You'd be amazed how far a little car care goes. Even the most basic care maintains sharper looks, prevents damage and preserves resale value. But that's just one beautiful thing about car care. The others: you can get as into car care as you like, and even the little things always pay off in satisfaction and pride.
AutoAnything's Car Care Central
Whether you're a hands-off owner who leaves the dirty work to a pro or a full-on enthusiast who spends the weekend shining every nook and cranny, you'll find plenty of good tips and information on car care right here at AutoAnything.
More than just information on the car care goods we carry (including top brands like Zymol, Connolly and California Car Duster) and use ourselves, our Complete Guide to Car Care is loaded with everything you need to know about treating your ride right. Inside and out, from the basic stuff to show car detailing, we have the tips, tricks and advice you need.
Basic car care
Start with the things every car owner should do to maintain their ride. This includes washing, periodic waxing, interior care and more. Plus, we've sprinkled in even more information.
Washing and waxing: the basics
Living with so much dust that the original paint color is lost? This is the guide for you.
Basic interior care
Go from the chaos of a landfill inside to a pristine paradise, and boost your resale value.
Basic wheel and tire care
Nothing attracts more attention than your wheels and tires. Here's how to make it positive attention.
Common car care myths
Cleaning your ride with a scouring pad? You have much to learn.
Advanced car care
When being clean just isn't enough, turn to the tips, tricks and advice in our advanced car care guides. We have all of the info and shortcuts to get your ride into the show-quality shine it deserves.
Between washing and waxing: the keys to a deep shine
The steps you need to get a flawless finish. Includes fixing blemishes like scratches and scuffs.
Using touch up paint
How attention to detail at home can save hundreds.
Polishing—the best way to get a deep, glossy shine
The secret behind any stunning wax job explained.
Waxes—an in-depth look
Carnauba or synthetic? Liquid or paste? The answers are in here.
Combating common paint enemies
Forces are aligning against your finish every day. Here's how to level the playing field.
An introduction to the effects of neglecting your vehicle's interior and exterior
Not to scare, but neglecting your paint can have some serious consequences. Besides having to roll in an ugly ride, neglecting your vehicle can cause damage, decrease selling or trade-in value, lead to premature paint failure and many other nasty situations.
Ignoring your paint by not keeping up with regular washing, waxing and spot care is the worst form of car care neglect besides letting your motor run dry. Leaving dirt and contaminants to do their worst on your paint takes a serious chunk out of resale value. A prospective buyer, whether a private party or a dealer, notices paint and body condition before they ever pay attention to mechanical condition. Your ride might run like a dream, but a neglected exterior could cost you big. By spending just a few minutes each month on car care, you can save literally thousands of dollars.
Going beyond simple value and appearance, ignoring your paint also compromises the best defense for your ride's body panels. Neglected paint not only looks ugly, but it fails much faster than a regularly maintained finish. Not washing and waxing leads to surface damage, degradation of layers, flaking, and eventually severe rusting that can turn your car into a casualty. Just as regular flossing keeps you away from the dentist's drill, routine car care safeguards your auto from decay.
There's danger in ignoring your interior, too, though not as much potential for crippling damage. Neglecting the interior of your vehicle mostly hurts your own comfort while driving. But, allowing stray cans and spilled drinks to wreak havoc on your carpet is the #2 way to sink your vehicle's value. But, you can keep your ride's worth afloat with some basic car care. From upholstery care to damage control, this guide shows you all the ways to maintain a sterling interior.
Taking care of the interior and exterior of your vehicle is important for so many reasons—nearly as vital as caring for the working components under your hood. Follow along with our guides on car care, and you'll find a reward in a longer lasting vehicle with which you have a tighter bond.
A guide to why do-it-yourself car care is best
There are a number of reasons to care for your vehicle at home in your own driveway instead of paying a "pro" or local car wash to do the job, and saving money is only a small part.
Quality control is the biggest reason to care for your finish yourself. Finding a reputable car wash to clean your vehicle is hit and miss at best. If you happen to try a business that doesn't use the right car care equipment or techniques, you'll find out the hard way that nasty paint damage can happen in an instant.
Your local car wash's mission is to get as many vehicles through their shop as fast as possible. That means missed dirt, incomplete stain removal, abrasive and aggressive drying, and water spots from the drops they miss. You could be out at least $15 with an incomplete wash that's done little more than blast loose dirt and dust off. Not to mention, their dirty, brittle drying rags probably left finish-wrecking swirl marks in your paint.
Setting aside the time for at home car care puts you in control. After all, there's nobody who values your vehicle more than you do. If you learn the right techniques and get the materials you'll need, your wash and shine job can beat any local detail shop.
AutoAnything's Basic Guide to Washing and Waxing
They're two of the most important steps in caring for your auto: washing and waxing. Every owner should have a regular car care routine for each step. Here's a basic rule of thumb: wash weekly and wax at least every six months. Take a good look at our guide below. Learn it. Know it. Live it.
The basics of washing your car—essential help for every auto
A weekly wash routine is essential for protecting the appearance and value of your ride. Taking time now to set a cleaning schedule pays off down the line with a finish that lasts longer and looks sharper. Here are some car care tips on forming a basic wash routine at home.
(Already have your washing technique down? Head for our basic waxing guide below or our other articles on advanced finish care for good info on getting a show-quality shine.)
Prep for washing
Before you turn that hose on full and start blasting, there are a few things you need to do to make sure your car wash is a success:
Avoid washing under a tree, as falling sap and leaves will undo your wash before you're even finished.
Gather your materials
Get everything ready to go before you start. Having everything you need ready to go cuts down on washing and drying time. The car wash products you'll need: car-specific wash soap, a wash mitt, a separate mitt or brush for the wheels and several cotton terry or microfiberdrying towels. And, no car wash is complete without a trusty bucket for holding your suds.
Pick the right spot and time
Always aim for doing your car care—especially washing—in low heat conditions out of direct sunlight. Pick a shady spot and wash either in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening. Find the right place and time to wash, and you're more likely to end up with a satisfying result.
Washing your ride
It's time to liberate your paint from the evil forces of dirt. Follow these steps for the smoothest car wash possible.
Blast the dirt off first
Use your hose to blast off loose dirt and mud. This will keep your wash mitt cleaner, cut down on work, and prevent larger particles that cause small scratches or swirl marks from being worked into your paint.
Start washing at the wheels with a separate brush
Wheels and tires are generally the dirtiest part of your vehicle, which is why you need to get this grime off first. Use a separate brush, mitt or sponge for your wheels and tires to keep from mucking-up the one you'll use on the paint. You don't want tire grime rubbed all over the rest of your paint. For optimal results, use a special brush or motorized washer to put a mean sheen on your wheels.
Go to the roof next, then work your way down
The rest of your vehicle should be washed from the top down. Start with the roof, using plenty of soap and water on your wash mitt. Clean in small areas and rinse-off the soap when each area is completed. Quickly go back over each area with water to prevent water spots.
When completely done washing each area, rinse your vehicle again with cool water. Once again, start with the wheels, move to the roof, then rinse from the top down.
Now start drying your vehicle—but use the right techniques. Believe it or not, drying usually determines just how good your wash job is.
