How To Wax Your Car the Right Way

Get in the habit of polishing your car routinely and you’ll have a sweet looking ride for years.

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It’s no great secret that waxing and polishing your vehicle will prolong the life and beauty of its appearance. But, knowing how to wax and buff your car properly can save you a chunk o’ change over time.

The Tools

First, you’ll need a competent electric polisher. These can range from $40 into the hundreds and, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced, the highest price doesn’t necessarily mean the best. We like the Chicago Electric 7″ 5.7 Amp HD Dual Action Variable Speed Polisher #66615. It’s a real workhorse and its variable speed and oscillating head eliminate swirl marks like magic.

You’ll also need buffing pads, buffing compound and a car kit, which usually includes car polish, car wax, and microfiber cloths in kit form.

Before you do anything, wash the car first. You want your vehicle to be clean and dry before you start.

Buffing

Apply a liberal amount of buffing compound to the car surface, particularly to the rough, scratched and weathered areas. The whole point of buffing is to make a rough surface a smooth one. It works by stripping away a fine layer of tired paint and exposing the fresh paint underneath; in essence, the compound serves as a paint stripper. When you wax your car immediately after buffing, the wax will restore the protective armor of its original clear coat.

Spread the compound evenly across the area with the buffing pad, while the buffer is OFF, so that it doesn’t splatter onto surrounding surfaces. For example, keep the compound off the chrome, glass or rubber.

Turn the buffer on and work the area in circular motions, holding the pad completely flat at all times. Turning the buffer at an angle or applying too much pressure can burn the paint surface and cause swirling. Work one quarter of a panel at a time until you get a bright gloss. The surface should feel smooth and look new.

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If the paint’s in decent condition and only needed some TLC, follow the same steps as above, but this time use car polish instead of buffing compound. You won’t need as much polish as compound because polish can cover a greater area and strips away less paint. Follow the process across the vehicle’s entire surface until the paint is restored.

Buffing should be done about once a year, and if you keep the car in the garage and the paint still looks decent, just use the polish instead of the compound. If, on the other hand, you live on the coast (or you’re in an area where salt is used to melt ice) and the car’s kept outside, you may want to buff more than once a year. Or, if you keep it parked under a tree where sap and bird poop reside, you should make it a habit to buff the car 2-3 times a year.

Waxing

Wax in conditions between 55° and 85° F, preferably on the cooler side. In hot weather, the wax dries as soon as you apply it to the surface, making buffing difficult. It can also make the wax hard to remove once applied. In colder weather, the wax is hard to move around and apply as well. In a perfect world, you’ll be able to wax your car in the garage or under cover, away from the sun’s rays. Sunlight can heat the car up and leave a waxy residue which can be a bear to remove.

The wax you choose is important, too. The best wax for your car contains carnauba; we like Meguiar’s.

Replace the buffer pad with a new, clean one. Spread car wax evenly over the car’s surface, gently pulsing the polisher’s trigger (as opposed to keeping it running continuously) running the pad over the surface in circular motions with about 3-5 lbs. of pressure. By doing this, you make sure the car wax doesn’t clump or cake on the surface. Only cover a quarter of the panel at a time before removing the wax. Don’t let the wax sit too long on your car. This will cause it to dry to your car and leave obvious marks. Some waxes will require a set time before removal, so refer to the directions on the bottle. Use a soft microfiber cloth to remove the wax, using circular motions to get that spiffy high gloss.

Repeat the process across the entire surface of the paint.

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Because the rule of thumb is to wax your car every three months (but don’t buff every time you wax), you should become a master at it in no time. Your car will look great, your cul-de-sac’s property value will go up and you’ll finally be able to punch that bully on the beach (“Thanks, Harbor Freight!”)