Car Wax Buyer’s Guide

Selecting the best car wax or paint sealant for your automobile.When you purchased your most recent car, chances are the first impression you had came from the paint finish. It’s what you stared at for nearly an hour, and it’s what you admire still today. The manufacturer created a window sticker with an impressive list of features, but all of those took a back seat to that initial look. The look that made you say “Wow!”

We buy with our eyes. This explains why the majority of the cost involved in building a new car factory goes into the paint finish system. Car makers know your first impression of the paint finish is key to making the sale. The color, vividness and quality of the paint finish is a major factor.

This buyers guide is all about car wax, including paint sealants and other products commonly referred to as a last step product. The goal of this guide is to provide you with enough information to make your next car wax purchase the best choice for you and your automobile.

Do New Car Finishes Really Need Wax?

Automotive paint history dates back a full century. Although man has been coating metal, wood and stone for several thousand years, motor vehicle specific coatings were not invented until a few years after Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company. These early coatings were varnish products carried over from the horse and buggy industry.

Infinity G35 paint with clear coat failure
This image shows a close-up of a 3 year old Infinity G35 with what are clearly the early stages of clear coat failure.

Today’s paint systems are better than ever for both vehicles and the environment. They offer extraordinary colors, vivid depth and clarity, extremely high gloss, and new levels of durability. Still, even with the improvements, new car finishes must be waxed and properly maintained.

Even though new automotive technologies offer a longer lasting finish, the paintwork does oxidize and it is not impervious to environmental conditions. In other words, your paint still requires regular care and that includes car wax.

Special Paint Hype

There have been reports that European car paint systems are significantly different and require different care. According to my research, there is little to no actual difference. Any notion that the paint on European cars has better color, vibrancy or richness is a matter of personal preference.

Mercedes Benz

There are a few high-end car manufacturers, namely Mercedes-Benz, experimenting with ceramic paint systems. Ceramic paint systems are still too new to provide definitive feedback. They are very hard, but do require car wax protection.

The Paint Players

DuPont and PPG manufacture more than 80% of all automotive paint used worldwide. A third player, BASF, manufactures paint for many of the European car manufactures and a few car models in the United States.

It is well known that both PPG and DuPont have responded to complaints that their clearcoats were easily scratched. As a result, the new clearcoat systems from PPG and DuPont are slightly harder than the BASF system, but the difference is not significant.

Paints from different manufacturers do not favor one wax coating over another. The notion that a wax is produced specifically for a make and model of car, such as an Acura NSX or a BMW Z3, is ridiculous. Car owners should beware of any company or person marketing such products. There is no factual basis for a special wax blend based on the car brand or model.

Clear Coat Protection

Clearcoat finishes are not particular about the car wax you use, as long as you’re not using an overly abrasive cleaner-wax. Many cleaner waxes available were designed for conventional finishes that require more “scrubbing” action to remove heavy oxidation and stains.

Only in rare circumstances will a heavy abrasive be required to properly treat a clearcoat finish. If you’re going to use a cleaner-wax on your clearcoat, be sure it’s a clearcoat safe product, like Klasse All-In-One, which uses “soft cleaners” that lightly clean and polish.

Waxing Frequency Factors

In most climate conditions, I recommend waxing a minimum of twice a year. Waxing any less frequently than this and your paint will suffer premature deterioration from oxidation.

If you use a pure car wax (a car wax with no cleaners) product, you cannot over-wax your car. If you use a clearcoat safe cleaner-wax, wax no more than four times a year.

A Few Recommendations

If you insist on a natural paste wax product, a pure car wax like P21S Carnauba is an excellent choice, but you will need to apply the product every 60 days to maintain adequate protection.

If you want the best protection possible with minimal effort, look no further than one of the clear sealant product like Optimum Opti-Seal. This crystal-clear paint sealant wipes on and dries clear, but more importantly, it is truly durable in all climate and environmental conditions.

Car Wax Technology

It was European coach builders that first applied coatings of animal fats and wax to protect the custom paint on their horse-drawn carriages. This tradition has endured for over 100 years and is still a great way to protect the paint on modern-day coaches.

Today, the multi-layered finish on your car, from the primer through the top clearcoat, is only .004 to .006 of an inch thick. Regardless of how fine the finish is now, it will deteriorate and dull. Radiant and ultraviolet energy, acid rain, salt, atmospheric pollution, insect fluids and bird droppings wage a constant war on your car’s finish.

Solution: Waxing provides an easily renewable, transparent barrier between the finish and the hostile environment.

Applying car wax also makes your car, new or old, look better. Many quality car waxes combine enriching oils that “wet” the surface with protective formulas of Brazilian carnauba or modern polymers for a high-gloss shine.

