Modern Trucking Techniques
Elbow grease - the other polish
Hard work, TLC can make your ride shine after a long, hard winter

By Suzanne Stempinski 
Field Editor

Winter’s been tough on your truck. In spite of regular washes to remove salt and road grime and the best maintenance you’ve been able to provide, your ride looks a little ragged.

It’s time for some spring cleaning. Some products to clean your truck are as close as your kitchen cabinet or neighborhood Wal-Mart. Others are more likely to be found in truck stops, chrome shops, at truck shows like the Mid-America Trucking Show or in auto parts stores.

Before you get out the polish though, take time to address the grime.

Strip all the bedding out of your truck and give it a good wash. Leave the doors and windows open; grab a bucket, gloves, sponge and some good pine or orange cleaner for your interior – front to back and top to bottom. Take the curtains down, take any stuff off your dash and visors – anything that’s vinyl can be scrubbed and then treated with vinyl dressing and protector.

Fabric curtains, wall and door panels and your mattress can be laundered or sprayed with those popular fabric-deodorizing sprays. Wash throw rugs, use a little carpet-cleaning machine and get winter’s grit out of your carpet – you can also use that little machine on your fabric door and wall panels.

Take a good look at your chrome, aluminum, paint and tires. Look at the bezels around your lights – if you’re using chromed plastic, the harsh chemicals used on the roads may have caused the chrome to peel. They look good but don’t last forever. Metal bezels may exhibit rust or pitting, particularly at attachment points that have held tough-to-reach grime. Replace as necessary.

Give your truck a critical eye as you walk around it. I’d bet your aluminum is in serious need of some TLC. If you get your truck professionally polished once or twice a year – now is the time for that first big job. If you know how to do it yourself, jump into those coveralls, grab your buffer with new pads and bars of polish and prepare to get dirty as your truck begins to shine.

Using a buffer is not as easy as it looks. If your aluminum is rough and your tanks and wheels look like they’ve never been shiny, hand polishing won’t be good enough to get that deep gleam. There are hundreds of compound types available. Each will produce a different result. This does not mean that one is better than another; it just means that each is for a specific purpose.

Vic Caliva, owner of Caliva’s Truck Wash & Polishing in Montebello, CA, specializes in polishing big trucks – including those amazingly shiny tankers that gleam like mirrors, as well as company trucks, owner-operator trucks and many award-winning show trucks. There are three colors of polish compound bars he uses to get the best results.

“Brown is for a heavy cut – you’d use that to get out deep pits and scratches,” he said. “Green bars are considered medium, they’ll do a good job for re-polishes or for moderate jobs; and white is a finishing bar, giving that top shine.”

Different pads are used on high-speed buffers to get varying results.

“There are cutting pads and finishing pads – a whole array of products. The best pad of choice depends on the individual and what he’s comfortable with,” Caliva said. “A novice polisher may be best off with a car polishing wheel and bonnet – it will take a lot longer, but may be easier to use.”

One thing to consider is the cost of professional polishing versus the cost of your down time.

“It may cost you $800 to $1,000 to get your truck polished out professionally, but if it takes you five days or more to do it yourself, what’s your time worth?” Caliva asked. “Would you be better off to take that extra load and earn the money to pay for a professional to get your truck done in a day or two? A lot of guys don’t consider that.”

Hand polishing your aluminum is time consuming, but the results are well worth it. Even if you have your truck professionally polished, you can maintain a deep shine with any number of metal polishes on the market.

Try Magic Mix, White Diamond, Meguiar’s, California Custom, Wicked, Wenol, Road Dog, Cooper’s or any one of the large numbers of other polishes available. They’re all somebody’s polish of choice. Regardless of the sales pitch you receive, elbow grease is required. Which one is best? The one that does the best job for you.

How good do your tires look? I don’t just mean tread depth – we’re talking shiny black healthy-looking rubber. While your tanks and wheels are being transformed is a good time to give your tires some attention.

Wipe the sidewalls thoroughly with mineral spirits or one of the products on the market that removes grime without turning the rubber brown.

Paint the letters if you’re so inclined with paint pens available from craft stores or Wal-Mart.

Then, once the lettering is dry, complete that healthy glow with one of the tire treatments available almost everywhere.

From foaming products that don’t need wiping to sprays or liquids – there are plenty of options. Some products are advertised as being good for your interior and exterior vinyl, plastic and rubber.

Now it’s time to check out your paint. Is your pin striping and lettering still crisp and easily legible from the window of the scale house or is a little refreshment in order?

Take care of it. Waxing your truck is a great thing to do on a beautiful spring day while you’re waiting to load or unload.

Many of the companies that manufacture metal polish also have a line of wax and polishes for your paint as well. Some waxes need to be applied within certain temperature tolerances; others promote themselves as being easy to apply and remove regardless of the weather.

By the time you’re done, your truck will be ready to rock – and roll – down the road looking awesome whether you’re heading out with a delivery or making your way to the Mid-America Trucking Show.

Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at wheelz624@aol.com.