It's probably a safe bet that for some of you, washing and waxing your car isn't a regular on your weekly to-do list. But you could be causing permanent damage by letting everyday dirt and impurities stay on your paint. Follow this simple guide to have your car shiny (and protected) in no time.
Caring for your car
You spent thousands to buy your car. You diligently rotate tires and change the oil, so don't neglect your car's exterior. "Whenever your car is outside...contaminants are continually landing on its paint finish," says Barry Meguiar, president of Meguiar's Inc. He lists the most common offenders as acid rain, road film, dust, tree sap mist and bird droppings. Even more worrisome, Meguiar warns that after a few days these seemingly harmless elements can etch your paint and cause permanent damage.
Contrary to urban myth, letting this stuff stay on your car doesn't protect it from UV rays. Wash it off as soon as possible, or about once a week, advises Consumer Reports. Follow this with a wax every couple of months to protect your paint and keep your car looking at its best.
Washing your car
Sun is a car washer's worst enemy: it softens paint, making it easier to scratch, and speeds up drying time (but not in a good way). Wash your car out of direct sunlight or wait until later in the day when the sun isn't as intense. Spray the entire car down, using water to wash off loose dirt. Don't just focus on the paint: aim your hose in the wheel wells and underneath your car to remove hidden caked-on contaminants. If you live near an ocean or in an area that salts roads in winter, you need to wash the corrosive salts off the metal.
Your car's paint is a real wimp when it comes to soap. Most household soaps are too harsh and can damage your car's clear coat, so pick a cleaner formulated specifically for washing cars. The only exception is when you want to strip off your old wax, which dulls your finish. For that, grab the bottle of Dawn dishwashing soap from your kitchen to remove built up layers of car wax.
When you're ready to scrub, ditch the car washing brush and use only a soft mitt or natural sponge. Working one side at a time, wet the paint, scrub it from the top down and rinse thoroughly before the soap dries. Use broad strokes instead of circles, which can leave visible swirl marks. Open the doors and gently spray the doorjambs―these dirt collectors like to mark the back of your pants when you get out of the car.
For your last step, scrub the road grime and brake dust off your wheels and tires with a wheel brush (unless you have highly polished wheels, which need the delicate touch of a wash mitt). A wheel cleaner helps to remove stubborn grime that regular car soap won't touch.
Don't air dry
Do a final rinse over your entire car and then wipe it down to dry. You don't want to let your car air dry because the water leaves small spots that don't come off easily. With a microfiber towel or damp chamois, remove the water by working from the top of the car down. If you drop your towel, pitch it in the wash: any amount of dust that your towel picks up (and it always will) can scratch your paint. Consumers posting feedback at Amazon.com sayMeguiar's Water Magnet Drying Towel (*est. $8) works the best for drying. In fact, Meguiar's auto-detailing products dominate Amazon.com's bestseller list, with the Microfiber Wash Mitt (*Est. $7), the EvenCoat Applicator to apply wax (Est. $5 for 2) and the 6.5-Inch Soft Buff Foam Polishing Pad (*Est. $10) all scoring 4.5-star ratings in reviews posted by customers.
Adding shine and protection
While wiping down your car, take a good look at your paint. Scratches and swirls can be deep or look like spider webs that are only visible from a certain angle. Watch for contaminants that you weren't able to wash off, like dried bird poop or dead bugs. If it looks like your paint is hazy or if the color of your finish in the doorjambs is much brighter than on your hood, your paint is suffering from oxidation.
A clay bar or rubbing compound can wipe away these issues. You can also fix some problems without adding the extra step by picking a car wax that doubles as a cleaner. Car wax comes in cream, paste and spray form, with each type carrying its own pros and cons. We've researched the best car waxes for high-gloss shine, superior cleaning, fast application or long-lasting protection.
With a soft towel, rub on a small amount of car wax. Use small circles and work one section at a time. When the wax hazes, usually after a minute or two, buff it off using a separate microfiber towel or buffing pad. This layer of wax will protect the oils in your paint, but don't expect it to last for the rest of the year. Most car waxes last about two to three months, though some synthetic sealants can last longer.
For a final touch, spray a tire protectant on your wheels to give them a shiny finish. Don't use interior detailing products as these can be harmful to your tires. Beyond making your rubber look like new, top-quality tire sprays block UV rays to protect your tires.
And when all else fails...
If you aren't allowed to wash in your driveway or you're not up for hands-on scrubbing, use a drive-through car wash. The results aren't as good, but it will get off the layer of road grime and pollutants. Pick a drive-through that is touchless or uses cloth scrubbers (the brush kind scratches your paint). Skip the extras and just pay for the basic wash and wax, says Tom Torbjornsen of AOL Autos, who says it's better to get wheel detailing, rust proofing and clear coat protection from a professional.