Prep Your Classic Car
For A Car Show


Car cruise and car show season is always an exciting time of year! Automotive events like car shows bring people together in celebration and pride of their vehicles nearly every weekend, and even weeknights in a lot of areas. Maybe you just recently purchased a classic car, or maybe you’ve owned it for years or decades, but you want your classic to look its best. You may not know the proper, safe methods to clean an older vehicle, or maybe you are just looking for some tips and tricks that you may not have known. If you have an older vintage car, hot rod, muscle car, or classic truck, you most likely do not want to clean and wash it in the traditional sense using a hose or pressure washer with soap and water.

You might ask “What makes cleaning a classic car different from cleaning any other modern car?” Unlike most modern vehicles, classic and vintage cars usually do not hold up to water well. Rubber seals can be decades old or completely gone, and drain channels, if any, could be clogged with 50 years of dirt and grime build-up. So introducing a hose in these instances could leave your carpets or trunk a flooded and soaking with water - not to mention older engine bays where you could harm the battery, carburetor, wiring, distributor, and more; whereas with modern vehicles, they are typically very safe to clean with water. Paint and chrome can also be delicate on older vehicles, so using a pressure washer like we would normally recommend is out of the question, since it could damage these areas by removing loose or weakened paint and chrome.

For most of the nation, Spring through Fall are the most popular months for car cruises, cars and coffee events, car shows, charity poker runs and rallies, and more. For some lucky parts of the country, these events occur year-round into the winter months. In this blog, we’ll explain several different areas and aspects of preparing your classic or vintage vehicle for an event at a hobbyist level - wheels and tires; exhaust tips, exterior trim, and engine bay; paint; and then finally the interior and trunk. We’ll cover how to make your ride look great in a quick manner for a car cruise, compared to paying attention to every single detail for a judged car show. The goal here is to make things easy and efficient so that you can enjoy the show rather than spending the whole event cleaning your car. We will have a separate article in the near-future on how to detail your vehicle for a more serious judged event, where every point can count if you’re chasing a prize or award. While this article is geared towards classic and vintage cars, all of these methods, tips, and tricks can be used on just about any vehicle for car show prep.

Wheel & Tire Prep

The goal for many when attending a car show is to find a good spot and quickly make your car ready for presentation. This way you can spend time with friends, walk around and look at other cars and eat some great food, or relax and answer questions and discuss your ride with other enthusiasts. Therefore you want to prepare your vehicle as much as possible in the days leading up to the show or even the night before. Just like we recommend cleaning wheels and tires first during a traditional Two Bucket Wash, cleaning the tires and wheels on a classic car for a car show is a logical first step in your detailing show prep.

For the wheels, you can give them a quick and safe cleaning with Waterless Wash and several waffle-weave Waterless Wash Towels. With the wheels cool to the touch, generously spray Waterless Wash onto the wheel surface, then gently wipe the spokes, center cap, lug nuts, and lip with a folded Waterless Wash Towel. As one side of the towel becomes dirty, flip it over to a new clean side - do not continue to use a dirty side of the towel to keep wiping the wheel, as that is how you can introduce scratches into delicate wheel finishes. Do not use these specific towels on the paint afterward unless you wash them first since they will have brake dust and other particles in them that can scratch paint. If the wheels have wide openings in between the spokes, reach as many areas of the inside barrel as you can. If there are tighter clearances for the inner barrel, you can wrap a Waterless Wash Towel over a Small Angled Wheel Brush and then clean the inner barrel in that manner. Then wrap a second dry Waterless Wash Towel (or a Mini Plush Drying Towel) around the Small Angled Wheel Brush to wipe up excess residue.

For the tires, you do not want to simply keep adding more and more layers of a tire dressing to try to temporarily hide brown discoloration. We’ve all seen a set of tires that look like a sticky mess from using too much tire shine, with tire shine speckles slung all of the sides of the vehicle, and you do not want your tires, doors, etc. looking like that. Take a folded Edgeless Utility Towel and spray several mists of Tire & Rubber Cleaner directly into the towel if your vehicle has shorter sidewalls, or spray directly onto the tire if the sidewalls have some height to them, then scrub the tire with the towel. As you scrub back and forth, you will notice large amounts of dirt and brown discoloration transferring into the towel, leaving your tire nice and bare. Use a dry part of the towel or a second Edgeless Utility Towel to wipe away any excess cleaner.

