Interior Care, Page 1 of 2
Links to topics on page 1
Links to topics on page 2
See Figures 1 and 2
One way to preserve a "new car" feeling is to keep the interior clean and protected. You have to use some common sense and not let the dirt accumulate. The more dirt that is ground into carpeting and seats, the faster they will wear out. Keep the seats clean and the rugs vacuumed.
Figure 1 A virtual plethora of cleaning product are available for today's interiors. Always read the label and test the product on an out-of-the way area.
Cleaning and detailing the interior
Figure 2 Automotive glass cleaners on the left and glass treatment products on the right.
Interior detailing is "super housekeeping" applied to your vehicle.
Vehicle carpeting is shampooed much as is your home's carpeting, but more intensively. Vehicle upholstery -whether vinyl, fabric, or leather-is cleaned of stains using methods and products similar to (or the same as) those used on upholstered furniture, but with greater attention to detail. What cleans your home's windows cleans your vehicle's, but windows and windshield (as well as sunroofs) need more frequent and more careful cleaning. For example, a vehicle with finely finished wood molding can be detailed with the same polish used to protect and brighten fine furniture, but special attention must be given to crevices and contours.
The major difference between a vehicle's interior and your home's is use intensity. Because your vehicle interior is used intensively and subjected to all the abuses that use intensity implies, its detailing must be intensive, differing significantly from routine "housecleaning."
Consider the facts. Depending on your life-style and how much time you spend at home, you may only occasionally use your living room's sofa or any particular upholstered chair. However, driver seat upholstery may be used and unavoidably abused half the hours- and more-of every day. Vehicle carpeting, unlike most home carpeting, is often continuously "tracked"-with dirt, oil, grease, snow and slush. Whereas home carpeting is seldom systematically worn in any one small spot, a driver's right heel, forever nudging the accelerator, first dirties and then sometimes wears through a particular place in vehicle carpeting (unless that particular place is protected by a car mat).
In its lifetime, moreover, your vehicle's interior may become a bedroom (for a quick snooze at a highway rest area), a restaurant, an office, a sick bay, a storeroom, a moving van-you name it.
And all of this use and abuse occurs literally under glass and within the relatively tiny confines of the average vehicle. Use of a home may be spread over 1200- 5000 square feet, or more. A vehicle's interior use takes place in seldom more than 45 square feet. And, in some downsized models, less than half that.
Moreover, unlike your home's carpets and upholstered furniture, or even windows, a vehicle's interior is subjected to extremes of heat, cold, and sunlight. Daily it is exposed to atmospheric pollutants, road grime and contamination from its own and other engines. Even a tightly closed vehicle interior cannot escape all of these natural and natural extremes.
Thus, interior detailing, far from being merely routine "housecleaning," aims to restore, wherever possible, a vehicle's interior to its showroom condition and appearance. Anything less may produce a reasonably clean interior, but not one that is detailed.
"Detailed," when it comes to your vehicle's interior, means simply that: minute, painstaking, time-consuming attention to details. See a smidgen of dirt or grime? Get rid of it. An upholstery seam crevice that’s not as clean as the area around it? Clean it. The steering wheel's underneath places begrimed by sweaty hands? Clean them. An outdated service sticker on a door edge or jamb? Remove it. If it didn't come with the vehicle's interior when you took delivery, or if it did but shouldn't have, do away with it. That's interior detailing.
Figure 3 A professional detailer brushes dirt from a vent directly into the waiting vacuum crevice tool.
Figure 4 Remove outdated service stickers, however when detailing door jams and underhood leave informational stickers in place.
Detailing the interior
There is no one "right way" to super-detail your vehicle's interior. But a systematic, orderly way is outlined below:
Carpeting and Fabric Upholstery
- Protect (optional)
Dashboard, Moldings and Trim (Plastic, Vinyl or Rubber)
Interior Metal, Including Chrome
Windshield, Windows and Mirrors
You can detail the interior piecemeal -- say, do the carpeting and upholstery one day, the rest of the interior another-or get it done with one effort.
Doing it in a single shot usually means you'll need to do all of the interior molding, chrome, the dash, windshield, and windows first, before you do the upholstery, because upholstery that seems to have dried requires several hours, or even overnight, to dry thoroughly. Since you don't want to sit on a wet or damp seat while doing the dash, windows, ceiling (headliner), and other interior detailing, it makes sense to do those jobs first.
