Salvage Project: Acura CL

I love to restore things. I really love to. It’s the DIY’er in me that enjoys getting my hands dirty. But it’s the procrastinating-for-fear-of-failure, ADD-fueled, never-going-to-grow-up kid inside me that really appreciates seeing instant results. With most restoration projects, near-instant results are definitely possible. Since that’s not the case with most important tasks I’m supposed to complete as a responsible adult, I jump at every chance to work on a new salvage project.

Trashed. Literally.

This poor Acura has seen better days. I bought it because I need a new beater, I was helping a guy out, and it was dirt-cheap. At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the smell of cigarettes out of the greasy interior. But I figured that even if I didn’t like it or couldn’t bring it up to my standards for a position in my fleet, I’d at least make some money when I sold it, all clean and shiny.

The interior was so full of trash, spilled soda, half-eaten chicken nuggets, and piles of ash tray spill-over, I could barely get in it to drive it. The exterior looks as though this car may have been used to herd cattle. I’m exaggerating, but it’s bad compared to the rest of my cars. I drive and park very carefully. So when I see a small scratch or ding on one of my cars, I kind of freak out… a bit.

Episode One: The Phantom Messes

It took me over 20 hours (three full afternoons) to empty, clean, and deodorize this 1999 Acura 2.3 CL. It was well worth the effort because the car has already increased in value. Oh, and I can drive it now without getting sick.

before and after cleaning the floor

Before and after shots of the trash and carpet stains.

I had to first remove the trash from the floor, seats, and various compartments in the dash and console. After filling an entire trash bag — I needed another whole bag for the trunk — I started vacuuming. I quickly decided to hold off on vacuuming the floor until I had removed the front seats. With both of them out of the way, and the floor mats removed too, I made quick work of the vacuuming.

A whole bottle of carpet cleaner was used in this one car. I still can’t understand how it got so bad. The vast majority of the problem was hidden under the seats. I suppose most liquid spills in cars go between the console and the side of the seat, so we wouldn’t really notice them unless the seats are removed. Anyway, two treatments, with a steam cleaner in between, and a lot of scrubbing took care of almost all of the stains. The ones that remain are so faint, most people won’t even notice them, and I can always hit them again with a stronger spot-remover in the future.

The dashboard and door panels put up a serious fight. Grease and cigarette ashes combine to create a very sticky, very thick coating. I actually resorted to steaming the entire dashboard to soften it up and then going back to wipe it away. I think I spent 2 hours on all of that. The steering wheel and all the vents took another hour.

Acura CL empty interior

I cleaned the rear seats with a leather cleaner and vacuumed out the seams again before closing the ionizer in the car for a few hours. While the smell was being attacked by the ionizer, I went to work on the seats. The amount of filth that had collected on the plastic trim and the frame underneath made me wish I had purchased latex gloves before starting this project. Vacuum, cleaning spray, elbow grease, repeat.

progress shots of the dirty seats

From left to right: the filth on and under the seat trim, a before and after of the leather cleaning process, and the dirt that came off of the leather.

The seats turned out magnificently. Aside from a small hole in driver-side seat, the leather looks 100% better at least. It started out hard, slick, and greasy, but is now soft, supple, and feels wonderful. I haven’t conditioned the leather yet, but I’m sure when I do, it will get even better.

On the third day of this mission, I vacuumed the interior once more, reinstalled the seats, and started the ionizer back up. I then cleaned the floor mats, using what little carpet cleaner I had left, and reinstalled them as well. I let the ionizer do its thing for another few hours before packing it up and letting the car air out. While the car still needs a few days of warm, windows-down driving to really get all the smell of cleaners out, this is a big win. It does not look, feel, or smell like a smoker’s car anymore. It’s also clean enough to eat off of any surface in the car – although no food will ever be allowed in it again.

Acura CL seats cleaned and replaced

Episode Two: Attack of the Collisions

I now turn my attention to the exterior of the car. It will most likely take me double the time the interior did. And I won’t even be trying for perfection. Now that the weather is nicer, I’ll definitely be getting out there to tackle the various dented and broken trim and lighting pieces, as well as the hours and hours of paint-correction that await me. I’ll report back soon.