Quick tip: Avoiding water spots
Water spots are a pain, and can cause permanent damage. One way to steer clear of pesky water spots is to keep all of the surfaces wet. Even after you've washed a section, go back over it with clean water briefly. Keeping constant wetness on your paint prevents spotting. Washing in cool weather out of the sun is also paramount to preventing water spots.
Dry the right way with proper cloths Use soft cotton terry towels or microfiber drying towels for absorbing the water. Resist the temptation to wipe—use a blotting technique instead. Wiping can cause swirl marks in your finish, while blotting virtually eliminates the chance of swirl marks. Only use clean towels—dirty ones mar your paint with trapped particles.
Chamois cloths are also popular for drying cars, as they absorb incredible amounts of water without making micro abrasions in the surface. The only drawback to chamois: it's difficult to clean for the next use.
Start with the areas most vulnerable to water spots
Dry your roof first, then the hood and grille detail, trunk lid or truck bed next, and finish with the sides. Move up in priority any areas of the vehicle exposed to minor heat or sunlight.
Other ways to dry
Auto-specific squeegees cut your drying time by as much as two-thirds by wicking excess water away before you use your towels. Driving dry is a popular technique, but it's prone to water spots and imbedded dirt (in short, it doesn't work). Air drying is another popular method. But, unless the heat and sunlight conditions are just right, you'll get spots, lines or sheet marks—even with soft water.
Hit the hidden places to prevent spotting
Go a little further than just what you can see is wet. Be sure to mop-up inside the door wells, around side-view mirrors and along seams. This will prevent water spots in unsightly places.
Advanced tip: watch for trickles of water draining from your door handles, mirrors and other crevices. They're the leading cause of streaking and spotting after you think you're done.
Advanced care: the dirt that's still left after washing
A good washing can leave a brilliant gleam on your vehicle. It can also reveal missed dirt, embedded particles and even damage that washing alone can't get out. Fortunately, detailing clay is readily available to lift dirt and contaminants from deep within your layers of paint. Read more about using clay in our section on finish care between washing and waxing.
Wax on, wax off: the anatomy of a basic wax job
Waxing your car is a bit above and beyond basic car care, but it's not all about shine and flash. Waxing is a basic part of car care and paint preservation. Learn these steps to make a basic wax job as painless as possible. Get to it, Daniel-san!
Before you wax
There are a few things to do before you wax. If you've just finished a wash and dry, you're most of the way prepped for your wax job.
Waxes: which one is best?
Synthetic or carnauba? Liquid or paste? It all depends on what you want out of a wax, and what kind of ride you're using it on. Picking a wax can be dizzying, which is why you should check out our in-depth guide to waxes.
Wash and dry first
Wash and dry your vehicle completely before waxing it. This will ensure no dirt particles or contaminants are trapped beneath your wax, and helps achieve maximum clarity and shine when you wax. Always wax right after a wash and dry—never wax a dirty vehicle!
Park in the right place for waxing
Just like washing and drying, waxing should only be done in a cool spot in the shade. Since you've likely just finished the wash, you can probably stay put. But, if the daytime sun is getting more intense or the clouds have parted, move to a more sheltered spot for waxing. Moving into your garage or carport is the perfect idea. Canopy tents make an excellent place to park for plenty of shade during your waxing session.
Inspect your paint
With clean hands, run your palm and fingers over your newly-washed vehicle. If the surface feels smooth as glass, you're ready to wax. If it feels gritty, you may have to re-wash. If you detect larger particles in the paint surface, you may need to use detailing clay to lift larger contaminants.
Gather your materials
Pick out a wax and a disposable foam or washable cloth buffing towels. For buffing, microfiber polishing cloths or soft terry cotton towels are the best option for a scratch-free shine. Use 3 or 4 cloths total. Use different towels than the ones used to dry your vehicle—these rags may have picked up stray dirt, tiny rocks or other abrasives.
Quick tips: waxing
Waxing rookies should start with a liquid synthetic wax—they're easiest to apply and last longest.
Be careful to keep wax off of plastic or metal trim, including door handles, bumpers and grille detail. Wax can have nasty effects on plastic, and takes much work to remove from its porous surfaces.
To limit the chance of swirl marks, buff back and forth from front to back instead of buffing in a swirl pattern as Mr. Miyagi instructs. This will limit light abrasions.
If you're a waxing newbie, it's best to start with hand waxing and graduate to machine waxing later. Follow these steps for a basic wax job.
Apply the wax section by section
Using your applicator pad, spread a moderately thin layer of wax over the sections of your paint. Start wherever you want, but remember where you applied the wax first. That's where you'll start buffing.
Begin buffing the wax out
Lightly buff the now dried wax off your paint surface, revealing a deep shine beneath. Go section by section to remove the wax in the same order it was applied. Shake off your buff towel periodically to get excess wax out of the way.
Inspect your finish for an uninterrupted shine
Search your finish for inconsistencies in the wax job. Look for areas that require more buffing, places where there's still dry wax, and any other streaks/swirls left in the finish. Buff these areas again to reveal a consistent shine.
Waxing with a polisher or buffer
Electric polishers and buffers can cut your waxing time dramatically. But, it's also possible to cause damage if you're not sure how to use a buffer right. In fact, you can burn your paint. It's best to start with hand waxing then graduate to the next level once you're experienced at finish care and have long since graduated from this guide.
It's what's inside that counts: a guide to basic interior car care
Taking good care of your interior helps you and your passengers enjoy the drive much better. And, as an extra bonus, a vehicle with sharp upholstery is much more likely to fetch a higher price for trade-in or resale. Keep these factors in mind when caring for your floors, seats and dash.
Without basic car care, your floors can go to pot pretty fast. Think of all the things that can destroy your floors—like mud, dirt, spills and more—and make a plan to keep them sharp. Check out our basic tips for cleaning vinyl and carpet interiors.
All-weather floor mats and floor care
The surefire way to save your floors from certain doom is to employ a set of custom all-weather floor mats. They cover your carpet edge-to-edge with impervious material, and usually feature a tall outer rim to contain liquids. That means a fallen grape Slurpee need not cause a sudden panic attack, and a dropped mocha isn't the end of your interior.
Vinyl floor care
A mild mix of soap and water is best for keeping vinyl floor vehicles in good shape. Avoid the temptation to use a shine or protection product on vinyl floors—it creates a slick floor surface that makes it a little too easy to slip off of your brake pedal.
Be careful not to overdo it with the water, though. It can be quite a mess to clean up.
Carpeted floor care
For carpeted vehicles, a quick vacuum job is usually enough to dress-up your floors. Whether it's in your drive way or at a service station, spending just a few minutes (and perhaps a few quarters) to suck-up the dirt prevents little bits from being ground into the carpet and makes your interior look worlds better.
Modern interiors are typically treated with stain blockers and protectors to keep everything fresh. These polymer coatings prevent your latest latte from soaking into the carpet, making cleanup easy with warm water and a light carpet cleaner. If your vehicle is not treated with these protectors, do-it-yourself care products or professional application is available. They make cleaning the little spots much easier.
For those without carpet protectors, spilled drinks and food can be the downfall of your vehicle's interior shape. Unsightly rings are left behind by careless kids or "stop-short" spills. Not to worry—conventional carpet cleaners are safe for use on your auto's carpeted interior. Whether it's a spot treatment spray bottle or a full-on steam cleaner, these treatments can go a long way to beautifying your interior and upping your resale value.
