Taking care of your car can be a time consuming and sometimes thankless task. It can be made even more challenging if you don’t have a dedicated space to wrench or wash. Your car care situation may vary, but whether you live in an apartment and have to street park, have a dedicated parking spot, or even have a small driveway, you’ll likely face some challenges compared to those with a garage.
First, a disclaimer: I’m just a guy who has been tinkering and cleaning my own cars, with, and without, a garage, for longer than I care to calculate. So, I may have a product in my photos that purists will shout obscenities at through their screen. “Nobody uses carnauba wax, this guy is an idiot.” Or “This guy is the biggest tool in the article!”
Regardless of your perceived view on my qualifications, this guide to maintaining your ride, and keeping your car nice and clean will give you a straight up, no-nonsense, cost effective car care advice for real people who don’t have their own garage. Let’s get at it.
The Safety Brief
This one doesn’t require a big safety check. If you find yourself checking the air in your tires, or polishing your wheels on a busy street, make sure you’re wearing bright clothing. Otherwise, caring for your car without a garage is a pretty safe endeavour as long as you’re smart about it.
The Car Care Products You’ll Need – Basic Maintenance
You’ll want a mix of basic tools and products which can vary from vehicle to vehicle. The key when you don’t have a dedicated space is mobility. Much like our guide to building the ultimate roadside emergency tool kit, having a lack of space and storage means that you have to focus on the necessities, and be able to schlep them to the curb and back quickly and easily.
A Good Mechanics Set
This is an easy one, you’ll get no greater use out of a car maintenance item that a solid mechanics set. This 84 piece Stanley set has everything you need to get started. There are definitely more complex sets out there, but for apartment or condo living, you’ll need to keep it simple.
Other Must-Have Tools
Additionally, a good multitool made our emergency car care kit list for a reason. Add in a solid screwdriver set and you’ve rounded out the basics to help you take care of your car. Beyond that, a torque wrench or impact wrench will help you make sure your wheels are on tight after pulling them off to clean them perfectly.
The Car Care Products You’ll Need – Cleaning
You’ll want a mix of interior and exterior products to keep your car clean. The key, just like with maintenance, is mobility. Here are some of my favorites.
Wax is a great product because, if you do it right and do it just often enough, it will actually save you work. I believe in getting a nice base coat of real wax on the car. And Mr. Miyagi already taught you how to use it, I’m sure you remember.
My go-to car care product, by a good measure, is a good quick wax. While it’s great to use the full-on wax when you have time, a good quick wax will help your car look showroom fresh with minimal effort. They typically come in a handy spray bottle, spray it on, wipe it off.
Tire & Wheel Cleaner
Brake dust and road grit that gets stuck in, and on, wheels and tires, is pretty substantial stuff. Your normal soap and sponge will do the trick. Grab some tire and wheel cleaner, spray, let it set, and hose (or wipe) it off.
Make sure you don’t forget the interior, it needs some love too. Just like the quick wax, the spray bottle of interior detailer will get you through a quick cleaning of the plastic, rubber, and other bits on the inside. There are also carpet and upholstery cleaners, glass cleaners, and leather cleaners (all of which are in my car care bin) that can ramp up the interior clean.
A Variety of Towels
No care care kit is complete without a bunch of towels. Keep them segmented into “messy” and “non-messy.” I actually found a set with a variety of colors, so I know which one goes with which spray bottle. This way you don’t use something on your interior that was once washing bird poop off your hood.
How To Care For Your Car Without a Personal Garage
Let’s get after it.
1. Do a Baseline Wash and Wax
Get most of the muck off with a thorough clean, don’t forget the door jambs, engine bay, and other less obvious places. Go panel-by-panel with soap and water wash, then rinse and dry. Then it’s wax time, ideally you should do a real wax job to get a good baseline. There are even options if you don’t have access to a hose!
2. Dust it
Remember those car duster things that everyone had back in the day? Sometimes, I’ll just use an old (but well washed) towel to get the dust and/or pollen off my car. I know that might ruin my chances of winning at the concours-de-judgines, but I don’t really care. It’s all about practicality.
3. Quick Wax and Wipe
Next, hit each body panel with a quick wax and wipe. Bonus points if you have time to wipe down the interior with the quick detailer. Car’s clean my friend, it’s cocktail time.
4. Maintain Inside & Out
From there, just pay attention to your vehicle. If you get particularly muddy, it may be time to start over on the washing cycle. Don’t skimp on regular maintenance as well. If you aren’t able to do full-on oil changes and other preventative maintenance, at least get out there and check oil and fluid levels and take care of your tires.
The Car Bibles Questionnaire
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions.
Q: Do I need access to a hose to wash my car?
A: It’s certainly easier, but no. You can fill up two buckets (this one even has room for your car care products) with water, then add car cleaning soap to one, but not the other. Use one to wash, the other to rinse.
Q: Can I just buy a car care kit?
A: Sure you can, there are a bunch of links throughout the article, and at the bottom. Once you find a brand you like, there are ready-made kits with everything you need.
Q: Is the expensive stuff better?
A: Not necessarily, no. Assuming you aren’t planning for the Quail, you don’t need to be concours-ready in real life. Most major brands at your local WalMart will do the trick. Still, there are some good high end products out there if you want to spend the money.
Video Tutorial on Car Care Without a Garage
Best Places to Buy Car Care Products For Those Without a Garage
For the really high end washing experience, head over to AMMO NYC, as they’ve got some great stuff. However, just pick a brand to test and see if you like it. I’ve got a bunch of Meguiar’s stuff at the moment, but hey Mothers gives me F1 races without commercials, so maybe I’ll try their stuff next. Here is a quick list of some great detailing kits and other products you could consider.
- Meguiar’s Complete Car Detailing Kit
- Chemical Guys HOL148 16-Piece Arsenal Builder Car Wash Kit
- Armor All Car Wash and Interior Cleaner Kit
- Chemical Guys Eco Friendly Waterless Car Detailing Kit
- Dry Shine The Arsenal Complete Waterless Car Wash & Detailing Kit
- Mothers Ultimate Wax Kit
- Chemical Guys Premium Microfiber Towel (6-pack)
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