See Figures 5, 6 and 7
Any good home vacuum with a plastic (not metal) crevice attachment works well. Portable vacuums, despite their popularity and increased power, generally lack the power to vacuum vehicle carpets as they should be vacuumed. Vacuums at the coin-op places may have power enough, but the clamor of other vehicle owners to use the vacuum you're using, plus the need to keep feeding the meter, often discourages a thorough job.
- Start with the upholstery. Using the attachment usually used for drapes or window blinds, vacuum seat backs and seats. Push seats forward to get behind and beneath them. On rear seats, don't neglect seat fronts, the back edge of seats facing the rear window, and around armrests.
- Switch to the plastic crevice tool (plastic rather than metal which, if bent or sharp, risks tearing the fabric, vinyl or leather, or cutting stitching). The crevice tool is for getting deep into upholstery seams and pleats. With one hand working ahead of the tool, spread the upholstery's seams; with the other hand, work the crevice tool into the seams. Seams collect a lot of dirt, so you may have to go over them several times.
- Now vacuum the carpets. Use the drape and blind attachment to vacuum rear carpeting. Unless you have a van, wagon, or motor home, rear carpeting isn't extensive.
- Move to the front carpeting (under and ahead of seats). Move the seats forward and then backward, to their full forward or rear positions to get under them. This is probably the dirtiest carpeting area in any vehicle. The next dirtiest is the carpeting in front of the driver's seat.
- With the palm of your hand or a brush, beat the carpeting just ahead of your vacuum tool. Carpet beating dislodges deep-down dirt and brings it to the surface for vacuuming.
- With the crevice tool, get into crevices of the seat's floor tracks; all around the perimeter of the carpeting, front and back; and especially in the driver's foot area (around the pedals and dimmer switch, if it's located on the floor).
- Use the crevice tool to vacuum the instrument panel, floor console, and around the windows and windshield molding, especially where the windshield meets the dash. If the crevice tool won't squeeze into this often small but particularly dirty area, use a "detail stick": a 1/8 or ¼ inch-diameter length of wood doweling wrapped in a clean piece of cloth or cheesecloth.
- Finally, use the drape and blind attachment to gently vacuum the headliner. The headliner is fragile, so exert minimum pressure on it to avoid damage.
Figure 5 Industrial vacuums have the power necessary for cleaning the vehicle's mats, carpets and upholstery.
Figure 6 Whether upholstery is leather, vinyl or fabric, the first step in vacuuming is a soft-bristled brush and the crevice tool of the vacuum, working together to rid the seams of dirt.
Figure 7 In many areas, a vacuum alone can't dislodge all the dirt. Here a soft bristled paintbrush and a vacuum crevice tool work in unison to clean the dashboard nooks and crannies.
Detailing Fabric Upholstery
You have several methods and product choices as described below. The first two methods are outlined on the following pages.
- Shampoo fabric upholstery (including cloth, velour, sheepskin, or combination vinyl/fabric upholstery) with a good sudsy household wash product. Some of the choices are:
- A sudsy solution made with liquid hand soap; any good neutral soap and water; a soap made for hand-washing delicate fabrics; fabric and rug shampoos shelved in supermarkets; car-maker upholstery shampoos available from the dealer from whom you bought your vehicle.
- Use a spray-on/wipe-off fabric cleaner
- Hire others to clean it. Arrange to bring your vehicle into the shop of any reputable home carpet/upholstery cleaner. For a usually small fee, someone there will use the shop's heavy-duty equipment to clean your vehicle's upholstery and carpet and to extract the rinse water so as to speed the drying process.
Vehicle cloth is the most difficult type of upholstery material to keep clean or to clean after it becomes dirty or stained. That's one reason pro-detailers usually charge more to clean the interior of a fabric-upholstered vehicle.
Shampooing fabric upholstery
See Figures 8, 9 and 10
If there's any secret to shampooing a vehicle's upholstery (or, for that matter, vehicle carpeting) it's rinsing. Rinse water must be sucked from upholstery and carpets with a home shop wet-dry vacuum, a carpet wet-dry machine rented from a local supermarket, an extractor, or a vacuum available at coin-op car wash places. Whatever the fabric cleaner -- name-brand or no-name generic -- test it first. Try it on a small area of the fabric that normally isn't in view, If what's happening doesn't look right (you detect fading, or a tint of fabric color shows on your cloth), stop right there. Let things dry. Then test another fabric cleaner on another spot.
