Since March 6, Bruce McBride of Rockville, Md., has driven his 1979 Dodge Aspen from the Atlantic to the Pacific and just about everywhere in between. And he's here to report that Southern California can claim another auto-related distinction.
"Southern California is the dirtiest area of the country I've been in," says McBride, who is staying with a friend who lives in Laguna Niguel. "I find that every two or three days, my car is covered with very fine silt."
Back home, McBride says, "I wash my car usually once a month, with an occasional washing in between." But during his Orange County stay, McBride has washed his car "about twice a week."
"I don't know what this stuff is," he says. "It isn't sand and it isn't earth. It looks like volcanic ash. And it's very difficult to get off." He speculates that the dust may be the byproduct of the county's rampant growth.
"Every direction you look, they're tearing up the hillsides," he says. "Maybe that's where it comes from."
Life on Wheels readers aren't sure what it is, either, other than plain old airborne dirt, but they agree that keeping a car clean in these parts is a constant struggle.
When it comes to car-cleaning methods, however, they don't agree on much.
For many Orange County residents, it's a double battle, not only with dirt, but also with corrosive salt-water air near the coast.
Lorene Stinson of Laguna Beach is one of those. She recommends a method she discovered in a newspaper "handy hints" column way back in the 1950s.
"We lived in San Clemente when the city was experiencing a water shortage. Due to the intrusion of salt water into city wells, residents weren't permitted to wash their cars," writes Stinson.
But the newspaper item featured a method that required only 2 1/2 gallons of water, so Stinson gave it a try. It worked so well that she has been washing her cars that way ever since.
"Because of the salt air, I wash the car every 10 days or two weeks," she says. Her current car is 16 years old, and Stinson says "the finish sparkles like new."
Her secret: mix 1/4-cup kerosene with 2 1/2 gallons of water.
"Using a piece of toweling, I wash the car starting on the hood and working around it," she says. The top is washed last so that the car is clean when leaning against it to reach the center of the top. After wringing out the cloth, wash only a part at a time. . . . After drying the washed part, use a second soft, dry cloth to polish. . . . This solution also takes off road tar."
Ken Daily of the California Highway Patrol's San Juan Capistrano post says he remembers that years ago, auto manufacturers recommended kerosene mixed with water. "Also, cornstarch works to rub off stubborn wax," he says.
Donna Myers of Irvine prefers taking her truck, a 1987 Toyota, to a carwash every week. "I have an Armor All job done inside and outside to keep the interior and exterior tires and bumpers in good condition," she says. "Unless it rains or we go camping or skiing, it never gets so dirty that you can write on it."
But John Bergen, a Santa Ana attorney, prefers to do the cleaning himself, even though "I can probably afford to have our cars, two BMWs, professionally taken care of.
"After a busy week, I find it somewhat relaxing to clean up the cars on the weekend. If they are only dusty, I will go through a rather abbreviated wiping-off procedure. However, if they are more of a mess than that, I will wash them using soft water and every technique that I have learned over 30 years so as not to scratch the paint or whatever."
G.S., a Santa Ana resident who signed his letter with initials only, uses a feather duster every day on his 1985 Ford. "I'm elderly and busy but dislike seeing a dirty car," says G.S. After each use, he washes the feather duster in soapy water. "About twice a week I use glass wax to wash the windows, using an old towel, and at the same time use it on the front and back of the car," he says. About every six weeks, G.S. has the car washed at a carwash.
"I have never taken my cars to a carwash," writes Pete Fusillo of Laguna Hills. "They just don't do a good job."
Instead, Fusillo hand-washes his two cars, both black, every week, and waxes them about every two months. "I'm careful not to use a wax with a cleaner in it, because this tends to leave streaks on black cars," he says. For the weekly washes, he uses only water. "If you keep a good coat of wax on your car, water is all you need, and the wax will last that much longer," he says.
"I use the hose, without a nozzle, and old diapers together, running the water over the area of the car I'm working on to remove the dirt particles while I'm wiping. After completing the entire car, I use a steady stream of water to remove excess water, which makes it a snap to dry.
"Drying is done with old towels that my wife no longer wanted for our bathrooms. Hint: Put the towels in your dryer for about five minutes to really make drying your car easy."