Where's the first place a new passenger or buyer looks inside to judge your ride? You guessed it: the seats. That's good news if your seats are rarely used; bad news if they're decorated by a few choice rips and errant chili cheese fries stains. Don't worry—there are ways to clean and/or cover the blemishes and sport sharp interior once again.
Cleaning your seats
To clean the factory seat material, turn to interior-specific cleaners. These cleaners are usually of the spray-on variety, which are vacuumed or wiped off to complete the cleaning. For the occasional refresh of your seats, hit them with the coin-op vacuum at the local service station. That's usually enough of a fluff-up for most interiors.
Leather and vinyl seat care is best done with specific cleaning and care solutions for those materials. They utilize a unique formula of conditioners and oils made to clean, preserve and shine these seats with care.
Covering your seats
If the stains and/or rips in your seats are beyond cleaning, turn to a sharp set of tailored seat covers. Not only do these covers conceal what lies beneath, they also protect. And, they weather potential stains and damage much better than the factory material, thanks to durable construction and easy washing.
Look for look, no part of your interior attracts more eyes than the dash. That's why dash care can be so crucial. Follow these hints and tips for a positively glowing dash and trim.
Dust your dash first
Before cleaning and shining your dash, dust the surface completely. You can use a rag to do the dusting, but a rag is prone to leaving lint behind. The best tool for the job is an auto-specific car duster.
Cleaning your dash
Typically, dusting your dash will be enough cleaning to do the job. But, if you've been using your dash to balance a combo meal, you may have a few spots to wash out. This is best done with a rag and some warm water, with soap if necessary. Dry the dash surface before using any shine products.
Be selective when picking a product to clean, shine and protect your dash. Don't use any old shine product that works on ABS trim and tires; pick an interior-specific product instead. All-in-one shine products usually pack too much of a slick, glossy feel for your dash. And, they come with quite a smell. If you’ve upgraded your interior with an aftermarket dash kit, don't clean your dash with silicone-based solutions. These cleaners can dissolve the adhesive holding the trim to your dash.
Shining your dash
If you use a dash-specific protector/shine product, apply it in moderation. Spray directly onto a clean rag—spraying straight to the dashboard usually causes overspray onto the windshield, which is difficult to clean. Make sure to apply the product evenly, thus avoiding overly greasy areas and splotches on your dash.
Covering a cracked dash
If you already have the San Andreas running down your dash board, the best way to dress-up your interior is with a custom dash cover. These handy tailored items reduce heat, fit like a charm, and give you a soft place to balance your Big Gulp.
An overview of basic wheel and tire care
Too often, wheels and tires don't receive the proper care at car wash time. With these basic hints and tips on how to doll up your set of four, your ride will never have that problem again.
Wheel care: a basic guide to having the sharpest rims on the block
Wheels attract most of the attention to your vehicle. Whether they're basic alloy or flashy chrome, your rims require special attention and care to keep their shine and avoid costly damage.
Inside tips for consistently cleaner wheels
Keeping your brakes in good shape has much to do with wheel cleanliness. Brake dust and fluid spatter all over the wheel surface and then combine with road grime to make a thick cake of dirt. It's probably the toughest dirt you'll have to wash off your vehicle.
Beyond keeping brakes in good condition, switching to ceramic brake pads can also improve the clean look off your wheels. That's because ceramic pads give of less dust, and the dust is lighter in color.
A set of shields that fit inside the wheel are the ultimate way to stop brake dust from getting to your wheels. If you don't mind blocking the view of your disc brakes (which some drivers do mind), shields like these can be a good solution to keeping your wheels clean.
Cleaning painted and alloy wheels
To get the nasty dirt concoction of brake dust and road grime off painted steel or alloy wheels, blast them with your hose to dislodge the loose gunk. Next, take a brush with light to medium bristle stiffness, load it up with your car wash soap, and wash away. Or, use a standard car wash sponge—these tend to get the tight areas a bit better. Always use a different brush, sponge or mitt for your wheels than for the rest of your ride. You don't want to spread wheel crud around and into your paint.
Be sure to wash your wheels frequently. Caked-on brake dust and road grime can be quite caustic, leaving pits and other blemishes in your wheels that invite rust. And, skip coarse brushes and scouring pads—they leave their own scars on the finish of your wheels.
Cleaning and shining chrome wheels
Chrome wheels pack a whole new level of electric looks, and require more care to preserve that style. Cleaning brushes and solutions that work great for other wheels won't work for chrome, and can even cause expensive damage.
For these hot wheels, select a cleaner made specifically for getting the grime out of chrome. Separate shine products for chrome wheels are also an excellent idea.
Do not: use a harsh brush or scouring pad
Abrasive scrubbing devices are good at removing dirt and grime for a reason: they remove just about everything else in their path, too. If you clean your chrome wheels with one, you're bound to have a scarred finish.
Do not: use household cleaners
Household cleaners are frequently loaded with harmful chemicals that can streak, bubble or dull chrome finish. The best solution to cleaning your wheels? Mild detergent and clean water, or a chrome wheel-specific cleaner. Watch out for acid or lye based wheel cleaners, though— they can have caustic effects.
Do not: wash hot wheels after driving a lengthy distance
Always wash chrome wheels after they've had a chance to cool evenly. Splashing cold water on a hot wheel can have severe effects, including cracking, streaking or bubbling of the chrome plating.
Do not: go more than one week between washing
When brake dust is allowed to sit for long periods of time, it forms pits in the chrome plating that can be disastrous. Dirt and dust now have a place to burrow into your wheels, interrupting your shine. And, the elements can now get into these pits, allowing corrosion to start.
A basic guide to cleaning and shining your tires
The finishing touch on your latest car wash and detail job is the look of your tires. Whitewalled or not, cleaning and shining your tires is key to your vehicle's overall appearance.
The basics of cleaning your tires
First, wash your tires at the same time you clean the rest of your vehicle. Use a separate wash rag, mitt or brush for your wheels and tires. You can use the same soap, too. Don't be afraid to put a little elbow grease into scrubbing your sidewalls—they can take it. It's the only way to remove deep layers of old tire shine and road dirt.
If you have a set of classic whitewalls on your ride, you've probably noticed how difficult shine maintenance is. To prevent fading, cracking, yellowing and other unsightly damage to your tires, pick up some special whitewall conditioner/shiner/preserver.
The ins and outs of tire shine: a quick guide
Next comes shining your tires, and there's a plethora of products out there to help you get the job done. Both cheaper and more expensive tire shine products use oils to condition tire rubber, providing protection and shine properties.
Some tire shine products are meant to be applied by rag or brush. The best way to shine your tires with these products is to spray the liquid directly onto a rag, then rub it in evenly for consistent shine. Be sure to use another rag to remove any excess liquid from the surface of your tires.
Recently, tire shine products that are meant to be sprayed on and left alone have become popular. While they do provide a radiant shine and essential protection (and they take only seconds to apply), they tend to leave pools of extra liquid on your sidewalls. As soon as you drive anywhere, the excess splatters all over your fenders and doors. Make sure to remove any excess shine product from your tires before driving.