- Remove any spots or stains (see
How to remove stains
, on page 2 of this section).
- With a soft-bristled brush, gently, but firmly scrub the seats and seatbacks with a circular motion . Get into seams and crevices with the same brush or a toothbrush.
- Wipe away suds with a damp cloth or sponge.
- Rinse with clean water. Use as little water as necessary to rinse thoroughly.
- Extract rinse water with a wet-dry vacuum. Or use paper towels and a hair dryer to speed dry the fabric. To avoid scorching, be careful not to hold the dryer too close to the fabric.
- Allow to dry overnight.
Figure 8 Apply upholstery shampoo with a soft bristled brush.
Figure 9 When scrubbing upholstery, work the suds into the seams and crevices with a toothbrush.
Figure 10 Use an absorbent terry cloth towel to remove the foam.
Using spray-on / wipe-off fabric cleaner
See Figures 11 and 12
Always read a product label and heed the maker's advice. Some spray-on vehicle carpet protectors warn: "Keep small children and pets off carpet until thoroughly dry."
The steps listed below are for a specific product that is typical of the spray-on/wipe-off cleaners. Follow manufacturer's instructions for the product you select.
- Test for colorfastness by cleaning a small, inconspicuous fabric area. Allow to dry. Do not use if color or texture is adversely affected.
- Shake can vigorously. Hold the spray nozzle 4-6 inches from the fabric. Spray a thin, even layer of foam over a small area. Use a cloth or sponge to remove overspray from adjacent, non-upholstered areas.
- With a clean, damp sponge, work foam into the upholstery with overlapping, circular strokes. Rinse sponge clean and squeeze dry frequently.
- Repeat procedure on a small area at a time until entire upholstery is cleaned and protected. Depending on the product, special stain protection may remain after cleaning. It acts to prevent further soiling and stains and helps to maintain the original repellency of upholstery treated with a stain repellent.
- When upholstery is thoroughly dry, vacuum
Figure 11 After testing the fabric for colorfastness and for the effect of the cleaner on the texture, hold the can 4-6 inches from the fabric and spray on a thin, even coat of cleaner.
Figure 12 Use a damp, clean sponge, work the foam into the fabric with overlapping circular strokes. When the fabric is thoroughly dry, vacuum again.
Detailing Vinyl Upholstery
Vinyl is the easiest vehicle upholstery to clean, but it is not necessarily the easiest to keep clean. Vinyl collects grime faster than other upholsteries do (you can actually feel the grime). And vinyl, despite claims to the contrary, fades noticeably, especially when subjected to intense sun exposure-as the rear seatback, for one example.
There's really no reason to buy a vinyl product that just cleans, when soap and water-or any of many all-purpose household detergents and cleaners-will do just as well. But, unless you're very careful to rinse the vinyl well and then wipe it dry, soap and some other household cleaners can dull or streak vinyl. Special vinyl cleaners-and they abound-do more than merely clean: most also impart a sheen to vinyl.
- Optional wash. Using a clean, damp cloth, thoroughly wash vinyl with a mild household detergent or cleaning formula. Some choices: ammonia and water (4-6 tablespoons of ammonia to 1 quart of water); or dishwashing detergent and water.
- Work the solution into seams, seatbacks, along seat, and backrest edges. Use a toothbrush to reach hard-to-reach places.
- Rinse with clean water. Buff dry with a clean cloth. Allow to dry completely, at least one hour, depending on the weather.
- Apply a good vinyl cleaner or a combination cleaner protectant. Let it work for a few minutes, then rub dry with a clean cloth. The object is to bring up vinyl's natural sheen.
- Finally, if you applied a vinyl cleaner, conclude with a straight protectant. Protectants restore vinyl's original color and sheen. Apply with a clean cloth. Let the formula work a few minutes, then buff dry.
Restoring sun-faded vinyl
See Figure 13
A good protectant can sometimes restore nearly original color and sheen to even extremely sun-faded vinyl.
- Apply the protectant with a cloth and a toothbrush and let it work and penetrate overnight. Next morning, rub and buff off any excess.