Once the wheels and tires are dry (and after you have finished cleaning all other areas of the vehicle), apply your preferred tire product on each tire to allow it to soak in and dry overnight. Our Tire Shine will provide more of a higher gloss look, whereas VRT or Graphene Tire Dressing will leave the tires with more of a dark black satin sheen, so it comes down to personal preference of how you want the tires to look. Very glossy tires can sometimes take away the focus from the wheel itself, and dark tires with a satin look may draw more attention to the wheel and caliper.

Note: If the wheels have heavier brake dust build-up, you will want to spend more time cleaning them, since wheels are one of the main focal points when people walk past a vehicle, and spotless wheels can quickly set your car apart from the rest. For an in-depth look at cleaning more dirty wheels and tires, reference this video here: How To Effectively Clean Your Wheels And Tires

Wheel Wells and Fender Liners
While cleaning the tires, now is a good time to clean wheel wells and fender liners if your vehicle has them, so that you can be more time-efficient. For vehicles with plastic liners or painted inner fenders, our Fender Brush with Tire & Rubber Cleaner is an effective way to scrub away dirt, bug guts, tar, and other road debris that is flung onto the liners from the tires. If the plastic liners aren’t too dirty, you can use Waterless Wash instead, in the same manner that you cleaned the wheels earlier. Then use one of the Waterless Wash Towels that you used when cleaning the wheels to wipe away any excess residue.

On sports cars with low-profile tires and or cars with a lower ride height, you may find that our Fender Brush does not fit easily in between the tire and wheel arch to clean inside the fender, so in these instances we would recommend using the Small Angled Wheel Brush with its smaller diameter to fit around the tire to scrub the inner liner. Once you have the inner fender clean, you can treat plastic-lined ones with Undercarriage Spray to darken them and leave them perfectly black - nothing stands out more at a car show than a clean wheel and tire with a dirty wheel well, so make sure not to skip out on this step!

Exhaust Tips, Exterior Trim, and Engine Bay Prep

With the wheels, tires, and fender wells now looking great, it’s time to move onto a few more areas of the vehicle that warrant more attention or special care: exhaust tips, exterior trim, and the engine bay. Exhaust tips with soot build-up are another area that stand out like a sore thumb. You can spray the exhaust tips with Eco All Purpose Cleaner or Tire & Rubber Cleaner and scrub them with the Small Angled Wheel Brush to remove light soot and dirt, then use Waterless Wash and a Waterless Wash Towel to wipe away the cleaner residue. For heavier black soot and exhaust residue baked into the metal, you will need a more aggressive cleaning approach. Start with Metal Polish #1 with a Gray Microfiber Applicator, and work in the polish back and forth 10-20 times by hand, using light pressure. Then wipe away the residue with a Single Soft Towel. If some carbon build-up still remains, then move up to using #0000 Steel Wool as your applicator with Metal Polish #1. This works excellent, especially if the exhaust tips have rolled and polished inner walls, but keep in mind that the steel wool may leave behind very fine scratches as it removes the heavier contamination and brings them back to a shiny chrome-like finish.

Faded and dirty exterior plastic and rubber trim are often overlooked when preparing for a car show, and with just a few minutes of effort, you can have these areas looking factory-new. Our Tire & Rubber Cleaner with an Edgeless Utility Towel is the preferred combo for this task. The surfactants in the chemical, along with the tight-weave microfiber towel, provide powerful scrubbing ability to remove dirt, oxidation, and old wax stains, while making slightly faded plastic and rubber darker in the process. Clean any rubber trim around windows and drain channels on the roof, the plastic wiper cowl, any plastic cladding on door panels, roof racks, step rails, bumper inserts, bed rails, and more. Wipe away excess Tire & Rubber Cleaner using a second towel, and allow the areas to fully dry. After washing and drying the rest of the vehicle (later in this article), treat these plastic and rubber trim areas with Graphene VRT and a Bock Applicator to darken them even further, leaving a perfect satin look while protecting them for a few months.