Lies, damn lies and folklore: common myths about car care unmasked
Some drivers have the best intentions when it comes to car care. Unfortunately, commonly-used products and techniques passed down in legend from family or friends undo all their hard work down the road. Take note of these common misconceptions and erase them from your routine—your car will thank you.
The lie: dishwashing soap is great for washing your car
Do not use dishwashing soap for giving your vehicle a bath! Sure, it'll get the grime off your vehicle much the way it strips grease out of your pans, but dish soap is much more counterproductive than helpful. The strong grease-cutting detergents included in dish soap also strip waxes and protective coatings off your finish, leaving paint bare and defenseless. Your paint is now wide-open for UV damage, swirl marks from drying and many other assailants. Laundry soap is an equally awful car wash solution.
Refrain from using either of these household soaps unless specifically directed by a pro in the know. Instead, stick with car wash soap. It's specially formulated to ditch the dirt without stripping your protective waxes and coatings.
The damn lie: old T-shirts, cloth diapers and shop towels make good drying rags
These commonly-used drying cloths are the leading cause of swirl marks in your paint. They may feel soft, but these old rags can cause tiny scratches wherever they are used because of their abrasive surfaces. Plus, they're most prone to collecting dirt particles and tiny rocks throughout their life that will magnify tiny abrasions into full-blown scratches.
Only use towels specifically designed for finish care, including 100% cotton terry towels, microfibercloths and synthetic chamois. These towels have been tested time and again to pamper your finish like royalty. The same can't be said for your old cloth diapers.
Myth: tire shine product is good for use on your dash
Using the same product for your tires as your dash can be the kiss of death for your interior. Tire shine products are full of oils that penetrate your dashboard and then expand under hot temperatures. As the shine product expands, it forces a rift in the surface of your dash which is generally irreparable.
Stick with interior-specific cleaners and shine products to prevent this damage. Or, simply keep the dust off with an interior duster or vacuum brush attachment. That way, you can avoid the blotchy oil slick, overpowering smell and possible cracking caused by using the wrong product.
Pure fiction: Teflon waxes and protective coatings offer the ultimate finish protection
If you've browsed the wax aisle recently or just bought a new car, chances are you heard about Teflon paint protection. While these waxes and expensive dealer treatments may contain some trace amounts of the magic no-stick substance, their use of Teflon is flat irrelevant.
To get the wondrous protection enjoyed by omelet chefs and Mafioso bosses, a true Teflon coating has to be heated to a searing 600°F. Any guesses what such extreme temps would do to your paint?
While you may see some Teflon-like effects with these waxes and treatments, they aren't a true Teflon coating. You do still have to care for your paint as normal, you will have to wax your car again, and the "Teflon" wax layer is still susceptible to the damage that all auto paint combats daily.
Between washing and waxing: the keys to a deep shine
While a good wax job reveals the gloss that turns heads, drops jaws and makes people green with envy, the real work occurs in between washing and waxing. We'll cover all of the steps you need to take to rid your paint of shine-stopping imperfections, including:
Using detailing clay
Fixing scratches, chips and other damage
Polishing your paint
A quick guide to using a detailing clay bar
Washing your ride can't get all of the deep dirt and contaminants out of your finish. That's why you need detailing clay—it literally pulls imbedded particles out of your topcoat, giving your paint extreme clarity.
Detailing clay usually comes in a set with a clay bar and lubricant spray. The process works like this: spray the afflicted area with the lubricant and rub as directed with a small, flattened piece of the clay bar. Be sure to use plenty of spray on each area—this makes using the clay much easier. As you rub the surface, the clay pulls imbedded particles out of the paint, leaving your finish completely free of dirt and contaminants. Have a look at the underside when you're done—it's appetizing!
Be careful to follow the directions included with a clay bar and lubricant exactly. These tools were once confined to the hands of expert detailers only, and for a good reason. Using a clay bar incorrectly can result in damage, especially if used without enough of the supplied lubricant. If you do it right, though, the results can be stunning.
The basics of fixing scratches, chips and other paint damage
Using a clay bar to purify clarity is a good start. Now it's time to take aim at the other imperfections interrupting the smooth reflections in your paint: scratches, chips, and other minor damage.
Paint damage, no matter how minor, is essentially impossible to avoid. Sure, you may be able to stay clear of the larger nicks, chips and scratches, but water spot rings and acid rain damage are tricky to dodge. Fortunately, with just a bit of car care know-how, many of these unsightly marks can be taken care of right from your own driveway.
Fixing scratches: a fast tutorial
Inspecting the scratch
Clean the area of the scratch with soap and water, and run your clean hand over the area of the scratch. If you can't detect the scratch with your hand and the area feels smooth, the scratch can be taken out with a fine or medium hand polish.
Scratches like these may appear to be through the color layer. It's an illusion—what you're seeing is a reflection in the clear coat that's at a different angle than the rest of the coat. All you have to do to make the scratch disappear is even the clear coat edges around the mark.
If you can feel the scratch, or you can see primer in the gouge, professional-grade repair will be needed, such as touch-up paint or careful buffing.
Fixing the scratch
Start with a fine polish solution and a clean cotton rag or microfibercloth. Apply the polish with a corner of the rag, rubbing the scratched area with a light swirl motion. Using a clean corner of the rag, buff the area free of extra polish and inspect closely with your eye.
If the scratch is still present, move up to a higher grit polish, rubbing compound or scratch remover and repeat the process. Chances are that a light or medium-grade polish/scratch remover will be more than enough to smooth the scratch edges and eliminate its appearance.
Advanced scratch repair
If polishes, scratch removers and rubbing compound won't do the job by hand, a buffer is probably needed. Or, professional paint touching may be in order. Both can be done at home, but there's a substantial risk of doing more damage than you seek to undo if you're not trained. If you can't get the scratch out by hand, leave the job to a professional detailer.
If you want to be brave and try to fill a deep scratch yourself, browse our guide to using touch-up paint first.
The dangers of fixing paint damage yourself
Fixing minor paint damage yourself can save you hard-earned cash versus handing the job over to a pro. But, there's always potential for causing damage while you're trying to undo it.
When attempting to fix paint blemishes, always take extreme caution and care. Follow all directions carefully for the products you're using. Take the time to use only the best cloths, pads and other tools in clean, pristine condition to prevent abrasions. Be sure to buy the correct polishes, compounds and touch-up paint for your finish type, whether you have a standard or modern clear-coat finish.
Most importantly, set aside plenty of time to make the repair the right way. Don't rush through the process—this can cause more damage than you set out to undo. Invest plenty of time in making your finish right, and the smooth looks and deep shine that follow will be a worthwhile reward.
A word on repairing small chips in your paint
The leading causes of paint chips are the doors of other cars, tire-tossed rocks or debris, and mischievous pranks. Getting rid of these blemishes is a tricky process that involves using touch-up paint to get the job done. To stop dings before they need repairing, look into our proactive protective accessories to guard your auto from harm.
Many owners will opt for a professional repair job on small chips in the paint, especially if the chip is in a highly visible area such as the bumper, hood or high on a door panel. But, any of these chips can be repaired at home without the steep cost of a pro's work. With some care and patience, you can take care of ugly chips on your own.
For the best advice on covering these nasty chips, see our tips, techniques and cautions on touch-up paint for more details.
