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Car Waxing Tips That Will Keep Your Car Shining

Protect your paint job and keep your ride looking shiny and new with these car waxing tips.

car waxing tips

Through the salty roads of winter and the muddy thunderstorms of summer, the elements take their toll on your car’s exterior, sometimes requiring more than a simple wash to keep it looking its best. A proper waxing helps bring your paint job back to life and prevent further damage. We asked our experts, AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor John Paul and Manager of Technical Program Training Jason Carrara, for a few car waxing tips to get your car looking like new again.

Purpose

Waxing your car consists of two components: applying the wax and buffing. Simply put, waxing rejuvenates the paint and polish gives it a shine. Waxing helps maintain the car’s finish, which also means maintaining its value. A waxed car is a protected car. A good coat of wax forms a protective coat over the paint, which will help repel road grime, bird droppings and tree sap. Although if your car gets hit with any of these (or other debris), you should wash it off immediately. The acids can cause permanent damage to the paint.

Preparation

Before you can begin waxing your car, it must be clean. Dirt and grime can mar the finish. To properly wash it, use the two-bucket method, with soap and clean water in one bucket and rinse water in the other. Using one bucket dirties the clean soap water and the grime you just removed from your car goes right back onto the car’s surface. In addition, make sure to only use car wash soap. Dish detergent will strip any wax off your car.

Before waxing, your car should be completely dry. Water droplets will cause the product to streak. You should also wax your car in the shade or indoors, if possible. This will prevent the car’s surface from becoming too hot and drying out the wax. If the wax dries too quickly, it will be difficult to buff off.

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Products

Some drivers, especially those with vehicles that have darker color paint, will use a dedicated polish before waxing. Polish before wax will produce a deeper shine.

There are two main types of wax: synthetic and carnauba. Carnauba is a natural wax that produces a deep shine but may not last as long as a synthetic wax. There are also spray-on waxes that are great for a quick touch-up after washing.

The latest product on the market is ceramic coating. This coating provides great protection, but is expensive and generally only applied by a professional detailer.

car waxing tips

Process

Once your car is clean and dry, it’s time to evaluate the surface before applying wax. Light paint swirls can be cleaned up with polishing compound. Deeper imperfections may require a more aggressive cleaner/polish. A clay bar can be used with a dedicated lubricant to remove very minor imperfections in the paint.

Spread a small amount of wax onto your cloth or pad. Then apply it to the car using a circular motion and steady pressure. Keep working the wax into the paint until it’s completely absorbed. It’s best to focus on one small section of the car at a time until you’ve covered the entire automobile. Avoid getting wax on any non-painted plastic moldings or trim around the vehicle. This can discolor the plastic and can be difficult to remove once dried.

One of the wisest car waxing tips to remember is to apply as thin a layer of wax as possible. It may be tempting to apply a thicker coat in order to get more shine and depth, but the excess wax will be difficult to remove and become streaky. Instead, if you desire more shine, complete one application, buff that coat off, and apply another very thin coat. Check the instructions on the product’s label to know how long one application of wax needs to fully cure. Usually it’s about 12-18 hours.

Post-Wax Work

Once the wax is applied, it needs to be buffed. This step ensures that the wax fully bonds with the paint. Using a clean towel or microfiber cloth, gently rub the paint until you get the shine you’re looking for. The best results tend to come from using a microfiber towel. The static-charged, woven fibers grab the wax residue and polish the paint while you buff. In addition, microfiber does not shed lint. Make sure to rotate your towels frequently so that you’re always working with a clean side. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions.

As a general rule, a coat of wax lasts three to six months. Depending on how often you do it, waxing can a labor of love. However, the benefit of waxing a car is that it will keep your automobile looking great and extend the life of the paint job, thus increasing the car’s value.

Get all your car waxing tools at NAPA Auto Parts, where AAA members receive a discount

Is a well-polished car important to you? Share your car waxing tips in the comments. 

Comments
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Thomas, you should leave the wax on until it is fully cured. This is usually between 12-18 hours, but read the product label for exact times. If you have any other car questions, you can always ask our Car Doctor here: AAA’s Car Doctor

      Reply
  • autodetailvancouver@gmail.com

    Hey thanks for your blog post. We are a relatively new Vancouver car detailing business. We don’t offer waxing right now — only interior and exterior detailing. How much of an expense would it be to add this service? With all of the tools and products, etc.?

    Reply
  • An evergreen tree has left drops of sticky puss on my car’s bonnet and I am having difficulty in removing it. What should I be using or does it need professional detailing?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi, thanks for the question! Here’s a response from our Car Doctor, John Paul: Hot soapy water to start and then a specialized bug, tar and sap remover. Once clean re-wax the car to bring the shine back from using the cleaner. If this doesn’t work then a professional detailer. The longer the sap bakes in the sun the harder it will be to remove.

      Reply
  • Thomas asked how long do you leave polish on before buffing? 12-18 hours? How can that be?

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Sean, thanks for the question! Here’s a response from our Car Doctor, John Paul: Apply wax buff off and then allow a day or so and then apply a second coat for a deeper shine. One of the wisest car waxing tips to remember is to apply as thin a layer of wax as possible. It may be tempting to apply a thicker coat in order to get more shine and depth, but the excess wax will be difficult to remove and become streaky. Instead, if you desire more shine, complete one application, buff that coat off, and apply another very thin coat. Check the instructions on the product’s label to know how long one application of wax needs to fully cure. Usually it’s about 12-18 hours.

      Reply
  • Malcolm K.

    I have used Meguiars Ceramic wax on my four cars and love it!! For 16 bucks a bottle i do all four once a year and it lasts! Wash, rinse, apply Ceramic while wet, hose off and buff!! Sixteen dollars!!!

    Reply
  • Michael G.

    I have been using spray waxes applied after washing my car. They don’t last as long as a paste or liquid wax, but are much easier to apply. It is necessary to repeat the spray wax after washing the car with the appropriate car soap. The amount of water beading on the car is the indicator for repeating the wash and wax.

    Reply
  • Michael G.

    I have been using spray waxes applied after washing my car. They don’t last as long as a paste or liquid wax, but are much easier to apply. It is necessary to repeat the spray wax after washing the car with the appropriate car soap. The amount of water beading on the car is the indicator for repeating the wash and wax.

    Reply
  • Frank L.

    Which Consumer Ceramic coating do you recommend ?
    I have used Mothers Ceramic with great results (and pretty easy).

    Reply
    • Andrew S.

      Hi Frank, thanks for reaching out! Here’s a response from our Car Doctor, John Paul:The original ceramic coatings were difficult to apply and expensive. They required some tedious paint correction before they could be applied. Some of the original ceramic products were $250 or more for a single use-although you needed to do it only once every 4-5 years. Today the ceramic spray products are a sort of hybrid, Mothers is a good product, Chemical Guys and Meguiars are also good products and easy to apply.

      Reply
  • MANNY F.

    The best product i have ever used to protect my car’s finish is Permanon. It is a concentrated liquid that you mix with water. After washing the car shammy it dry. You spray this mixture on with a spray bottle and wipe it in until it dries. It creates a protective layer that sheets water and dirt off, keeping your car cleaner much longer. The product is expensive but goes a long way, lasts a long time, and is quick and easy to use. This product is endorsed by Porsche.

    Reply

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