This brings us to the subject of selecting a wax. Waxes can be made from a natural wax, usually Brazilian carnauba, or synthetically made of polymers and acrylic resins.

Porsche Carerra GT Prototype at LA Car Show
Car waxes and paint sealants make the surface of a car reflect more light. As a result, the car looks vibrant. When I saw this Porsche Carrera GT, it was hard to tell which reflected more, the water or the paint. Carnauba-based car waxes add an element of depth and warmth to a car. Paint sealants (synthetic car wax) create brilliance and sparkle.

Carnauba Car Wax

Carnauba comes from the fronds of the “tree of life” (Copernicia cerifera) native to Brazil. It is nature’s hardest, purest and most transparent wax. Carnauba car waxes tend to produce a deeper, darker, richer shine that is often described as three-dimensional.

Many enthusiasts and show car owners prefer the shine of carnauba waxes, especially on black, red and other dark colors. Carnauba car waxes bead water nicely, absorb the acid content in rain, and hide minor swirls in the paint.

Carnauba Has Downsides

On the minus side, carnauba waxes aren’t as durable as synthetic waxes. Depending on your climate, a carnauba wax might last between 30 and 60 days. Additionally, some carnauba waxes can be temperamental, occasionally streaking under certain temperature or humidity conditions.

With the limitations of carnauba wax, you might be asking why it continues to have a loyal following. In my own case, I continue to use P21S Carnauba Wax to pamper my show car because I like the way it looks. On my toy, durability is secondary. Plus, the wax goes on like butter and wipes of just as easily.

Synthetic Car Wax Creams & Liquids

Made from modern polymers or acrylic resins, synthetic waxes offer excellent durability and ease of application. Quality synthetic waxes have been known to last 6 to 9 months or longer, and typically wipe on and off very easily. Synthetic waxes create a very bright shine and rarely cloud or streak on the paint.

On the down side, many enthusiasts feel synthetic waxes lack depth and richness. Black cars can look a little sterile or silvery in the direct sunlight with some synthetic car waxes. Additionally, the mirror-like polymers can collect minor swirls and actually highlight paint flaws.

One of my favorite synthetic car wax products, that has stood the test of time, is Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze. This product just keeps on going and going, like the Energizer Bunny. People love it because it works.

To learn more about this amazing car wax, see the Klasse Car Wax Guide.

Clear Nanotechnology Polymer Coatings

In 2007 a new type of automotive surface protection was created — a clear paint sealant — by three different companies, Zaino Bros’, Ultima Finish Care and Optimum Polymer Technologies. Clear sealants are nanotechnology polymer coatings that are highly resistant to detergents, acids and hard minerals (like calcium).

Don’t let the nanotechnology jargon confuse you. The chemical simply creates a full molecular blanket of protection by using molecules that are much smaller than water or acid molecules. These bind together to form what looks like a chain link fence of protection.

Of these, the preferred product for easy-of-use, good looks and lasting protection is Optimum Opti-Seal (mentioned above) which is a fantastic wipe-On, walk away paint sealant.

Is Carnauba Wax a Dinosaur?

I grew up washing and waxing the cars with Dad using a can of Turtle Wax paste wax. Back then, everyone knew that Carnauba paste wax was what you used on your car to protect it. When I got my first car in 1976, I continued the tradition of cleaning and protecting the paint with paste wax. At the time, synthetic waxes (sealants) were not common on retail shelves or they were seen as Snake Oil products.

I’m not really sure what caused the paste wax phenomenon. If you look back at the history of two car care giants, Turtle Wax and Meguiar’s, both companies started by making liquid polishes. The original Turtle Wax product, called Plastone, was a synthetic protective paint polish invented by Ben Hirsch. As the founder of Turtle Wax® Inc, Ben changed the product name to Super Hard Shell and the business name to Turtle Wax in the 1950’s to convey the idea of a hard, protective shell.

In the 1960’s the paint polish products (what we now think of as a liquid cleaner/wax) were pushed to the side by paste wax products containing “pure Carnauba wax.” Interestingly, many (if not most) of the liquid car polishes also contained Carnauba wax, but it was rarely used in marketing the product.

As if by magic, Carnauba wax suddenly became the wonder component of the car wax industry. In reality, Carnauba wax is a minor component in most paste and liquid car waxes due to the cost of the wax in its purified form.

Paste wax marketing from the mid-1960’s through the 1980’s gave car owners the impression that Carnauba paste car wax was the only way to truly protect your car with a durable barrier. Folks began this love-hate ritual dance on weekends, paste waxing their family car or the hot-rod. Holding that can and swirling the applicator around became part of a feel-good nuance. The rest is history!

Be sure to check out the article How to Wax Your Vehicle!