Removing other unsightly paint damage
Oxidation—to be a common problem with un-maintained vehicles. Most modern cars—from the last decade or so—won't ever have to deal with oxidation, though.
Oxidation is essentially the dead skin of your paint. If left unprotected against the beating sun and harsh elements, the top layer of paint will dry out in a cloudy, flaky pattern. The areas affected by oxidation can reflect small spots that somehow were untreated by wax or sealant. Or, oxidation can be evident in large blotches throughout the paint.
To remove oxidation and reveal your vehicle's true colors, use a product known as "paint cleaner," not to be conf with soap or polish. Paint cleaner is mildly abrasive, lifting the "dead" paint off of your finish to reveal the lively color beneath. Wash, dry and wax the affected area and it should look nearly new.
Rings from acid rain and water spots
Most acid rain and water spot rings can be eradicated by fine polishing compound followed by a re-waxing of the area. These spots are usually ones where the outline is barely visible in the sunlight only.
Acid rain and water spot rings which are deeply burned into the surface of the paint have likely eaten through any clear coats and into the color. Heavier rubbing compounds may be necessary to even out the paint in that area, after which you can touch the area up with a new layer of clear coat. Both methods involve polishing the paint, which is one of the easier finish care tasks you can do at home by hand.
Bird dropping outlines
If only the outline is visible, there's a good chance that the dropping only ate into your clear coat layer. Wash the area with soap and water to remove any protective waxes and sealers (or residual doodie), then feel the area with you clean hands. If the mark feels smooth, the outline can likely be removed with a fine polish or cleaner.
If the area feels rough, try using a clay bar to pick up imbedded particles in the paint. Once any "contaminants" have been lifted from the spot, the area can be polished and waxed to an even finish with the rest of your vehicle.
If, by chance, the dropping was left on for a lengthy period of time and bubbled your paint, a finish professional may have to repaint or smooth out the affected area.
A tutorial on using touch-up paint
Careful use of touch-up paint is a fine art. Do it right, and nobody will ever know you had a blemish in your paint. Screw it up, and the touched-up spot can look worse than the scar it's trying to replace, or like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Touching-up a scratch yourself isn't for the impatient—it's a step-by-step process that requires care to do right. If you don't have the patience, can't set aside the time, or are too afraid of messing up, take your ride to a pro or call a mobile detailer. But, if you're up for the project and want to save some scratch on repairing a scratch, get ready to detail!
Getting the right paint
This step is critical to a satisfactory touch-up job. The right paint makes life that much easier, while an incorrect color can doom your work from the start. Basic colors are easy, especially white and black, as there's little or no variation in these paints. Everything in between, though, is far more difficult.
The first step is to obtain your paint code, which is listed in one of a few common spots on your vehicle. Use this code to order the exact paint to match your color. You can order with this code online from a site specializing in touch-up paint, or take the code to your local dealer for a small amount of paint—the best way to get an exact match.
Avoid mega and auto parts stores for touch-up paint because they usually just carry a small number of universal colors for chip and scratch repair. For instance, you may need BT/WBT for Dodge's Patriot Blue Pearlcoat, but the auto parts or mega store will just have a generic navy blue. Or, even more devious, they may have a touch-up paint container labeled for Patriot Blue that contains a generic navy blue.
A quick word on finding your paint code
The most common place to find your paint code is the driver side door jam. If you do not find your paint code in the door jam, we recommend you look in the glove box, under the hood, in the trunk or even under the spare tire cover.
Popular Vehicle Paint Code Locations:
Paint Code Location
Located on the inside lid of the glove box.
Located either under the hood or on the door jam of the driver side door.
Located on the door jam of the driver side door. The paint code is directly above the word "exterior paint".
Located on the firewall.
Located on the door jam of the driver side door following the C/TR.
How to fix your scratch or chip
Be careful, patient and precise to do a flawless repair of your chip or scratch. Follow the directions for your paint, which involves the following steps:
Inspect the scratch or chip closely for rust inside the scratch, or for visible metal. If the scratch is through the primer layer, a new layer of primer will be needed to adequately protect your vehicle. If you can see the primer and there's no rust, proceed with prep work for fixing the paint.
The first task is to spot-wash the area with diluted dishwashing soap (yes, it's okay to use for this mission) or another auto soap designed to remove waxes, oils and sealers. Starting with a completely bare area free of these substances is necessary for your touch-up paint to adhere properly. Dry the area completely before getting to work.
Using auto-specific masking tape, mark off the area around your scratch. You'll be working with a few different abrasives to fix the mark, so it's best to have a buffer between you and your good condition paint.
Probe your scratch with a toothpick, matchstick or small brush handle to detect any loose chips of paint. If there are any loose spots, make sure they are removed before proceeding with the touch-up paint.
Quick tip: homemade sanding pens
Want to shave even more bucks off your repair job? Make your own sanding pen to use on the spot! Use a standard single hole punch, your fine grit sandpaper, some rubber cement and a brand new pencil. Glue the sandpaper hole to the end of the pencil eraser, let it dry, and you'll have a precise tool for getting the job done.
You'll need to carefully sand the scratch or chip area to take the edge off the borders of the mark. But, you can't just use a regular sanding block and wood sand paper—that's far too coarse for this mission. Instead, invest in wet/dry sandpaper of extremely fine grit (600 or finer), or get a sanding pen designed for paint repair.
Wet sanding is the preferred technique for use around scratches and chips. This highly-lubricated method of evening out finish surfaces is the safest way to save the paint around the scratch. After all sanding is done, clean the area of any dust or paint flakes and allow it to dry completely.
Most touch-up paint comes in a small container with a provided touch-up brush. Ditch the brush—it could be the worst possible way to apply touch up paint! Instead, opt for a toothpick, paper matchstick or a fine art brush to apply your paint.
Mix the touch-up paint thoroughly to ensure color consistency. Pour a small amount into the paint lid or a clean dish. Check the color against your vehicle's finish to make sure they match—this can be done by eye or by applying a tiny amount of the paint to a non-visible area of your vehicle.
Dip your painting tool into the small amount of paint, making sure not to overload or get globs of color. Dab the tool into the middle of the scratch or chip, and let capillary action go to work spreading the color. This won't be like other stroke painting you've done before, like staining your deck or "decorating" that enemy frat house in college. Do just one thin layer at a time when filling a chip or scratch.
Allow each layer to dry the appropriate amount of time as indicated on the label of your touch-up paint. This can be any amount of time between 30 minutes to 3 hours or more. The number of thin layers needed to fill your scratch or chip depends on the depth of the mark. And, if you have a late-model vehicle, you can use a clear coat for the final few thin layers for total matching consistency. Don't apply all layers at once—the top will dry but the bottom layers won't, causing the area to bubble and eventually peel off.
Once you've applied enough thin layers of paint to rise slightly above the borders of the mark, allow the area to completely dry for up to 3 days. Return to even out the area after the paint maker's recommended amount of time.
After the multiple layers of paint have dried, the filled area should be visible as a slight bump above the surrounding surfaces. Use your sandpaper to wet sand the bump flush with the surrounding paint, periodically inspecting the bump by hand for flushness with the other paint. Don't worry about scuffing the surrounding paint with sandpaper—if you use plenty of moisture as lubricant, these marks will polish right out in the next step.
