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conquer car care

Whether your car is brand new or has been around the block, mechanical problems will arise. But by being proactive, you can head off a lot of headaches. This MasterKit will guide you through some common repair scenarios, help you find a trustworthy mechanic and ensure you're not getting taken for a ride.
hands cleaning car interior
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5 Inexpensive Ways To Keep Your Car Looking Like New

Keeping a car looking like new can take a lot of time and elbow grease. You can make it easier with household items you already have on hand.

Maintaining an immaculate car is a commitment with countless everyday obstacles, but it can be done with supplies you already have at home. Here are five quick and easy techniques that'll help take years off any car's aging appearance.
1. Keep Headlights Clear With Toothpaste
tape and toothpaste cleans headlights
Hazy headlights are a telltale sign of an aging car. Over time, headlight lenses gradually take on a yellowish tint, which can diminish their effectiveness.

Cars built before the 1990's typically have glass headlight lenses, which stay pretty clear over time. Most cars on the road now, however, use polycarbonate or plastic lenses. These materials are safer if a lens breaks, but they tend to cloud and oxidize as they age.

There's no need to replace expensive headlight lenses just to achieve clarity, and while there are plenty of headlight cleaning products on the market, they really aren't necessary.

First, try washing the car and removing obvious debris (such as dead bugs and bird droppings). If the lights are still hazy, grab some masking tape, a tube of toothpaste, a soft cloth, and a bucket of water. Then, do the following:

  • Apply the tape around the perimeter of the lenses to protect the car's paint while you're working on adjacent lens surfaces.
  • Wet the cloth, rub in some toothpaste, and polish the lenses with gentle circular motions. The toothpaste's mild abrasives clean and smooth out the lenses' rough surface, resulting in better light output and less discoloration.
  • Rinse the lights with water and let them air dry.
2. Buff Away Scuffs (Also With Toothpaste)
washing scuffs away
Keep that toothpaste handy because the same cleansing properties for clearing up headlights can also work on a car's paint when used carefully.1 Don't expect miracles from this hack, as it won't do much for deep scratches or other extensive exterior damage, but it works pretty well for minor scuffs. Using toothpaste, a couple of clean cloths and water, try the following:

  • Gently wash and dry the area around the scuff. This keeps you from grinding dirt and other debris into the surface, which makes the problem worse. It'll also give a clearer view of the overall situation.
  • Next, spread a small amount of toothpaste on a clean cloth and use gentle circular motions to polish the surface. Stop as soon as the scuff is no longer visible.
  • Rinse the area and let it dry.
Use caution with this tip, since you're buffing away a very thin layer of paint, and only use it on superficial scuffs and very shallow scratches. If you see primer or bare metal, you'll need a professional to repair and prevent rust or other damage.
3. Get Rid of Bugs With Dryer Sheets
cleaning a windshield
Scrubbing off insect residue isn't just an aesthetic concern. Dead bugs secrete chemicals that can etch away at the car's clear coat and paint over time, weakening the barrier that protects its body from the elements. Bird droppings have a similar effect on a car's finish, so it's worth the effort to regularly remove buildup of those telltale spatters, too.

There are plenty of detailing products meant to remove bugs from a car, but a couple of household items work just as well. Grab a dryer sheet from the laundry room, as well as some water (in a spray bottle or a bucket and sponge) and try this:

  • Wet down the bug stains and moisten the dryer sheet to avoid scratching the paint. Use gentle pressure to scrub off the bug stains with the dryer sheet, and make sure everything stays damp while you're working.
  • Add another dryer sheet to the bucket of water for extra cleaning power. This is a great hack to try right before washing the car.
4. Air Out the Funk With Help From the Kitchen
using a car air freshener
Day-to-day use, especially for families, can overwhelm even the best automotive air freshener. Fortunately, many everyday household items can help soak up stale or unpleasant odors.

Baking soda and coffee grounds are both time-tested ways to absorb unpleasant smells. While you can buy baking soda packages meant for deodorizing, there's no need to pay for a special product. A plastic container filled with baking soda left open in your car for a few days will work just fine. The same goes for fresh coffee grounds.

Vinegar is another inexpensive product that's likely to be in the kitchen already. It's particularly effective on spilled milk because it breaks down the enzymes within. Use it in two ways to freshen up the car:

  • Place a dish of diluted white vinegar on the floor of your car for a day or so for general freshness.
  • Spritz or dab diluted vinegar directly on smelly stains for concentrated cleaning.
Experts recommend leaving your windows open during a vinegar treatment, but once it dries, the vinegar smell will dissipate.

Pro Tip: Use a small, sealable plastic container (repurposing an old food container works) as an in-car trash can, as the sealed top really does make a difference. Empty or replace it regularly to keep the car's cabin clean and free of odors.
5. Wipe Up with Wipes
using wipes to clean
Baby wipes are the No. 1 emergency cleaner for your car, and not just for a sticky infant or toddler. Wipes can handle a harsh scrubbing, but they're also unlikely to damage a car's interior. Use them to clean old stains or to absorb a new spill before it sets.

With these clever tips, you can keep your car looking like it just came off the lot, without spending a lot of time or money on commercial products or professional detailing.
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