Broadly, you have two options to keep your ride clean & shiny.
1. Develop OCD, go through the 600 page (& counting) thread on Team-BHP, follow the steps listed and carry them out to the T - Detailing Guide. It's not for everyone though. We even have a humorous take on that thread - link :D.
2. Get 95% of the results by following some simple practices. For those of us who are pressed for time or own multiple cars, the advanced detailing thread is impractical. Personally, I'd rather spend my time driving, and leave the cleaning to others. I'm going to list ONLY 10 easy steps here that will get you the desired results at a fraction of the effort. If the advanced thread left you confused, then this article is for you.
Best practices to keeping your ride clean & shiny
• Park your car nicely. Not everyone has the luxury of a covered garage, but even on public roads, you can pick a spot that is shaded (continuous sunlight is harmful), away from crow-infested trees (to avoid poop on your car) and safe (people not messing with it, no wannabe cricketers around, no couples using it as their love spot). Cost = zero, benefits = innumerable.
• Use a car cover to protect the body from the elements. It takes less than a minute to put on or take off. I can't stress enough on the advantages of one. A cover greatly helps in protecting your paint. Get one built of tyvek material; Dupont (preferred) & Polco are both good. Related thread. Cost = Starting at Rs. 2,000.
• Use only a microfiber cloth to wash your car. It's cheap (Rs. 150 - 200 each) and has many advantages (soft, non-abrasive, deeper cleaning, absorbent). It's a no-brainer, there is no reason for you not to use a microfiber cloth. Throw away whatever rag you currently have and buy some microfiber pieces online (3M or Meguiars are recommended). Buy at least 3 of them in different colours; one each for the exterior, interior & drying. Yes, you absolutely need a separate cloth for drying, it helps in preventing swirl marks. Give some basic training to your domestic help / car wash guy / driver. A 'tip' to pay special attention to your car goes a long way. Remember to tell him to properly clean your rims & tyres (regular cloth here is okay) and NOT to rub your car with a cloth when dry (it'll cause scratches). Also, don't wash the car when it's hot / under the blazing afternoon sun.
• Wash your car only as much as required. Not excessive, and certainly not lesser than necessary. Some of my cars are washed merely once or twice a week.
• Park a Jopasu duster in your trunk. Use it to remove the usual dust from daily drives. IMP: Only a light hand to wipe the dust off is required (don't press it hard against the body). Cost = About Rs. 600.
• Whenever you're back from a long road-trip, or the car has gotten particularly dirty, get her washed at the local petrol-pump (Rs. 100 - 200). Tell him to use your microfiber cloth :). It would be a good idea to get a professional wash at a detailing outlet once in a while too (costs merely 450 bucks).
• Have your car detailed inside out by a professional once in 6 / 9 / 12 months (depending on the usage). Some of my cars are detailed every 6 months, others once a year. Periodic detailing will significantly contribute to keeping your car shiny, and it'll also remove / conceal scratches to a great extent. Additionally, get the synthetic paint sealant (protection) that all reputable detailers offer. Tip: Don't fall for upselling tricks. Other than interior & exterior detailing and the paint sealant protection, you don't need anything else. Cost = Rs. 3,500 - 10,000.
• Don't eat in your car & don't treat the interiors or boot like an attic. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. While on it, remember to clean the boot (and bonnet area) ever so often. This was my interior after 60,000 kms.
• Understand a couple of basics. That is, how to remove bird droppings (don't let them stay for too long), removing tar & other marks etc. We have dedicated threads on Team-BHP for each problem. Search!
• Get damaged panels repaired at the earliest. Exposed panels will rust, and the rust will spread. At the very minimum, get all visible body damage taken care of whenever you send the car for its scheduled service visits. A dent-less machine looks beautiful.
That's it...as simple as that! Enjoy your gleaming car.
Tips Credit: Team-BHP Mods who recently gave me this advice! Picture Credit: All BHPians who clicked them (sourced from various threads).