Here's where the magic happens. With the mark now sanded flush but still visible, polish the area with a micro-fiber cloth and a fine-grade solution. After just a few front-to-back passes with your cloth, the mark should disappear along with any other sanding marks in the surface. Knock back a cold one and admire your work—nobody has to know there was ever a scratch or chip in your finish!
Curing and Waxing
Like any automotive paint, touch-up jobs need time to cure before they take on the glass-like hardness of the rest of your finish. Paints may vary by brand, but curing will take approximately 30 days. After the paint is cured this long, apply a fresh wax coating for protection and shine.
Polishing—the best way to get a deep, glossy shine
Washing your ride gets out the loose dirt, dust and other problems. Waxing fosters a deep shine and protects. In between these two steps is polishing—an entirely different step that's needed infrequently to preserve a top-quality gloss.
Waxing and polishing—why they're not the same
Many car owners confuse waxing and polishing as the same thing. While both do bring out a shine in your paint, waxes and polishes are made to accomplish entirely different tasks.
Waxes lay over your paint for both protection and shine. They can also bring out incredible depth in the color of your paint. Whether paste or liquid, waxes are generally smooth for easy application and designed only to be applied on clean and pristine paint.
Polishes are abrasive, which isn't a bad thing. Over time, microscopic particles, swirl marks, spot rings and other tiny damage can cloud or otherwise undermine the shine of your paint. Polishes even the surface and remove tiny imperfections, leaving a completely smooth surface. Polished paint is healthier and ready to produce a deeper shine than an un-polished surface when waxed.
Types of polish
Polishes vary by abrasiveness and preferred method of application. They range from light polishes, which are sometimes dubbed as cleaners, to gritty substances and rubbing compounds. The various solutions also differ in texture if the polish is being done by hand or by machine.
Most owners will only need to use the lightest, least abrasive polishes on their paint finish. Fine polishes do just enough to remove common blemishes in the paint, setting up nicely for a full wax job.
Heavier grit polishes are more often for spot treatment of problem areas in the paint—not for full-body use. These polishes act like sandpaper on the paint, which is a necessary step to correct deeper damage. These heavy polishes must be followed by a finer polish to smooth the resulting abrasions.
Apply the polish directly to the foam applicator. Use the polish sparingly—a little goes a long way. Rub from front to back on a less visible area of the paint as a test. Buff the area lightly with the microfiber cloth, making sure to strip any excess or clouded polish from the surface. Never buff in a circular motion—it's a good way to cause more of the imperfections you're trying to remove.
If the test results are pleasing, you can graduate to polishing the rest of the vehicle. Unlike wax, most polishes don't need to dry before you can buff them out. Apply the polish, buff, and move on to the next area.
Machine polishing vs. hand polishing
The chief factor when deciding on machine polishing or hand polishing is time. A proper machine polishing will take considerably less time. However, hand polishing can be the safer avenue with no chance of burning or otherwise destroying the paint. If you have no experience using a powered polisher or buffer, it's best to stick with a hand polishing job.
Polishing by machine
Only venture into machine polishing territory if you have experience with power buffing of wax finishes and feel comfortable. To polish with a machine, you'll need machine-specific fine polish and a couple of clean pads.
Apply a thin ring of polish to the outer rim of your pad, not directly to the paint. Test the polish on a less visible area of the paint. Don't use extreme pressure with your polisher—this can burn your paint and cause permanent damage.
Use enough pressure and passes to get the polish out without overbuffing—wait for waxing to buff to a deep shine. Making too many passes to chase a deep shine while polishing will strip depth off your clear coat and cause premature paint failure. Use waxing to get the deep shine—not polish.
The danger in polishing
You can polish your vehicle too much or too often. Because even the finest polishes are abrasive, each polishing job takes off some of the top coat of your finish, which may be clear coat or color coat. The ramifications of over-polishing can be serious.
On paint finishes with a clear coat top, which most modern vehicles have, over-polishing removes some of the clear coat. In fact, using a coarse polish or buffing too hard can remove the clear coat entirely. This damage may not be evident until paint begins to oxidize, bubble or otherwise deteriorate without the protective clear layer.
How often to polish
Polishing your vehicle shouldn't be done as frequently as waxing, as too much of your paint layers will be eaten by the process. The consensus among finish pros is that polishing should be done 1-2 times per year, not more. That's how long it takes for a sufficient number of imperfections to develop that would justify a full polishing job. Spot problems can be taken care of individually without having to fully polish your ride.
One school of detailing thought eliminates the need for polishing altogether. If you're strict about your washing routine, careful to choose only safe materials, regular with waxing and use a car cover to prevent surface damage, polishing shouldn't be necessary to achieve a perfect shine. Most people, though, will find it difficult to avoid all of the factors that necessitate polishing, especially micro scratches and swirl marks. Still more obsessive finish care nuts are just hooked on the look of a newly polished and waxed ride.
Waxes: an in-depth look
After washing your car, using clay to remove contaminants, spot-treating problem areas and scratches, and doing a full polish, you've put a huge amount of effort into the condition of your ride. Next comes the step where all of the hard work pays off: waxing.
But which wax is going to protect your paint best? Which one offers the deepest shine? Is the expensive jar of wax any better than the name-brand bottle at the grocery store? And, most importantly, which one is best for your ride? It all depends on the contents of the wax and what matters most to you.
Everybody has a different level of love and involvement with their vehicle finish. This pattern is reflected in the huge array of waxes available on the market. However, each car wax falls into one of two categories: natural waxes, which are most often made from carnauba, and synthetic waxes, also known as sealers.
In general, natural waxes provide the deepest, most desirable shine enthusiasts crave. They require some TLC, and a few extra bucks, but the results are flat out stunning. If pure finish sheen is what you're after, there's no other way to go.
Synthetics come with two big benefits: they're easier to apply and protect longer. They may not have the same deep shine and color character of natural waxes, but they still leave you with an impressive finish that's ready to combat the elements.
An overview of carnauba wax
You've probably heard of carnauba wax before. Most highly regarded vehicle waxes are crafted with some level of carnauba in the formula, along with oils and natural substances. Carnauba wax is also the choice material at automatic car washes using a spray-on waxing cycle.
Carnauba wax is also the wax of choice among professionals and enthusiasts alike, though in a vastly different form than the automatic wash uses. Liquid or paste carnauba wax produces an unmistakable shine with incredible depth that synthetic waxes just can't match.
Where carnauba wax comes from
Carnauba wax is a rare and natural phenomenon, and a true product of its harsh native environment. The wax is harvested from the leaves of carnauba palm trees found only in the harshest areas of Brazil, and known locally as "the tree of life."
To withstand the rigors of extreme heat and humidity, the carnauba palm excretes a waxy coating over its leaves. This substance is comprised primarily of fatty acids, and forms a clear, glossy coating that repels water yet remains breathable. It's these clear, glossy properties of pure Carnauba, combined with its natural ability to combat the tropical sunshine, that makes it a durable wax for a variety of uses—including automotive protection.
To harvest the carnauba wax, carnauba palm leaves are cut from the tree and dried. Once dried, the wax coat becomes flaky and colored, ranging from pale yellow to brown. The wax is removed either by hand, which involves beating the leaves to dislodge the flakes, or by machine, where the leaves are shredded and the wax layer is removed.
