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Keeping your Jeep clean—or any 4×4, for that matter—can be a chore at times, but the results after putting in a little time and effort can go a long way. Here, we will take you through the process of how to clean those tired-looking fenders on your Jeep and have them looking brand new—and, while we’re at it, cleaning the rest of the Jeep as well!
What do I need to clean my plastic fenders? (Tools and Products)
It’s unlikely you’re going to tackle your fenders without cleaning the rest of your Jeep beforehand, and you may have already attempted to clean the fenders anyway. When cleaning your truck, hopefully you have the basics for washing any vehicle:
- Access to running water (ideally, a hose)
- Snow foam and hose attachment tool (optional)
- 2 buckets (having 3 is also an option if a separate bucket for cleaning wheels is desired)
- 2 bucket grit guards
- Washing mitt
- Car wash or shampoo
- Microfiber towels
- Quick detailer spray
- Air blower (optional)
- For wheels, you will need a more aggressive wheel cleaner and possibly a wheel-cleaning brush as well
For specifically cleaning the fenders, you will probably need to head out to your local auto store (and hardware store) to grab the following:
How do I wash my Jeep? (The Washing Process)
Depending on how dirty your Jeep or 4×4 is, this process may be relatively easy, but even if it has been months (or years!) since you’ve washed your car, the effort that you put in now will be reflected in the end result.
Fill your two buckets with (preferably) warm water; and, in one bucket, add the correct amount of car wash or shampoo (usually a couple of capfuls). Agitate it until it is nice and soapy (this is your wash bucket). The other bucket full of water you can leave alone for now (this is your rinse bucket).
2. Rinse with water (or snow foam)
Soaking the Jeep beforehand removes (or loosens) a lot of the contaminants on the paint. The optional snow foam is a more-aggressive product that further breaks down and loosens these contaminants. If using snow foam, let the product work its magic for a few minutes before rinsing it off with the hose. At this point, you can spray the wheels with the wheel cleaner and let it sit.
3. Wash the car
Starting with the roof and the glass, generously soak your washing mitt in the wash bucket and wash the car. After each panel, rinse the mitt in the rinse bucket, making sure it is as clean as possible before soaking it in the wash bucket and continuing with the next panel. The grit guards are in the bucket to ensure dirt and other contaminants sink to the bottom and are not picked up by the mitt while washing.
Working from the top down and front to back, wash each panel and rinse with the hose as you go to avoid the shampoo drying on the paint. The dirtiest parts of the car, like the lower kick panels and side skirts, are left until the end. This will get much, if not all, the dirt off the plastic fenders.
Generally, washing the wheels at the end is preferred as it allows the wheel cleaner a lot of time to loosen the brake dust and road grime (it also means that these contaminants will never touch the car’s paint as it has already been washed before dealing with this section). A wheel cleaning brush is perfect because it is designed to work its way in between the spokes and around the brake discs and drums, getting hard-to-reach areas a washing mitt can never reach.
With your car in the garage or the shade, grab your quick detailer and spray each panel you intend to dry, going over it with the microfiber towel. Squeeze as much excess moisture out as possible, and periodically change to a fresh towel. If you have an air blower handy, this can be very useful in blowing out water from door jams and handles, water channels, and behind license plates.
Tackling the Fenders
So, you’ve washed your Jeep—but while it looks better, the faded and possibly-still-dirty fenders need some love.
1. Deeper clean
In hard-to-reach corners and crevices, use your brush to agitate the quick detailer on the plastic surface and then wipe the dirt and grime away with a microfiber towel. It probably won’t be necessary on the wider part of the fenders unless they are extremely dirty.
2. Plastic treatment and restoration
Grab the fender restoration product of your choice and massage generously into the fenders. What this is aiming to do is to first allow the product to be absorbed into the surface of the plastic to prevent more fading and drying out. Secondly, by applying a protective coating, this will stop further damage from UV exposure while giving the plastic a new lease on life.
Why are my plastic fenders so dirty?
The fenders aren’t just dirty; they are probably also damaged. But why? Cars are driven in a wide range of environments, and all of them take their toll on your Jeep or 4×4. The sun is particularly tough on plastics as the UV light dries out the surface and fades plastic to gray (UV fades paint as well although it is less obvious).
Likewise, in snowy locations with salted roads, the salt attacks every surface and acts like an abrasive (it is worse on steel surfaces where it oxidizes and eventually rusts if not removed).
Mud and other road grime get onto the surface of paint and plastics too. Over time, this builds up and ages the car, dulling the surface. Ultimately, it might not just be dirt that’s the problem but actual damage to the surface.
What is the right product for me?
There’s a range of restoration products you can buy for plastics, and while some come as an aerosol spray, the most effective ones are either a paste or a gel. Ultimately, these restoration and protection products should be applied to renew your Jeep’s fenders every so often to keep them looking fresh and also provide that necessary protection from sun damage.
Can I use tire shine on my fenders?
Yes, you can. It has similar restorative and protective properties as the specific restoration products, but ideally, you’ll want to apply a gel or paste. Tire shine spray will go all over your painted surfaces, which is far from ideal.
Can I use a heat gun to restore my plastic fenders?
No, but many people do it regardless. This is a very tricky process that can cause irreparable damage if done incorrectly, and it still ultimately does long-term damage to the plastic. A low heat needs to be used and the heat gun has to be kept one to two inches away from the plastic to ensure it doesn’t melt. Slowly and constantly move the heat gun over the plastic and watch as the gray gradually returns to black.
While it may look good, you are still drying out the plastic. A restoration product is the safer way to go and highly recommended over a heat gun.