Vintage Engine Bays
At cruises and car shows, you may find many of the vehicles are on display with their hoods down. Owners might do this because they may not want you to see all of their secrets under the hood, they may not have had time to clean the engine compartment, or they may not know how to safely clean an engine bay. You will most likely need a different approach when detailing an engine bay on an older vehicle than you would on modern vehicles with OBD-II computer systems since 1996. As mentioned earlier in this blog, you typically do not want to use a hose or pressure washer on engine bays of classic cars, so that you do not damage any ignition or wiring components, or get water trapped in areas that could then rust.

A very good alternative is to use Waterless Wash with several waffle-weave Waterless Wash Towels to carefully clean as many areas as you can reach. Use one towel to wipe up dirt and grease, then follow behind with a second clean towel to leave the area clean and streak-free. Since you will be reaching with your hands instead of brushes with this method, be careful not to cut your hands or arms on sharp plastic and metal components throughout the engine bay. Once finished, you should downgrade these towels to dirty or non-delicate jobs - in other words, wash these towels separately and do not use them on paint afterward if you removed large amounts of grease and oil when cleaning the engine.

Finish up the engine bay detail by using VRT on any large plastic areas and In & Out Spray on hard-to-reach plastic and rubber areas, such as hoses, wire loom, vents on the wiper cowl, and so on. In & Out Spray leaves everything looking perfect in seconds, and any over spray wipes away very easily from paint and glass. You can review our engine bay detailing video for modern vehicles here: Why and How Should You Clean Your Engine?

Paint Preparation

We now have the wheels, tires, fender wells, exhaust tips, exterior trim, and engine bay looking ready to roll, so now it’s time to finish up the exterior with cleaning the glass, any chrome pieces, and the paint. These last 3 areas should take just about as much time to wash as we spent cleaning the wheels and tires earlier, usually around 30 minutes. Just like with the wheels when working on a classic, you can omit the full wash process and use Waterless Wash and several microfiber Waterless Wash Towels instead. If you are outside, use Waterless Wash on areas of the vehicle in the shade first, since these panels will be cooler and have less chance of streaking. Then move the vehicle around if you can to move panels that were in the sunlight into the shade, to allow them to cool, and then clean these areas in the same manner. For a refresher on the waterless wash process, review this video here:High Lubricity Spray And Wipe Hoseless Washing For Your Car | Adam's Waterless Wash For a quick reference on our safe washing process using a Two Bucket Method for more modern vehicles, reference this video here:How To Wash Your Car Without Scratching

Glass and Chrome
If the glass and any chrome pieces do not come fully clean with just Waterless Wash, here are a few tips and tricks to make these areas look as spotless as the rest of your car:

  • Adam’s Visco Clay Bar can remove stubborn bug guts and other splatters on the windshield and other exterior glass with ease. Use our green Glass Cleaner as a lubricant for the clay bar, then wipe away the liquid and clay residue with a premium microfiber towel.
  • If chrome pieces are tarnished, discolored, or have heavy bug guts, our Metal Polish #1 with a Gray Microfiber Applicator will get things looking excellent with little time and effort. Wipe up the excess residue with a plush microfiber towel. If working in tight areas, be cautious, as Metal Polish can stain or discolor nearby plastic and rubber trim.

Interior & Trunk Preparation

You may sometimes want to skip the interior when going to a car show or car cruise, as you may feel that not many people will look inside; however, keep in mind that your car might be someone else’s dream car as well, so you should take pride in the interior and spend some time at least doing a quick wipe-down. A dusty dashboard, candy wrappers, and empty fountain drinks make for a less than show worthy display, and they take only a few minutes to clean up. For a very quick interior cleaning of 15 minutes or less, wipe down the dashboard, door panels, center console, steering wheel, and other areas with Interior Detailer with Microban and an Edgeless Utility Towel to leave them looking factory new. Then vacuum out cup holders, carpet and floor mats, and cracks and crevices in seats. Lastly, a few drops of Brilliant Glaze on a Gray Microfiber Applicator will cut through any haze, film, or streaks on the inside of your windshield and side windows with ease, then wipe away the residue with a Single Soft Towel. The final area to quickly clean up is the trunk. A vacuum of the trunk will make sure you do not get any dirt or debris on any towels or applicators, and also looks much more presentable when accessing your other show gear, which we’ll discuss next.

