How to Prepare for Your First Classic Car Show

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Your first classic car show is a big deal. After all, you’ve spent months preparing your car to have it ready for exhibition. It’s exciting because you know you will be around other car enthusiasts and you might win something. You also understand that preparing is more than just a wash or wax—it’s all in the details.

Consider Shipping Your Car

Shipping your car can also be an option to get your car to the show as clean as when you dropped it off with the carrier. Make sure it is spotless before handing it over to the shipping company. Doing so can help with minimizing touch-ups upon arrival. You’ll still need to do a quick once-over when it arrives to catch any minor cleaning issues you need to handle. And don’t worry there are a lot of cheap car shipping companies available. You won’t have to break the bank to get your car there when you need it.

Suggestions for a car cleaning kit include things like a bucket, microfiber cloths, detail spray, a waterless washer, appropriate glass cleaner, and polish for your chrome details. A wireless handheld vacuum can also be helpful if you need to do any last-minute cleaning on the interior to get those last few specks of dust.

Prep for Bodywork

As you start getting ready for a classic car show, the very first thing you’ll want to handle is any bodywork that might need to be done. These issues will be the first that judges see, and they can take the longest time to repair ahead of time.

Look for rust, dents, and scratches. These blemishes will cause you to lose points with judges, so review and inspect your car with a fine-toothed comb. If you find a dent, scratch, or rust, take your vehicle to a professional for evaluation and repair.

Loose or Missing Pieces

After inspecting dents and other blemishes, you also want to take note of any missing pieces that might exist. Make sure that everything is there on the inside and outside of your car. Look for missing panels, loose fenders, and anything else that wiggles or jiggles that shouldn’t be moving like that.

Locate replacements as necessary or get in touch with a professional that can help you evaluate what you need. These repairs can be minor, but they might be the things that judges notice as they review your car during competition.

Surface Modifications

Modifications can mean different things to different people. In some cases, it may be as simple as sanding down a small blemish. Other times, it might mean giving your car a brand-new paint job. Whatever you choose, you’ll need to make sure they’re done well, which means you may want to take your vehicle to a professional to get things done.

If you decide to go with a paint job, always choose a professional with verifiable experience working with classic cars. Get recommendations and ask the pro for references. Selecting a paint job can include anything from bringing it back to stock condition to adding something flashy to give it more character. Your best bet is to research previous winners to see what the judges liked and go from there.

The Cleaning Process

There is a rhyme and reason to the way your car needs to be cleaned before a car show. You always start with the engine compartment and undercarriage. From there, you go to the top of your car and work your way down.

Water flows down, so you want to keep the dirty water away from clean areas. Once you’re done with the body, you’ll want to dry your car with a microfiber cloth. You might be tempted to let it air-dry, but don’t do that. If you do, you’ll likely end up with water spots, which is not an attractive look.

Do your wheels last because they are always the dirtiest. Be prepared to use some elbow grease on them to get them looking pristine.

Start With the Undercarriage and Engine

You can’t consider yourself ready for the show until you’ve also cleaned out the undercarriage and the engine. Always do this part first, but remember to cover your fenders and the windshield before you degrease anything. This prevents splatter from getting on these areas.

At the same time, if you do get grease splatter on any surface where it doesn’t belong, don’t worry too much because you’re still going to need to clean it up later. By degreasing the undercarriage and engine before anything else, you also get the more challenging places out of the way first, leaving you free to make the rest of your car shine.

Pro tip: Always use the proper cleaning supplies and materials. Don’t use anything other than cleaning formulas made for your car. Otherwise, you could end up causing damage and keeping yourself from successfully competing.

Make Sure Your Car Is Spotless

Competition is fierce at classic car shows, and you want to do everything you can to make your car spotless. Every single crevice between the door seal to the wheels to the rims needs to be completely free of debris. If you’re driving your car to the show, plan for some time to do last-minute touch-ups upon arrival.

Remember to bring a small travel cleaning kit because you’re going to notice minor things when you arrive. Driving may also cause some road dust to accumulate on the rims as you go, so make sure you are prepared to handle those last-minute tasks.

Using quality wax is always a great way to make your car gleam in the sunlight, so it doesn’t hurt to get that done before the show. Always pay attention to the small details because those will be what knock you down a few points in a competitive classic car show, too. Whatever you do, never use anything that is not designed for your car, so avoid Windex.

Clean Out Your Car

Being clean pertains to the inside, too. You want everything to be completely empty and clean. Detail the interior, and don’t be afraid to get in those hard-to-reach spaces with q-tips to get every last speck of dirt. You’re supposed to take pride in your classic car, so treat it with the respect it deserves.

On a side note, as the judges go over your car, you don’t want them to find something that shouldn’t be there. That’s another reason why you need to get your vehicle entirely clean. Also, don’t hover over judges. They don’t like it, and if they want to ask you something, they always will.

Don’t forget to clean out the trunk and be just as thorough as you are with the rest of the car. If your trunk has a carpeted interior, clean it the same way you would clean the carpeting on the inside.

The Same Rules Apply on the Inside

When you clean the inside of the car, you should only use cleaners appropriate for your interior. You should never use household cleaners because they are not designed to be used on a car. Instead, use cleaning materials intended for the materials in your interior like vinyl, leather, or fabric. As every car is different, always verify whatever cleaning supplies you want to use to make sure they won’t cause damage.

You also want to clean top to bottom on the inside of your car. By doing so, you’ll also avoid getting dust on areas that have already been cleaned. For windows, use a glass cleaner made for car windows, and as always, stay away from Windex.

The last thing you do is clean the carpet. Brush it and vacuum it to get a deep clean. Clean the mats the same way. Once you have gotten all of the dirt, follow up with an upholstery cleaner. Go a section at a time, and then dry the carpet at the end to minimize any chance for musty smells.

A Few Last Thoughts on Preparing for Your First Car Show

A lot goes into preparing for a classic car show, and even more when it’s your first one. Start with the body and inspect for blemishes, rust, or any other cosmetic issues that might exist. Follow that with checking for missing or loose pieces that may need replacement or repair. Once that is complete, you’ll be ready to think about surface modifications.

After your surface updates have been taken care of, you’ll be ready to do a thorough clean on your car. Be intentional with your cleaning by using only the best cleaning supplies and working from the top down. Remember to start with the undercarriage and engine before cleaning the body. Pay special attention to the wheels, and work to make your car spotless.

Don’t forget to clean out your car entirely on the interior, too. Follow the same method from top to bottom and get your trunk, too. Whether you drive or ship your car, always have a cleaning kit ready to go when you arrive so your car will be in its best condition to present well at the car show.


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