Alot of dads will get brown neckties, striped shirts and battery-operated baubles they could probably do without on Father's Day.
After all, it isn't easy to figure out what Dad really needs. A new car would be terrific. But he might be really happy with just a wash and wax.
A lot of guys don't have time to wash their cars, although they know they should. So, kids, get a hose and follow my directions for something your dad might genuinely appreciate. Even if you are older than 10, you probably don't know everything about this. My advice comes from Barry Meguiar, chairman of Meguiar's, the Irvine-based company that is one of the nation's biggest sellers of car waxes.
Washing a car seems pretty simple. Wet car, soap car, rinse and dry. Unfortunately, a casual approach can damage the fragile paint on newer cars.
Before you turn on the hose, park the car in the shade and let the paint cool down. A cold quench on a hot surface can damage the paint or cause water spots later when you dry the car.
The important rule is to avoid dish and laundry detergents. Dishwashing liquid is great for cutting grease off porcelain dishes and stainless-steel pans, but a car's finish isn't as tough as what you find in a kitchen.
"Our studies show that 75% of people use dish detergent," Meguiar says. Dish and laundry products strip wax and other silicons that protect paint and, if used repeatedly, will eventually attack the paint itself. Car-washing detergent, sold at most auto-parts store, is what you should use.
You might think Meguiar is giving you a sales pitch for one of his products, but he isn't. Experts at other wax companies and auto makers say the same. If you don't want to invest in car-wash soap, you can use plain water. Use buckets of clean water and keep rinsing the wash towel while you work.
It's tempting to use old rags, such as the T-shirt left over from last year's rock concert, to wash your car. But a better choice will be a cotton terry-cloth towel. Other rags tend to collect dirt in the fabric and can scratch the paint.
Many light-color car finishes will not show minor scratches. But even tiny swirl scratches will be larger than life if you have a dark two-stage paint with a clear coat over a solid color.
If you do want to invest some money, a simulated sheep's wool mitt, sold at most auto-parts stores, will wash a car quickly and safely. Simulated sheepskins can also absorb huge amounts of water and get a car dry in just a few minutes.
The wash itself shouldn't take more than a half-hour, which should make most kids guilty about calling that a Father's Day gift. So, a wax job is in order.
Get a good quality wax and follow the directions on the container. Meguiar's wax and many other brands, such as Turtle Wax and Blue Coral, do a good job. If you really want a mint job on Dad's car, try using a cleaner that will remove oxidized paint first and then a wax.
Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. #1100, Washington, D.C. 20006.