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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is a well-polished car important to you? Share your car waxing tips in the comments.
Get all your car waxing tools at NAPA Auto Parts, where AAA members receive a discount. Learn more.