- If restoration is not complete, repeat the process. Three applications and three overnight soak-ins may be necessary -- but the results can be amazing.
- For worst-case sun-faded vinyl upholstery, you may have to repeat the treatment every 3-4 months in summer, less frequently during less sunny seasons.
Figure 13 Regular treatment with protectants will prevent cracks in the vinyl.
Detailing leather upholstery
Leather is much different from other upholstery materials. If your upholstery is genuine hide, it is perishable. Neglected, it will harden, crack, fade, and, in time, deteriorate into a rash of sand like granules that fall off at the mere brush of an arm. Detailing ensures that your costly leather upholstery will retain its resiliency … and its life.
There are several products available for cleaning and preserving leather. Saddle soap, once the conventional cleaner for leather, is seldom used today by pro-detailers. And, yes, some Owner's Manuals still advise doing nothing but wiping leather with a damp cloth, then thoroughly drying. Before applying any product to leather, test it. Many foreign leathers are topically dyed, meaning they aren't dyed completely through the hide. Non-compatible products will "pull dye"-that is, dye comes off on your cleaning cloth.
On the other hand, many late model American vehicle leathers are coated with a protective plastic. The plastic, usually a PolyVinylChloride (PVC), prevents penetration of any of the various leather cleaners and conditioners. Treat vinyl-coated leather exactly as you'd treat vinyl upholstery. As for leather cleaners/conditioners so essential for "raw," uncoated leather? Forget them. They can't get through the protective plastic barrier.
To test whether your leather upholstery is "raw" or plastic-coated, apply a few drops of clean water to the leather. If the water is easily and quickly absorbed, the leather is uncoated; if the droplets aren't absorbed, the leather probably has a protective coating.
The steps listed below are for a specific brand of leather cleaner and conditioner. Follow manufacturer's instructions on the product you select.
- With a soft cloth, apply the cleaner in overlapping strokes.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to work it into seams and crevices. A cleaner's foaming action (use enough cleaner for sufficient foaming) loosens embedded dirt, "floats" dirt from crevices, and cleans the leather.
- Rinse with clean water and a soft cloth or sponge.
- While the leather is still damp, apply the conditioner evenly over the entire surface and into crevices and seams. Wipe off excess conditioner with a soft, clean cloth. The conditioner lubricates and restores the leather's suppleness and its rich, natural luster.
- Allow to dry thoroughly before use.
Detailing vehicle carpeting
What cleans the carpets in your home will clean the carpets in your vehicle. The same spot removers that "de-spot" your home's carpeting will de-spot your vehicle's. Carpet-wash solutions sold for supermarket rental carpet cleaning machines generally do an equally good job on your vehicle's carpeting. Cold-water home fabric wash products are also popular with pro-detailers for cleaning both wool and synthetic vehicle carpeting.
Most common household carpet cleaners tend to be "wet formulas." Even when a wet-dry vacuum or extractor is used to pull out most of the water, carpets are still pretty wet and may need several days to thoroughly air dry. Spray-on vehicle carpet formulas do a credible cleaning job without undo wetness.
Removing road-salt stains
After vacuuming, but before cleaning and washing carpets, remove any spots or stains (see "
How to Remove Stains
," in page 2 of this section, for spot-removal techniques). Unlike vehicle upholstery, however, carpet is often tracked with road-salted snow and slush, which not only whiten or gray the carpeting but also stain upon melting. A simple procedure and homemade antidote often rids vehicle carpeting of road-salt stains.
- Brush away snow and slush. Vacuum remaining residue.
- If stain remains, remove with a carefully applied saltwater solution: 1 cup of table salt to 1 quart of water.
- Use a soft-bristled brush or cloth to work the salt solution into the stain place. Feather outward from stain's center to avoid leaving a ring in the carpeting.
- With stain removed, shampoo the stain area and adjacent carpeting.
Carpet cleaning with a ‘wet formula’
See Figure 14
- Clean the dirtier front-seat carpeting first. If your "wet formula" wash solution becomes dirty, mix a new solution before cleaning the backseat carpeting.
- Apply generous amounts of a "wet formula" with a soft-bristled brush. Use vigorous, circular, overlapping strokes.
- Work the brush and suds deep into the piling.
