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Cleaning & Inventory

Ok, you have your car and your initial tools. You're ready to get a better assessment of what you've got on your hands. Aside from the car, I'm willing to bet you have a box/trunk/glovebox full of parts. I don't think I have ever purchased or sold a car without transferring a box of miscellaneous bits. For an over the top example of this, you can see my photographs from the inventorying process of my Austin Healey BT7.

It's also important to note at this point that having a parts catalog for your vehicle is invaluable. Not only will it help you identify the random bits in that pile of miscellaneous parts, but you'll also be able to add the proper part number designation to your inventory. That way, if you need to order a replacement, you have the part number for the order. Or, if you're like me and you sell off your unecessary bits, you have the part number to put in the advertisement.

As you're going through the bits, it's a good time to stop and clean them. Who knows how much grime, dirt and goo they've acquired over the years. Plus, a clean part is easier to rate in terms of condition than a dirty one. Give everything a good going over with some Simple Green and towels. If you can get away with it (like, the significant other's out shopping or some such) you can also clean many of your parts in the dishwasher (providing, obviously, that they fit). If you are going to do so, ensure that you use a liquid diswasher detergent without any hard particles in it.

Another trick for getting really goobery stuff clean is to coat it in oven cleaner and let it sit in the sun for a while. The oven cleaner will pull the grease and such from the part. You can then rinse it off. You may need, on really dirty stuff, to repeat the process. Also, if you've got nooks and crannies to clean out a good hard bristle toothbrush is invaluable.

Now that we have the loose parts accounted for, let's tackle the car itself. Depending on how or where your car was previously stored you will have varying degrees of a mess on your hands. Some cars where covered and relatively well cared for, these are easy. Other cars (like my Blue Jensen Healey) may have been in a barn or exposed to the elements. The Blue Jensen Healey was such a mess that the first tool I used to clean it out was a leaf blower! So, give the exterior a good washing, the interior will need a good vacuuming. Make sure that you completely go over the interior before vacuuming. Sometimes you'll find nifty things inside the car! I've found vintage coins, missing nuts/bolts, original owner reciepts, and all sorts of other things over the years.

Once the exterior/interior of the car has been cleaned, it's time to tackle the undercarriage and engine bay. If you have access, a power washer and hot water are invaluable tools for this stage. Make sure the engine is totally cold on the motor (this is assuming, of course, that it runs). Remove the battery. You'll need to cover the electronic components under the hood to protect them. Generally speaking, this is the Distributor, but depending on the car and the year of manufacture you may have other components that aren't water tight (relays, computers, fuse boxes). This is something you'll have to evaluate yourself or ask other enthusiasts in your local club.

Once the engine compartment is water-proofed, give it a liberal spraying with Simple Green. Let it sit and soak in. Your local auto store may sell a million different engine cleaners / degreasers, but in my experience Simple Green and Easy Off oven cleaner work better. If you're using a power washer/sprayer make sure that the pressure isn't so high that it'll ruin your hoses or strip the paint. For those who may not have access to such tools then you can get an inexpensive high pressure hose nozzle for your garden hose. My local Ace Hardware sells nice brass ones for ~$5.00. If you have access to hot water, make sure it's good and hot. Now spray the heck out of the engine bay / undercarriage. You will most likely have to repeat this a couple times.

Here is where the In-Situ restoration method diverges from the Frame-Off one. Since you're going to be driving the vehicle, it's important to protect the car as-is as best as possible. Once the car is dry, put a good coat of polish on the car. Depending on how it was originally / last painted you may want to use different polishes. For clear-coat paint jobs I like the Mother's brand car polish. For cars last painted before clear coat I prefer TR3 Resin Glaze. You'll be suprised just how much good a little polish can do to even an old faded paint job. At a minimum, it'll keep the rest of the paint from deteriorating as quickly. While you're at it, take care of any rubber/vinyl/leather. Meguiar's makes a great Vinyl/Rubber restorer/protectant that I've seen make ruined rubber look perfect. If they're still in place, also use this stuff on the door/trunk rubber seals. Let it soak in well before closing the door/trunk. It will often improve the ability for this rubber to seal the door to cut down on vibration and noise while driving.

If you're still feeling ambitious with your In-Situ restoration, and the interior carpet isn't destroyed. You can rent a Rug Doctor with the Upholstery attachment and clean the rugs/fabric in the interior. Before you do this, I recommend peeking under the carpets to ensure that it's not rusty. Doing this on rusty sheetmetal will only exacerbate the problem.

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

All references to They Might Be Giants are fan references only. John & John I hope you don't mind! And if you're ever in Phoenix stop by for a visit!

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