With the wax flakes now removed from the leaf, the harvest is melted down and reformed into large blocks of like-color pure carnauba wax. The wax blocks are then combined with a variety of natural oils to create carnauba car wax.
Carnauba wax is grouped by color types, ranging from browns to yellow carnauba to ultra-refined white carnauba. The color of the wax directly relates to both the age of the tree from which the wax was harvested, and the care taken in the removal process. The lighter the carnauba wax, the rarer and better performing it will be.
Brown carnauba wax
The most common carnauba color, brown carnauba exudes the properties of carnauba wax but is harder to refine and work with than lighter colors.
Yellow carnauba wax
Yellow carnauba is a rare wax produced only under optimum conditions. The best wax in this class, yellow #1 carnauba, helped earn the nickname "the queen of waxes" for all carnauba. This is the purest, most valued carnauba wax produced naturally.
White carnauba wax
Pale carnauba wax that's lighter than yellow #1 carnauba is only produced synthetically. This includes the rarest of all carnauba wax—pure white. This super-refined white carnauba is wax at its purest form, creating the deepest possible shine and improved ease of use.
Properties of carnauba wax
Because it naturally thrives in the harshest of environments, carnauba wax is the hardest and most protective non-synthetic wax. It has an unsurpassed combination of shine, depth and durability, plus the ability to withstand extreme temperatures.
Pure carnauba wax is too hard to use on your vehicle. That's why carnauba car wax has only a percentage of carnauba contained in the mixture. The higher the content of carnauba, combined with the rarity of the carnauba color, define the value of the wax. Generally, these waxes can't have higher carnauba content than 30%. Any more would be too hard and difficult to apply to your paint.
Some waxes boast "100% carnauba wax" on their packaging, which simply isn't possible. These refer to the wax included in the product as being 100% carnauba, usually meaning #1 yellow or white carnauba for its purity.
Other uses for carnauba wax
Relatives of carnauba car wax are used for a variety of products, many of which you've probably used—or even swallowed. These include candy gloss coatings, pill capsules, shoe polish, paper coatings and furniture finishes.
Longevity of carnauba wax
A fresh carnauba wax job sports unmatched shine characteristics that last. Because it's a natural wax, though, each carnauba wax coat lasts a maximum of 6 to 8 weeks, depending on conditions. After this period, a new layer must be applied to retain the carnauba protective properties and shine.
Criticisms of carnauba wax
Carnauba wax can be a chore to apply and buff onto your paint. Liquid carnauba waxes are easier to use, but they contain significantly less carnauba than paste waxes. Both are difficult to buff to the highest level of shine, which typically requires an automatic polisher to achieve.
Longevity is another concern of carnauba waxes. Reapplication is usually necessary within 6-8 weeks, depending on weather conditions and which carnauba wax you used (liquids with lower carnauba content tend to last 6 weeks, paste waxes can last longer). Those who don't want to wax that often or pay that much attention to their vehicle would be better off with a synthetic wax.
Extreme heat—such as desert conditions—can also be a concern for carnauba wax. If the right factors converge (dark car, bright sun, searing dry heat), carnauba wax finishes will become brittle and streak, requiring re-waxing of the affected areas. These instances are rare.
A guide to synthetic waxes and sealers
Cheaper car waxes, like those readily found at grocery and mega-marts, are usually of the synthetic variety. They contain little if any natural wax in the mixture, relying instead on man-made formulas for their protective properties and shine. Synthetic waxes come in liquid, paste, and now spray forms.
Contents of synthetic waxes
Seeking to make a more durable, longer-lasting protective shine than natural waxes can provide, finish experts and laboratories teamed up to produce synthetic formulas. Also known as sealers, these synthetic waxes are engineered to repel water and shield against UV damage with the same zest as a thick coat of carnauba wax.
Synthetic waxes and sealers employ a combination of polymers and acrylic resins to protect your paint. These lengthy molecule chains link together, creating a seamless layer over your paint. The bond between the polymer and acrylic molecules produces a glass-like shine layer over the factory finish. That same attribute of synthetic waxes make for a shine that appears to sit on top of your paint, unlike the look of carnauba wax finishes that give your paint a deep, rich look.
Properties of synthetic wax
Synthetic waxes and sealers are, without question, the easiest shine and protective products to apply, use and maintain. Most synthetic waxes come in a liquid form, which is the easiest wax type to put on your finish and buff out. Because of their slick and durable properties, these polymer-based waxes form their shine without much effort required to buff the dry wax.
The outstanding feature of synthetic wax is the longevity of each coat. Unlike its natural wax counterpart with a 6-8 week lifespan, synthetic wax gives your vehicle a cool 6-9 months of protection. That means you can apply a new layer when the first leaves sprout in the spring and not have to worry about your wax at least until football kicks off.
The tradeoff for this kind of durable protection is shine quality. There's no comparison between a carnauba wax finish and a synthetic wax or sealer finish—the carnauba wins on looks and depth of shine every time. But, the synthetic shine isn't too shabby and lasts considerably longer. If you're willing to make the trade of some shine depth for less maintenance, a synthetic wax is the right product for you.
Criticisms of synthetic waxes and sealers
The main criticism of synthetic wax is the shine properties, specifically the lack of depth. Application is easy and the protection lasts longer than any other products, but science just hasn't found a synthetic wax that can match the look of natural waxes, especially carnauba.
Synthetic waxes sit like a glass sheet over your paint. Because there's no depth to their shine, the reflective qualities aren't as pleasing to the eye. Dark paint finishes—especially black—suffer almost a dulling of the color underneath a synthetic wax coating. Instead of giving off a brilliant display of color, dark colors show a milky finish.
Synthetic wax coats and sealants also do less to conceal paint blemishes than natural waxes. Swirl marks are much more readily visible with synthetic wax, as the polymer layers mimic the swirl pattern in the paint. And, because it's a thinner wax coat than carnauba, new swirl marks are easier to impress in your paint.
Know your enemies: a guide to common finish wreckers
Now that you have a hot shine, you have to keep it scorching. That's why you have to know your paint's primary enemies well. These color-combating irritants can strike at any time, so it's important to learn the car care techniques for dealing with them as soon as possible.
Parking under a tree is simply a bad idea thanks to a handful of ugly factors, and sap is one of the worst risks for your paint. As trees are constantly leaking this gooey gel, it globs or splatters onto the most sun-exposed stretches of your vehicle: the hood and roof.
The next time you go driving in the sun, that same sap, which has been attaching itself deep into your paint, is further baked-on by increasing heat. Leave the sap alone for long, and it's quite difficult to remove. In fact, removing sap is where the actual danger to your paint exists. Go at it the wrong way—especially when dealing with hardened sap spots—and you can scratch the surface or leave a ring in the process.
Don't try to scrub it off with a rag or wash mitt and detergent. Instead, use a measured amount of light rubbing compound, mineral salts, or sap-specific paint cleaner. Let the cleaner sink into the sap at first before wiping it away with a soft towel (using light pressure only).
Rinse the area with cool water to fully remove the cleaning agent you used. If you had a wax coat on the layer before, reapply the wax. More than likely, the cleaning agent will remove your wax or other protective coating.