What to Pack
There are a few items that you should consider packing for every show. Yes, there will usually be some stores nearby where you could pick up items, but at larger shows this could mean losing a great space if you have to leave the event and come back. The Adam’s Trunk Organizer is a perfect way to keep just the right amount of detailing supplies that you may need throughout the day in a compact and sturdy bag that will usually fit in even the smallest trunks. You may even consider using a second one to hold snacks, drink bottles/cups, etc, so that they don’t take up more space in a cooler. Here’s a list of items that we recommend, as well as a printable PDF Checklist HERE, but feel free to make your own checklist and add to it:

  • Trunk Organizer
    • Detail Spray - Single Soft Towels
    • Waterless Wash - Waterless Wash Towels
    • Brilliant Glaze - Grey Microfiber Applicator and Borderless Grey Towel
    • Tire Shine - Pro Tire Hex Grip Applicator
    • In & Out Spray and Undercarriage Spray - Foam Block Applicator
    • Interior Detailer - Edgeless Utility Towels
    • Ultra Plush Drying Towel - you will want one if you get caught in a rainstorm
  • Comfortable folding chairs - it’s always good to have a spare for a friend
  • Comfortable shoes - you might do a lot of walking
  • Cooler - water, drinks, and snacks
  • Sunscreen and a bucket hat - sunburn is no fun
  • Umbrella and jacket/blanket - for the wet/colder meets

Car Dusters and Why You Should Avoid Them!

You might be thinking, “Hey, there’s no car duster in their checklist! Why not?” and you’re exactly right, a car duster is missing from our checklist for a reason. Car dusters are an excellent way to introduce dozens or hundreds of hairline scratches into the finish of your vehicle! As a car duster pulls dust from the surface, that dust turns into dirt particles that then live right at the ends of the wax-coated cotton fibers, which are then pulled across other body panels of the car. If you ever see very long, faint shimmery scratches, it is very likely they were caused by a duster or a cotton towel not soft enough for a vehicle’s paint or clear coat. For this reason, that is why we have Waterless Wash and Waterless Wash Towels in our checklist above. Waterless Wash is a much safer way to use chemical cleaning lubricity in combination with a much safer waffle-weave microfiber towel to lift dirt from the surface up into the hundreds of pockets in the towel. Waterless Wash will not build up on the surface either, so it will still allow your wax layer or ceramic coating to perform properly.

At The Show

You’ve finally made it to the show, found your parking space, and picked up your registration packet, but your ride undoubtedly picked up some bug splatter, road debris, or some dirt from a water puddle, or even worse, a light rainstorm along the way. No worries though, this is why you spent so much time preparing the night before or a few days leading up to the show. By spending all that time prior to the show, now your car will clean up much more easily using just a few chemicals and accessories that we listed in the Trunk Organizer in the last section, so that you can enjoy the show, rather than stress from cleaning every little nook and cranny of your vehicle non-stop. Don’t forget - you’re here to relax, have fun, and take pride in your ride and others!

Use Waterless Wash and Waterless Wash Towels to take care of any bugs on the front bumper, hood, and windshield. Next, use Detail Spray with a Single Soft Towel or Brilliant Glaze to make the paint, chrome, and glass shine like crazy. For Brilliant Glaze, apply it with a Gray Microfiber Applicator to one area at a time, allow it to haze up for usually 30-60 seconds, then buff away the residue with a Single Soft Towel. Then apply some Tire Shine onto the tires using a Pro Tire Hex Grip Applicator, and your car should mostly be show-ready. You may need to hit a few areas here and there in the engine bay or interior, but for the most part, it should only take around 15-30 minutes to have the whole vehicle looking awesome!


In this blog, we covered a more casual topic of car cruises and car shows, and how to prepare your classic ride prior to the event to look its best. We explained how you can do a quick cleaning of most areas of a collector vehicle with Waterless Wash, as well as more in-depth processes if you want to do more thorough preparation, such as wheels and tires, exhaust tips and trim, engine bay, interior and trunk, and then finally exterior paint, glass, and chrome. We also gave some recommendations on what things to pack for both you and your vehicle throughout the day, but the bottom line is you are there to have fun, share knowledge about your car and learn about other vehicles, and enjoy time with friends and family. If you are uncertain about any product, or have any questions in general, feel free to contact us at, or reach us on our online communities on, Instagram, and Facebook, as well.

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