Don’t be alarmed, but the environment has declared war on your car – more specifically, on your car’s paint. If you live near a major city, then the finish on your vehicle is coming under constant attack from atmospheric pollutants, whether they are from tailpipe emissions, factory smokestacks or even oil-burning stoves in your neighborhood. If you live out in the country, then you have to deal with acid rain, tree sap, pollen and most likely rocks and gravel kicked up on the road.
It’s clear that as the first line of defense when it comes to protecting your car’s bodywork from rust, corrosion and wear, any steps you can take to protect your paint will not only add years to the lifespan of your vehicle, they will add to your vehicle’s value as well. Well-maintained paint can often be the difference between a vehicle’s condition being appraised as “excellent,” or as merely average” or “fair” – a difference that can mean thousands of dollars when trading in or selling your car in the future.
The first step when it comes to protecting your paint is to adopt proper and regular washing habits; frequent cleaning gives contaminants less time to sit there and work on degrading your paint. Ideally, hand washing is the best way to keep your vehicle spotless, but, in a pinch, a touchless carwash will also do. Above all else, make sure to avoid touch car washes, as the bristles and foam strips used in these contraptions are capable of leaving thousands of tiny scratches on your paint, scratches that are especially visible on dark colored cars in the sunlight.
If you choose to hand wash your car, you should make sure to take the appropriate steps to maintain your paint’s shine. Ignore the old wive’s tale telling you to use dish soap as a car cleaner, as the harsh detergents found in these products can gradually wear away at your paint. Instead, buy an inexpensive soap at your local big box store that is specifically formulated for use on vehicles. It’s also important to make sure that you use a soft wash mitt – not a sponge, which can collect small rocks that can scratch your paint – and frequently rinse it off in between soapings to make sure it is free from dirt. Another tip is to avoid using a swirling motion when washing or drying, and to dry using only a microfiber cloth and not a standard house or beach towel, which contain harsh synthetic fibers. This will help you to avoid creating “spider web”-type scratches that can be so frustrating on an otherwise clean car.
After washing, there are two additional steps you can take to make sure your paint looks its best and stays that way for as long as possible. The first is to use automotive paint polish, which can not only bring out the brightness and richness of the vehicle’s original showroom sheen, but can also take care of scratches both large and small. A good rule of thumb is that if you can catch your fingernail when running it across the scratch, it is probably too deep to polish out; if you can pass over it, then it can most likely be removed with a little bit of elbow grease. Polish is generally best applied with a random-orbit buffer, an inexpensive piece of equipment that isn’t powerful enough to damage your paint but can save you a lot of time when working out paint issues. If you are nervous about using this type of equipment, then hand polishing is still a viable option.
Waxing is the final stage in the cleaning and protecting process. When properly applied, wax forms a physical barrier between your paint and the outside world, which means that contaminants like sap and acid rain never make it through to the finish itself. Wax can even offer a degree of protection from rock chips. There are two main types of wax available on the market. Carnauba-based waxes are derived from special palm tree leaves, and they provide a deep, “wet” look. Polymer waxes or sealants use a different mechanism to bond to paint, and while they do not usually provide as impressive a gloss as carnauba products, they do last a lot longer before they need to be reapplied.
Washing, polishing and waxing your car not only helps it to look its absolute best, it also offers you the chance to lock in a beautiful paint shine no matter what the world might throw at your car.