Let’s look at some common questions and simple facts about car wax. What it is, why your car needs it, and how often you should consider having wax applied.
What is car wax?
Car wax is a transparent wax coating applied to the surface of the paint on your car, truck, or SUV that causes water to bead up and roll off. It also helps to protect the paint from dirt, chemicals, and ultraviolet rays. While the term “wax” refers to a specific set of car care products made from organic materials, there are a couple other products – paint sealants and ceramic coatings – used for the same basic purpose.
When it comes to car wax, most people think of “Carnauba” wax. This favorite of car enthusiasts is produced by a tree native to Brazil, the “Tree of Life”, that secretes the waxy substance from its leaves. Carnauba wax is very hard, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and has a very high tolerance to heat. Because it is so hard, Carnauba is blended with other waxes. The higher the concentration of Carnauba, the more durable the product is, and the better its gloss. Oh, and the higher its cost. Carnauba wax is a natural product that is relatively easy to work with and that produces a deep, wet, and warm shine. When you hear someone refer to car wax, Carnauba is usually what they are referring to.
Many automatic car washes also use a “wax” type sealant such as Armor All ® Extreme Shine Wax. Armor All ® Extreme Shine Wax features Carnauba wax and is applied to the surface of your vehicle. Carnauba wax applied by hand offers a much longer-lasting protection than even the best automatic car washes. And yet, as many drivers are unable (or uninterested) to wax their cars themselves, an application of Armor All ® Extreme Shine Wax in a wash tunnel is an excellent option.
Wax vs. Paint Sealant
Carnauba may be a favorite of car enthusiasts, but that doesn’t mean it is the only “wax” option. And it is not the choice for everyone. Polymer paint sealants are similar to waxes, but they are made of synthetic rather than organic materials. Paint sealants have a more crystal clear gloss than Carnauba wax (thought to have a deeper, warmer shine – thus the reason car buffs like it), but paint sealants are considered to be more durable. They are just as easy to apply, but they last longer than wax. If you prefer to spend less time having your car waxed, paint sealant might be a good option for your paint.
What about ceramic coatings?
Another option for paint protection that is similar to wax is ceramic coatings. Also known as quartz or glass coatings, these sealants are derived from silica, a naturally hard mineral. The technology was originally developed by N.A.S.A. for use on space shuttles. Automotive aftermarket companies jumped on the nanotechnology bandwagon and produced coatings that could be applied to the paint on your vehicle. These inorganic products can resist far higher temperatures than Carnauba wax or paint sealants, provide better resistance to harsh chemicals and environmental debris, and are more scratch-resistant than wax. Unfortunately, ceramic coatings are more difficult to apply and far more expensive than wax. And ceramics often require professional application.
Wax vs. Polish
One class of paint-treatment products is often confused with wax. Whereas car wax is a protective coating applied over your paint., polish is not. Polish is actually a liquid that contains microscopic abrasives designed to machine the surface of the paint on your car. Polish scours the paint clean and restores its lustre. A more aggressive form of polish is rubbing compound – essentially a step below sandpaper in liquid form. Typical polish is not nearly as aggressive as rubbing compound, but it still alters the surface of your paint. Polish (and compound) can help to repair and restore a dulled and scratched finish and make a dull car shiny again, but it also leaves behind swirl marks that need to be removed (usually with a gentler glazing polish). Polish is to be used before wax, not after. If you polish a car after you wax it, you will strip off the wax you just applied. And since it leaves no residue, polish will do nothing to protect your paint.
How often should you wax your car?
A good rule of thumb is to wax your vehicle three to four times per year. If you really like to take care of your car, you might want to treat it more often. That’s fine. You really can’t wax a car too much. But more frequent waxing might not be necessary, depending on your driving conditions. If you opt for synthetic paint sealant, you could get away with a couple applications. Ceramic coatings, when applied properly, last much longer. Some for many years. But if you are using good ole’ Carnauba wax, make it three or more times each year.
Will waxing my car in sunlight damage my car’s paint?
Wax or other wax-like products must not be applied in direct sunlight. Also, do not apply wax before washing your vehicle and making sure it’s squeaky clean and dry.
Waxing your vehicle can make a mess.
Cars of today feature lots of black plastic trim pieces (unlike the chrome of yesteryear). If wax comes in contact with some types of trim on your car, it will stain and be very difficult to remove. Wax can also build up in cracks, jambs, around emblems and handles, and more. It is possible to wax a car in an hour or so, but spend several hours trying to clean up the mess in and around all the nooks and crannies.
Should I have a professional wax my car?
Wax is not a complicated product to apply. You wipe it on, let it dry, and wipe it off. Okay, there is a bit more to it than that, but it is not rocket science. (Actually, ceramic coatings are rocket science…). But just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it is easy, or that there are no downsides to doing it yourself. If you opt to use a wax machine buffer we recommend watching some instructional videos on how to apply car wax with a buffer. If not – you could damage the surface of your paint.
Professionals have the experience and product knowledge to avoid messy applications and damage to your vehicle. A professional might also have the training (and certification) to apply ceramic coatings if that is what you are looking for. Sure, you can wax your car yourself, but the investment in professional detailing that might include minor paint correction prior to wax, sealant, or ceramic application, can pay dividends.
Note: If you recently had paintwork done to your vehicle, do not apply wax or sealant for ninety days (longer in some climates) or the paint will not be able to fully cure.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.