Years ago, washing and waxing your vehicle was a weekly ritual. Today, thanks to advanced formulations, that important waxing task now only needs be done about once every three months. Still, it's a good idea to make it part of your maintenance routine. A good wax coating doesn't just keep your car looking great, it also protects your bodywork from the effects of UV rays, airborne particles that can scratch the surface, and acidic contaminants like bird droppings and bug bodies.
This guide has everything you need to consider to find the best car wax for your vehicle and includes our favorite products on the market. Our top pick has an advanced synthetic formula that is easy to apply, making for a superb finish with minimal effort--which is probably why it's recommended by so many car detailing professionals.
Considerations when choosing car waxes
The first decision you need to make when shopping for car waxes is the type you prefer.
Paste car wax
The original car waxes were paste waxes, made from natural carnauba wax flakes mixed with turpentine. Variations on this formula are still around because pastes are low-cost and provide a good protective coating, though they do take more work than modern alternatives. You can get a 14- to 16-ounce tub of paste wax for well under $10.
Liquid car wax
Liquid waxes can either be carnauba wax suspended in a fluid or synthetic polymers. Both are easier to apply than pastes. Modern polymers can be used in bright sun (carnauba wax hardens too quickly) and deliver unrivaled protection and shine. The cost for liquid waxes is between $10 and $20 for a 16-ounce bottle.
Spray car wax
Spray waxes are the fastest solution and like liquid waxes may be natural or synthetic. Some are intended to get the job done as quickly as possible but don't last well. Others rival liquid polymers for their quality. Spray waxes range from $12 to $25 for a 16-ounce bottle.
Wash and wax
Wash-and-wax products are available, and you might assume they're intended to do both jobs at the same time. However, they're not a replacement for regular waxing but rather an interim product. They are designed to prolong the life of your wax finish and should be used weekly. They come in much larger containers, 48 to 64 ounces, and cost $10 to $20.
The primary purpose of a car wax is to shine and protect your paintwork. Some have additional benefits, but others can create problems. It's always important to check the compatibility of a car wax with your vehicle carefully. It's worth testing the wax on a small, unobtrusive part of the bodywork (down by the rear fender, for example) before committing to the whole vehicle.
Some incompatibilities arise from different paint finishes. Modern cars all have a clear topcoat--there's no pigment in it at all. This protects the color layer. Older vehicles are often finished with a gloss color coat. Some wax formulations have an abrasive element, and this can scratch clear topcoats, leaving them dull, which is the opposite effect you want when waxing. Compatibility should be clear from the product's description. If it's not, look for another brand.
A number of waxes now go beyond your car's painted metal surfaces. They can be used on plastics and windshield glass. Care is needed, though. Older-style paste waxes are usually not recommended for other areas because they can leave a residue or stain. Some modern waxes that can be used on windshields cannot be used on lights that have plastic lenses. It's vital you read the product's instructions carefully. Using car wax on a surface it's not intended for could result in damage.
Q. Will waxing my car hide the small scratches in the paint?
A. For a permanent solution, use a wipe-on, wipe-off scratch removal product first. For a temporary fix, use car polish, which will fill in the scratches. In either case, wax afterward so that you're working on the smoothest surface possible.
Q. What is claying?
A. It's a technique professional detailers use between washing and polishing or waxing. Detailing clay (also called a clay bar) will remove chemical contaminants that are left behind if you only wash with soap and water. Claying is only really necessary if you want a custom show finish.
Car waxes we recommend
Best of the best: Meguiar's Ultimate Liquid Wax
Our take: This high-tech polymer liquid car wax produces a show-quality finish in no time.
What we like: Fast, easy application. Finish is a super-bright, durable coating. Even comes with a towel and cleaning pad. The pro's choice.
What we dislike: Very little but watch the shelf life.
Best bang for your buck: Turtle Wax Super Hard Shell Car Wax
Our take: This paste car wax offers proven effectiveness and an unrivaled reputation. Your dad used it and probably your grandpa as well.
What we like: Known worldwide for providing excellent, long-lasting protection. An outstanding value.
What we dislike: Requires more elbow grease than other brands. Less sparkle than some.
Choice 3: Chemical Guys Butter Wet Wax
Our take: A liquid car wax perfect for the detailing enthusiast who prefers real carnauba wax to synthetics.
What we like: Easy to apply and bring to a bright shine. Streak-free. Smells great, too.
What we dislike: Lacks durability. Needs more frequent application than competitors.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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