The Master Detailer at Jay Leno’s Garage Shows Us How to Clean a Car Right
Learn to be like Jay—or at least, clean a car like him—on a special trip to Leno’s Big Dog Garage.
If Belinda Carlisle was right and heaven really is a place on Earth, there's a good chance it's found in a nondescript warehouse in a dusty corner of Burbank, California. That's where comedian Jay Leno houses his epic car collection in a vast monument to motoring greatness—and it's where your humble author found himself standing slack-jawed in early April, staring the glories of Creation in the face while waiting to meet master detailer Chris Walters for a lesson in cleanliness.
That's the thing about Leno and his eponymous Garage: Unlike most people with a battalion of prewar Bugatti racers and a quintetto of vintage Lamborghinis, he actually drives the damn things. Every single one of the 160-odd cars (plus 130 motorcycles) are currently registered with a little "2019" sticker on the back plate and maintained by a full-time staff. The McLaren F1, the mid-engined Ford Festiva Shogun, the Blastolene Special hot rod with an M47 Patton tank engine—they're all ready to roll. (Case in point: As we stumbled around in a daze, a late-90s Pontiac Firebird Trans Am emerged from a back room and rumbled up alongside us. Behind the wheel was Jay Leno himself, taking the car out for its biennial emissions test.)
So if you've got one of the world's most well-known car collections—an immense, eclectic lot that also serves as a centerpiece for your TV show—and you're determined to actually enjoy it, how do you keep everything in concours shape? For Leno, the answer was to create his own line of car cleaning and detailing products, developed in-house in-garage and used on his own prized vehicles. Not a bad endorsement.
Usually, celebrity-branded products are just another opportunity to capitalize on a famous face. And while the logo for Jay Leno's Garage Advanced Vehicle Care does indeed feature an outline of his mighty mandible, there's a lot more to it than that. With such a varied collection, Leno and his team tried every cleaning compound under the sun as they worked to maintain over a hundred years of automotive history. A lot of trial and error led to one conclusion: If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
That might sound unfair to the rest of the $20 billion car wash industry, but consider the roots of Leno's scrubbing business. Co-founders Chris Walters and Jeremy Porrazzo were working as Leno's head detailers after running a cleaning chemical supply company and supplying the garage with their products. They knew the science and how to mix their own compounds; with Leno's blessing and supervision, the pair developed a new line of soaps, polishes, and cleaners from the molecule up, and began bottling and selling them through the garage's website.
It's certainly no cash grab. As Walters pointed out before we got down to brass tacks with a 2002 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, Leno certainly doesn't need the money, and he's busy enough with his TV show and comedy appearances. Like the rest of the comedian's post-Tonight Show life, it's the definition of a passion project. When the company launched in late 2016, Leno himself joked that funding the development and testing all the products himself was the "stupid way" to make an easy buck.
For most people, if they're not actively destroying their car's paint job in an automatic car wash, whatever bottle catches the eye in the AutoZone aisle will probably do. Proper tools and techniques—a purpose-made chemical, the two-bucket method, quality microfiber towels—will make a bigger difference than the $10 soap versus the $20 soap. But if you're taking car of something a little more rarified, or even if you just want to give your daily driver a little extra love, it pays to know what you're getting in a boutique product like this one.
The company sells over 20 soaps, sprays, compounds, and polishes that can tackle just about any stain or smudge on any surface. Some are standard, like a cherry-red basic wash soap and an interior fabric cleaner. Others are more unique, like an electric-green all-purpose cleaner that seems to have no limits, or a spray-on drying aid called Evaporate that wicks away water and leaves a beautiful, wax-like shine on the paint.
For the purposes of our lesson, Walters hauled the E55 AMG out into the parking lot. It might not be the most thrilling car in the garage, but it is Leno's only AMG, and evidently he enjoys driving it enough that the beautiful Monoblock rims had become caked in brake dust since the super-sedan was last washed a month ago. Plus, it had been left out in a rare Southern California rainstorm—the silver paint hid things well, but the body was covered in dirty water spots.
Real AMG Monoblock wheels are not cheap, so it makes sense to be choosy about the corrosive chemicals you're splashing on there. Brake dust can be a stubborn foe, but Leno's spray-on wheel cleaner made short work of all those short stops and left the wide metal dishes sparkling after a quick soak and a light scrub.
The product turns purple as it reacts with the iron in the dust, and it carries a pleasant smell in spite of the sludgy work it's doing. Walters hit all four wheels in less than 10 minutes, including time spent standing around while the chemicals did their thing. I've spent longer cleaning a single wheel.
He then set up his two buckets—one for soapy water and a rinse bucket with a grit guard at the bottom to trap dirt, using the pH-neutral Vehicle Wash to soap up the Benz from top to bottom with a soft mitt and broad, circular strokes. No real trickery here (if you don't count the disgustingly gray water dripping off a silver body that didn't really look dirty), but the drying process is another story.
A spray-on hydrophobic aid sounds like a gimmick, but Evaporate sped up the tedious toweling immensely and worked as advertised without leaving streaks. You just apply it to a wet car, watch it push the water droplets off, and gently mop up the remainder with a microfiber cloth. Silly? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely.
With the exterior finished for now—it helps to have an unblemished canvas as a base, no doubt—he moved inside to tackle the all-black interior. Black interiors don't show dirt quite as easily as lighter color schemes, though things like dust tend to stand out more. Walters busted out the company's interior detailing spray, a light cleaner that doesn't leave behind residue and helps a microfiber towel trap dust and debris more effectively, leaving the dash and console clean in minutes. (Pro tip: He recommends spraying it on the towel instead of all over the dashboard willy-nilly.)
Obviously, Walters would still have a lot of nitpicky work left if he wanted to make this car truly flawless. But if you're so inclined, he assured us it's absolutely doable with the company's products. Remember, this is the stuff used in Leno's temple of a garage every day, on cars that have been shown at places like Pebble Beach. And that's really what all this comes down to—if you buy these products, it's probably because you trust that a guy with seven Duesenbergs knows what he's talking about. Could you clean your car with stuff from one of the other bajillion brands out there? No question. Do any of those offer the same promise that Jay Leno's crew is using the exact same thing on his 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car? Again...the answer is pretty obvious.