[Previously: Taking good care of your auto is worth it. Regular washing and detailing not just makes it nicer to spend time in, it can raise the car’s resale value by thousands of dollars down the road. However, doing it right isn’t always so straightforward. Even when you’re just washing it, you can do more harm than good if you use the wrong stuff or don’t know what to look out for.
Kip’s has many years of professional experience detailing automobiles. We pride ourselves in being the most thorough detailer in northeast Kansas, and we stake our reputation on our commitment to thrilling you as a customer. We strongly encourage customers to have their vehicles detailed regularly – professionally.
However, we also understand that our customers also sometimes enjoy being able to care for their own automobiles. As such, we have taken the time to review the best practices involved for detailing your vehicle at home.
Please note that while we’re recommending particular brands and products within this guide, we are certainly not saying that this is the only or best product for the job. These recommendations are only our opinion of a item. There are many different products currently available on the marketplace, and the use of one over another is strictly a personal option.
These goods are not the same products that we use in our detailing shop. The professional products we use at Kip’s are very specifically chosen to coordinate with the methods and services which we provide.
Whether you’re washing, waxing, or sprucing up the interior, this step-by-step guide is for the average do-it-yourselfer who wants their car to look its best, and does not mind investing in the appropriate tools, chemicals and time to get the work done correctly. We will be splitting us this DIY Guide into eight digestible parts – giving each section its own article.]
Last week, we talked about Part II: Wheels. This week, we will focus on Part III: Waxing and Polishing.
Waxing and polishing
After you’ve washed your car, you can help protect the paint finish by applying a good wax or other sealant. As when washing, apply a wax only when the car is cool to the touch. And be sure to use only clean, nonabrasive cloths and pads. Though waxes come as liquids and pastes, we like liquid waxes because they’re easier to apply and provide the same protection.
When applying a wax, it’s best to work in one section at a time. Apply it in a tight circular motion with a clean applicator pad or cloth, wait a few minutes, and then buff it off with a nonabrasive microfiber or terry cloth towel.
It’s usually easiest to wax one section of the car at a time. Use a foam or microfiber applicator pad to spread a thin coat of wax onto the paint, using small circular motions. Let the wax dry for a few minutes, until it’s hazy. Then buff it out with a microfiber towel. Consumer Reports recommends that you wax your car every two to three months, because most of the waxes it tested “showed a significant loss of protection within about five weeks.”
Consumer Reports recommends that you wax your car every two to three months.
You’ll find a wide range of products on store shelves, and the terminology—waxes, polishes, sealants—can be confusing. Essentially, a wax or polymer sealant is a protectant that’s applied over the paint to protect it from dirt, bird droppings, bug splats, and other environmental elements. (Our pick, Nu Finish, is called a polish, although it’s really a polymer sealant). For a newer car, with paint that’s in good shape, this is all you’ll likely need.
If your car’s paint is a little dull and you want to restore its shine, you can use what’s called a cleaner wax or all-in-one polish. This is often formulated with a very fine abrasive that removes a slight amount of the paint in order to smooth the surface and help make a dull finish look new again.
If the car’s finish is really dull, oxidized, or marred by fine scratches or swirl marks, you’ll want to use a true auto polish or “cleaner” before applying the wax. These are formulated with different levels of abrasives—from mild to aggressive enough to ruin your paint in seconds if you don’t know what you’re doing. You can apply the milder ones by hand, using a bit of elbow grease, although any of them will be easier to apply with a power buffer or polisher. That said, unless you have experience with a power buffer and working with aggressive cleaners, leave it to the pros.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- • Car wax
- • Polish (if paint is dull)
- • Applicator pad or towel
- • Buffing towel
For weekend DIYers who want a product that protects the paint and is inexpensive and easy to apply, our first choice is Nu Finish Liquid Car Polish. Nu Finish is a synthetic polymer protectant that’s consistently among Consumer Reports’s top-rated products. Because Nu Finish doesn’t contain any wax, it doesn’t require hard buffing. We applied it with a microfiber cloth, let it dry to a haze, and then wiped it off. Easy peasy. And it left behind a nice gloss. CR says, “This liquid wax is durable, easy to use, and reasonably priced.” It also gets a high rating from both CR and Amazon users.
We like the liquid polish better because it’s easier to spread around, but if you prefer a paste, look for Nu Finish Soft Paste Car Polish, which CR and Amazon users also rate highly. Let’s be realistic, though. The label claims that Nu Finish is “The once a year car polish.” But that’s pretty optimistic. Though many users favorably cite its durability, even many positive reviewers advise that you use it every few months. Some negative reviewers say that they found it hard to wipe off the haze, especially if they let it sit for too long. Overall, though, we feel its durability, ease of use, and inexpensive price make it worth looking for.
If your car’s paint is looking a little dull, Meguiar’s NXT Generation Tech Wax 2.0 can help
restore that new-car luster. In its testing of 19 waxes and all-in-one polishes, Consumer Reports rated NXT highly overall and found that it’s one of the best at restoring a shine (as shown in this KCRA news report). It’s also earned a very high rating from Amazon users, many of whom cite it as providing a better shine than Nu Finish (although not matching its durability). The NXT wax is notably pricier than Nu Finish, though, so if your car is still looking good, there’s no reason to spend the extra bucks.