entire day on your vehicle for a cost of between $100 - $200 it's a good option, considering the above points. If you're not likely to embark on another major offroad trip within the next 12 months that's money well spent, especially when you consider the $30,000 - $80,000 value you are trying to hold in your vehicle as an asset.

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Created: December 2006
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