- With a dry, absorbent cloth or paper towels, wipe off any excess.
- Rinse well and deeply with clean cool or cold water.
- Soak up the rinse water with paper towels. Or, far better, remove with an extractor or a wet-dry home shop vacuum. Or drive to a coin-op place and use its wet-dry vacuum.
- Let dry overnight. When nearly or completely dry, fluff carpet's nap with a dry, soft-bristled brush.
Figure 14 Spray bottle administers "wet formula" to the door trim. Next the trim is scrubbed, rinsed and allowed to dry.
Carpet cleaning with a spray-on formula
- Apply spray-on cleaner as outlined step-by-step in the "wet formula" procedure, for spray-on upholstery cleaning.
- Although some spray-on carpet cleaners may also help to protect newly cleaned vehicle carpets from quickly resoiling, a product designed specifically as a protector gives double protection.
Applying carpet protection
The steps listed below are for a specific brand of protector. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the protector you select.
- First, test colorfastness. Spray a small amount on a hid den area of carpeting. Wipe with a clean white cloth. If any color shows on the cloth, do not use the product. If no color rub-off shows, proceed.
- Shake the spray can vigorously. Hold can 4-6 inches from the carpet and make circular, overlapping passes. Spray an even, light coating over the entire carpet area.
- Protector will foam. The foam will disappear within a few minutes. Wipe any overspray from adjacent, non-carpet areas.
- Let dry. Protector usually completely dries within about 2 hours.
- If, after the carpet is dry, any whitish residue remains (evidence that in places you applied too much protector), vacuum that area clean.
Cleaning and shining dashboard, instrument panel, and in-vehicle vinyl, plastic and rubber
See Figure 15
The detailing cure-all for restoring the original good looks and sheen of vinyl, rubber and plastics is a protectant. Protectant is wiped on, allowed to work for anywhere from a few minutes to overnight (in the case of badly sun-faded vinyl upholstery), and then wiped and buffed off.
Many driveway detailers, however, neglect one vital first step: cleaning. A protectant cannot work its considerable restorative wonders unless the surface to which it is applied is clean.
Figure 15 Between thorough in-vehicle detailing sessions, wipe the dash every few weeks with a cloth wetted with protectant. Scratches in plastic dial or gauge lenses can be removed with a plastic cleaner; plastic can then be polished with a plastic polish.
Whether restoring the dashboard, door moldings, shift console, rubber weather stripping, headrests, sun visors or other in-vehicle appendage, clean the surface before applying protectant. You can use an all-purpose cleaner (such as a dishwashing detergent solution, a weak ammonia-water wash, or any of numerous brand name general-purpose cleaners) and soft cloths to thoroughly wash and dry the surface on which you intend to use a protectant. Or you can apply a pre-protectant rub-on/wipe-off cleaner.
Since protectants tend to make surfaces slick, do not use on foot pedal rubber (as the brake or accelerator pedals) or on the steering wheel.
The same protectants that restore vinyl upholstery can restore other in-vehicle plastic, rubber and composite materials. Protectants do more than simply restore original color. They keep rubber moldings flexible and functioning, protect vinyl from scuffing, and reduce sun-fade.
Protectants need periodic reapplication. To apply, spray or wipe protectant on surface; let it work, then wipe off and buff to a sheen. Most protectants perform better when left on a surface for awhile (for anywhere from a few minutes to several hours), rather than being wiped off immediately.
Detailing interior windows, windshield and mirrors See Figure 16
For windows, windshield and mirrors, use any good glass cleaner or a weak solution of ammonia and water. Treat interior convertible windows as you did their exteriors, with a scratch-removing plastic cleaner/polish.
Figure 16 A good quality glass cleaner will remove smoke and haze from the windows.
Reaching the hard-to-reach places
To access the hard-to-reach places in the vehicle interior, use a vacuum's crevice tool, a "detail stick," or a thin, long-handled paint brush. Often dust and dirt can be dislodged with a few zaps of air pressure from an aerosol can of one of the pressurized air products used to rid precision instruments, including camera innards, of dust.
Cleaning and polishing interior chrome
Any good chrome cleaner/polish used to clean and polish exterior chrome can be used to clean and polish interior chrome, as well. However, the interior application and polishing must be done far more carefully to avoid getting chrome cleaner on upholstery or other interior materials to which chrome trim and strips may be attached. Quick application of masking tape eliminates the risk.