Of course, you can also take steps to stop that nasty syrup from splattering on your vehicle in the first place. When you park around trees, slip on a custom car cover. The fabric takes the punishment so your finish can sit pretty. Back at home, you can park your vehicle under a canopy tent when there isn’t garage space.
Leaves are yet another reason not to park under a tree. Though leaves look innocent enough just lying on your hood, they may be loaded with sap, pollen or other caustic coatings. "Leaf" them alone for too long, and no amount of Canadian pride will cool your hot temper at the now permanent maple leaf outline left in your finish.
The best course of action is to pull the leaves off yourself when you notice them. Avoid letting wind resistance blow the leaves off while driving—this can cause micro abrasions in your paint that are much more time-consuming to remove than the time needed to remove leaves by hand. If you wait too long and end up with an outline, you'll have to clean, polish and wax the area—with your fingers crossed.
Again, a custom car cover or a canopy tent are also ideal for keeping this tree dandruff from flaking off onto your finish.
Poop happens. It's unavoidable. But what makes things worse is that bird squirt contains some of the most acidic, abrasive, paint-eating substances that ever touch your vehicle. Right after impact, bird squeeze goes to work by eating away clear coat paint layers. If left to its own devices, a heavy splatter leaves a tasty outline and matching blisters or dimples in the paint surface. This repugnant damage is done in 48 hours or less after impact, so time is of the essence.
As soon as the you-know-what hits the van, the clock is ticking. The second you pull into your drive at home, spot wash the area with cool water and car wash soap. This should head-off any noticeable damage. If you can't get home in time or have nowhere to wash at home, carrying a mobile kit that includes detailing spray and a paint-safe towel is the ideal stop-gap measure. You'll find carrying a kit like this can be the answer to combating many stain varieties other than droppings. If you were unable to head-off damage, careful paint repair may be in order, with steps as easy as light polish or as costly as professional paint repair.
It goes without saying that a car cover is an excellent shield against bird shower. However, you can’t drive around with one on, so be sure to have some emergency cleaning products on hand.
When the EPA is looking the other way, your local factory blows more than just accounting document ashes out of their massive smokestacks. It's a pretty good bet that remnants of their latest incineration dusted a fine layer of finish-eating particles all over your vehicle. Left alone, this toxic dust eats down into the paint and effectively sandblasts the gloss right off.
Since it's hard to see, the best way to combat pollution fallout is with a weekly washing. And, make sure you're always sporting a good wax coat on your paint. This will absorb the brunt of fallout so your paint won't have to.
Body shops and cardiologists alike agree: excess salt is no good. The heavy dusting of salt applied to your local highways and byways in an effort to halt black ice patches kicks right up onto your wheel wells, fenders, rocker panels, undercarriage and doors. The salt then cakes right on top of your vehicle's paint, leading to premature finish degradation and even rusting.
Beating the cycle of road salt damage takes more than an ounce of prevention—it usually takes most of a container of car wax. Apply a thick coat of wax just ahead of winter's wrath. This will help repel some of the salt, and prevent the rest from eating directly into your paint.
The next most important step is to be aggressive at salt removal. Blast road salt off your fenders with any garden hose and nozzle combination set to full power. Be sure to get the hard to see and reach areas, too, as road salt can wreak havoc on the underside of your vehicle. Keeping a close eye on your salt situation during your weekly wash goes a long way to preventing damage.
The constant beating of UV rays on your vehicle can be the slowest possible death for paint. UV is the reason paint finishes fade over time, lose their gloss, and become generally dull and unattractive. The more you leave your vehicle outside to bake, the quicker fading sets in.
Regular waxing helps slow the fading process, as the UV assault takes-on a layer of wax instead of paint directly. However, the best defense against UV damage is keeping your vehicle out of the sun. Park in the garage or under a canopy tent. Find a more shady space. Use a custom car cover. Whatever works best for you, keeping the sun off your paint is crucial to its appearance.
Acting as nature's revenge for the pollution regularly spit out of your tailpipe, the diabolical fusion of rain and toxins strips protective waxes and coatings off your paint, then eat into the color. It's like a water spot on steroids: the acid rain beads on your finish, then evaporates, leaving a chemical burn mark ring in the surface. Repairing this condition can be costly. Repainting the area is the most frequently used method for removing acid rain damage marks.
Regular washing and waxing are the most effective prevention means against acid rain damage marks. Washing removes the residue; wax layers absorb the damage. If a storm is anticipated in your area, parking your vehicle indoors, under a canopy tent or covering it with an all-weather car cover are smart ideas for preventing damage, too.
A tutorial on preventing and removing swirl marks
Swirl marks are the bane of every auto enthusiast's existence. These tiny abrasions in the top paint layer (usually the clear coat) occur after using a dirty wash mitt or drying towel, or using an abrasive cloth for any washing or waxing process. Abrasions and swirl marks in your paint are most visible in the sunlight, when the spider web of micro marks on your finish reflects light rays in odd patterns. Swirl marks are especially prominent on vehicles with dark paint, whose finishes are without question more difficult to maintain.
Fortunately, abrasions and swirl marks are the easiest paint blemishes to remove. Because they're not very deep into the clear coat layer of your paint, micro marks can be evened out or filled in right in your own driveway.
Inside tip: the towels you use for car care
Drivers who are really into finish care and preventing swirl marks shell out for buffing and drying cloths that are usually of finer quality that the bath towels they use for buffing and drying themselves!
Get a set of fine-quality, 100% soft terry cloth cotton towels or microfiber cloths (white, of course), and keep them separate from the usual load of household towels. Use fabric softener and wash your car towels by themselves. Fold them and store them in a clean spot in the garage. This is the best way to pamper your ride, prevent unsightly lint and stop swirl marks (and, nobody can say you never do the laundry).
How to prevent swirl marks: a basic guide
In washing, swirl mark prevention is best done by using only clean wash mitts and dry cloths that are 100% terry cloth cotton or another non-abrasive, auto-specific cloth material. Don't set your materials down on the driveway—small rocks and particles can get tangled in your rags, which can be dragged all over your paint.
For waxing, swirl marks are best prevented by defying a few once conventional wax techniques. In wax application and buffing, avoid circular motions. This is exactly how most swirl marks appear, especially on dark vehicles. Apply wax instead by wiping from front to back or back to front with your applicator. Buff the wax off in a front-to-back motion as well. Also, use only clean applicators and buff cloths in good condition.
Removing swirl marks
If you already have swirl marks, don't panic—you're not stuck looking at them forever. Products made specifically for eliminating swirl marks are readily available. They work much the same as wax for application and shining, too. The purpose of these solutions is to even the high points and low points in and around the swirl marks, leaving a smooth and consistent surface. Try swirl mark remover on a small, inconspicuous section before moving on to larger areas.
Swirl mark remover can only be used a limited number of times on your finish, though. Each time it's used, a small amount of clear coat is lost from your finish. The best plan is to use swirl remover once, then take every possible precaution to prevent marks in the future.
Your best bet before resorting to swirl mark remover is to try washing, polishing and re-waxing your vehicle. In many cases, a fresh wax job that's applied and buffed properly will conceal most micro marks in the finish. That's because a good wax—especially carnauba—lays over imperfections with a consistent layer of shine that makes clear coat marks considerably less visible than before. The more wax layers you apply, the more likely the swirl marks are to disappear.
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