How to Keep Your Car’s Paint Looking Like Brand New

Maintaining your vehicle’s finish may seem like a simple task, but let’s face it: with all of the products on the shelves these days it can get a little intimidating. Depending on whether your goal is to maintain your factory showroom appearance or revive the finish of an older vehicle or something else, a quick car wash might not cut it. We’re here to make sure you have the information you need to properly care for your vehicle’s appearance. Watch the video above or check out the tips below to learn how to get your car clean and keep it looking great.

How to Maintain Your Car’s Paint and Finish

Father and son washing the car together.

1. Wash

Frequent washing is critical to remove surface dirt, salt, and contaminants that can damage the paint and leave scratches. This is even more important in the winter months, especially in the snow-belt. Be sure to use an automotive wash and never household cleaners or dish soap – they can strip away wax and leave your paint exposed to UV. Work from the top down to ensure that you don’t re-contaminate the area you just washed.

Remember, the process of washing is to lift dirt and contaminants off and away from the paint surface, not rub and grind those contaminants in farther. This is one of the reasons why many automated car washes tend to leave scratches.

Wash your car in a low-light area where the sun cannot quickly dry your water and soap on the car. Completely flood the vehicle first with water and rinse off any major dirt or salt with water pressure. Avoid re-dipping your brush or sponge into dirty, contaminated water.

2. Clean

Cleaning removes particles that have adhered to the paint, such as tree sap, tar, and even brake dust. Start by determining the level of contaminants. Anything sap, grease, bug or tar based should be removed with Bug and Tar remover and re-washed in that area. You will feel contaminants on the paint by gently running your hand across a perfectly clean panel. It should be completely smooth, and usually it is not.

You want your vehicle to have a smooth finish, free of any contaminants before you proceed on. One of the most popular and easy-to-use, low-risk products to accomplish this is a Clay Bar. Clay Bars work to lift these contaminants off of the paint, and prepare the surface for Polish.

3. Polish

Polishing gives gloss and richness back to your paint and adds depth. Polish and/or Cleaner Wax can be applied by hand, but best results come from a Polishing Buffer, like the Griot’s GG001 polisher, available in AutoZone stores. Work a small section at a time, apply the polish, then removing with a clean cloth once it starts to haze up.

Have a wet cloth ready to remove polish from rubber or glass surfaces, or splatter before it hardens and dries, where it becomes more difficult to remove. Be sure to do your polishing and waxing work completely in the shade, or in the garage.

4. Protect

Waxing protects the finish and adds gloss. Wax also works as a UV protectant in the summer. Frequent exposure to the elements means more frequent waxing to maintain that protection. Use a high-quality car wax and apply in overlapping circles before removing. You can also use your same Griot’s or equivalent buffer to apply wax, just be sure you are using a clean application pad, not re-using your polishing pad without cleaning it.

5. Maintain

After applying wax, you can maintain your finish with any number of ceramic coatings that are hitting the market, and these work excellent to add additional protection and water repelling.

When it’s time to wash your car, you can count on AutoZone as the one stop shop for everything you need to keep your car looking great. Whether you’re just getting into washing your own car or you are a seasoned car wash aficionado, we carry the products necessary to take your car’s clean to the next level and keep the finish looking great. We carry a lot of products, but there’s no need to be overwhelmed. Our store associates can help explain what these products do and help you find the best car wash products for your needs.

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Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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