- Mask what you intend to polish, if masking is applicable.
- Apply chrome polish with a soft cloth.
- Work polish into chromed crevices and channels.
- Wipe off and buff with a clean soft cloth.
Care and detailing of aftermarket-tinted windows
If you had your vehicle's windows tinted after you bought the vehicle ("aftermarket-tinted") to reduce glare, reduce ultraviolet fading of upholstery, lessen the work load of air conditioning, or provide privacy, disregard everything this chapter says about the routine way to detail plain glass windows. Yours aren't plain glass. Because their interior sides are coated with a sunscreening film, their detailing may require something more than routine doing.
How much more depends on the kind of film the tinter used. Older-type films are particularly vulnerable to scratching unless you use great care and, most important, a super-soft non-abrasive cleaning cloth, Technology has greatly improved the durability and toughness of the newer tint films. The new films can be safely cleaned much as you would clean your vehicle's untinted glass. If in doubt as to whether your windows are tinted with older-or newer-type film, clean them as though they were the older, more scratch-prone type. If you detail windows tinted with the older-type film as though they were ordinary plain glass, you can destroy the special film with a single cleaning.
Windows tinted after delivery from the factory have a thin layer of tinted plastic film on their in-vehicle surfaces. The film, old or new, is vulnerable to grime (the film's chief enemy), scratches, the mechanical action of a window's mechanism (which can cut, scratch, and groove the tint film), and everyday use.
Detailing window tint films of the older type requires a gentle approach. The number-one rule: Never use a cleaning solution that contains ammonia. To clean, use a mild dishwashing detergent solution: 1 ounce of biodegradable, no-color dishwashing detergent mixed with 20 ounces of distilled water. Use a spray bottle to apply the mix. Spraying, which eliminates application or wiping with cloths, reduces abrasive contact with the film. No-color dishwashing detergent won't cloud or discolor the tint; some colored detergents may.
After spraying solution on the tint film, dry the film with an extremely soft and pliable squeegee, or with a soft sponge. If you have neither, use a super-soft cotton cloth. Avoid using paper towels; no matter how soft they may feel to you, their fibers can scratch the tint films.
The new tint films can be cleaned much as plain glass windows: with any of the usual window cleaning solutions, with soap and water, or with a solution of dishwashing detergent. Once clean, newer films can be dried with very soft paper towels.
Some vehicle owners protect the tint, whatever its type, with a sheet of clear plastic, carefully cut to fit the window exactly. Protective window plastic is available from window-tinting shops.
Application of the plastic is exacting, but easy. (clean the tint film, as described above, and dry. Mix a solution of dishwashing detergent (3-4 squirts of detergent to a quart of water). Wet the window tint with the soapy solution. Lay the plastic over the tint film. With a squeegee, press the plastic to the tint. Working from the center to the extremities of the plastic, squeegee out any soapy water or air bubbles. In two or three days this protective tint sandwich will be dry, and the tint film will be permanently protected. Besides normal wear and tear, particular things, such as soft drinks spilled on tinted windows not protected by plastic, can deteriorate some types of tint film. So can cigarette smoke, hairspray, and a buildup of road grime. Also, too-tight window rollers and other parts of the window mechanism can squeeze unprotected tint, damaging the film.
One way to reduce damage caused by a window mechanism is to spray-coat the tint with a silicone vinyl protectant. A number of them, available at some auto supply stores and most window-tint shops, are specially formulated for "lubricating" window tint film. Lubrication makes the tint film slightly slippery, helping to reduce window mechanism damage. Lubrication also makes the film more resistant to scratching.
One additional warning: If your vehicle's windows are aftermarket-tinted with the older-type film, especially if the tint is not covered with a plastic protector, don't let the car wash people touch them. Do the tint windows gently (and with the right products) yourself. Car wash window treatment tends to be rough (the cloths they use) and tough (the pressure they use, which is seldom gentle). A single swipe with a rough cloth can leave unprotected older-type tint films permanently disfigured.
In contrast to aftermarket-tinted windows, factory-delivered tinted windows have the tint manufactured in the glass. Factory-tint windows are detailed just like ordinary plain-glass windows.
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©1998 W. G. Nichols - Chilton's Easy Car Care