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Have you ever noticed that some new cars seem to lose their glossy paint in just a few weeks? Yet some keep their shine for years. You probably think the owners of these shiny cars spend hours every weekend with their polishing machine and expensive wax.
The truth is there are a number of things that you can easily avoid that will prolong the life of that deep new car shine.
Of course avoiding these mistakes will also help keep the value of your car up and will actually save you money in the long term.
1. Don’t take it to an automatic car wash
A car wash is convenient, quick and cheap. And you feel your car looks great after using it. At least the mud is gone and they say those brushes are super soft so it must be fine right?
Definitely wrong. There are different types of car washes. But all of them need to use strong detergent to strip away dirt and grease. These detergents also strip away any protective wax and sealant if you have any.
The detergent used in car washes does not contain enough slickness to protect your car from those brushes either. When you rub some quality car shampoo between your fingers they feel super smooth and slippery. This goes a long way to protecting your paint because the grains of dirt get wrapped up in this slickness and don’t scratch your paint as they are removed.
And don’t get me started on those brushes. The dirt from 50 cars and trucks is stuck to them. They will remove any shine you have left very quickly because they will grind into the clear coat on your car.
Your clear coat is what gives your car it’s shine. When it gets covered in microscopic scratches and swirl marks your shine is gone.
What to do instead? Wash it yourself using the two bucket method or another safe method. Read more about the best washing techniques.
2. Don’t wash your car with a sponge or brush.
A sponge or brush is what I used on my parents’ car when I was growing up. Any new cars would quickly lose their shine. But why is this? What’s actually happening?
The problem is that these items simply push the dirt along the surface of the car. As the dirt builds up along the edge of the sponge it grinds into the paint. It’s like washing your car with a brick!
The sponge will soak up plenty of water which is good but it wont keep the dirt away from the paint.
A brush is often found in a self-service coin wash. These brushes are just too hard to use on a car if you want it to keep it’s shine. They are also filthy and are full of little rocks and sand which will quickly relieve you of your shine.
Solution : Use a microfibre wash mitt instead of the sponge or brush. These are cheap but incredibly useful. The fibres will trap dirt in them and help keep it away from the car.
The mitt will soak up loads of sudsy water so you can gently move side to side to loosen the dirt. Rinse the dirty mitt in a clean bucket of water after each section before dipping again in the soapy bucket. Don’t forget grit guards.
3. Don’t dry wipe your car to remove dust or light dirt.
You only washed your car yesterday but it looks like it’s got some light dust on it already. If it’s black then it shows up every speck and it’s driving you nuts. I get it.
So you grab a rag or an old bathroom towel and start dusting and your car looks good again. But this is actually a major mistake! These little specks of dust might as well be giant boulders because they will scratch that super delicate clear coat on your car.
The trick is to never touch your car without some kind of lubrication. Even water will help but there are other products you can try.
Solution : You have a few options here. The quickest one is to try something like a leaf blower or car drier. But they won’t always work well and usually don’t get all of the dust off.
You could lightly hose down your car and then pat dry with a microfibre towel.
Using a detailer spray is one of the best ways to remove light dust. These sprays contain lots of slick lubrication to help protect your paint. Simply mist on and very gently wipe in straight lines with a microfibre towel. Most detailer sprays also add wax, gloss or sealant. Click here for more info.
Use a waterless wash if your car is a little more dirty. Waterless washes contain even more slickness and protection than detailer sprays. They also contain wax or sealant but are a little harder to use because the product is a lot thicker than a detailer spray.
4. Wash your wheels first.
Yes, I did this for years too. But I’ve learned that is was not a good idea because of brake dust. Brake dust is what makes your wheels look dirty.
It’s basically very fine bits of metal. And if you wash your wheels last you will spray dirty water all over your clean car. This dirty water contains brake dust and will scratch your paint when you dry your car.
To wash your wheels you can get some very useful wheel brushes to help you get into the hard-to-reach areas. Another tip is to use a separate water bucket and wash mitt for your wheels.
Special wheel cleaner sprays are also very powerful at removing stains from alloy wheels. They loosen the iron deposits and allow you to easily wash them off.
5. Don’t wash your car in the sun.
Almost every product you can buy for car detailing says not to use them in direct sunlight. There is a very good reason for this. Most car shampoos for example need to be rinsed off before they dry.
Dark colors especially cannot be washed in direct sunlight. The heat causes the suds to dry too quickly which will cause streaking. You will have to wash your car again to remove the streaks but they can be surprisingly difficult to remove. And if you scrub too hard you will scuff your paint, even if using a microfibre wash mitt.
Your car should feel cool to the touch. If course this is not always possible in some parts of the world so I would advise you to wait until evening time to wash your car rather than trying to do it in the middle of the day if it’s too hot.
If you apply a sealant to your car you will also need to do that in the shade in most cases. Many products need to be buffed slightly to smoothen them down after you apply them and if this isn’t done properly it can cause ugly streaking that needs to be removed with compound and polish and a polishing machine.
6. Don’t let your car dry naturally after a wash.
Water spots from tap water can cause a lot of damage. Tap water is much worse than rain water too because it can contain minerals that damage paint.
I have had a lot of damage done to my car from water from a sprinkler. One side of the car was covered in water sports that were very difficult to remove. A DA (Dual Action) Polisher was needed to remove them properly.
The minerals in tap water can eat into the clear coat and the only way to remove them is with full paint correction techniques using compound and polish. It could take a day or more to fix the problem.
7. Don’t scrub your paint to remove bugs or tar.
Never scrub your paint. It’s just too delicate. It will quickly scuff and lose its shine. You have a few options available that will allow you to safely remove bug guts.
A bug sponge can help as it is used to gently wipe away the bugs. Use it after you have washed your car using a mitt. A number of bug sprays are also on the market but these can strip away wax and sealant so you may need to reapply those after.
I usually find that if the bugs have had time to soak they are much easier to remove. If I do a pre-wash using a foam cannon and a pressure washer it gets rid of most of them and the rest are easily removed with a microfibre wash mitt.
Another useful bug removing tool is a clay mitt. These contain a sticky rubbery surface like a clay bar. They help to remove tar and other surface contaminants also. They need to be used with plenty of lubrication such as foam from the foam cannon or a special clay bar lubricant.
8. Don’t dry your car with a bathroom towel.
Bathroom towels are not soft enough to dry your car. Polyester can actually scratch clear coat. They also don’t trap dirt in their fibers like microfiber towels can.
A waffle weave microfiber towel has even more water soakage ability and is a popular choice among enthusiasts.
To use a microfiber towel simply lay the towel flat on the car to soak up the big chunks of water. Wring it out and move on to the next section. The best waffle weave towels use silk around the edges while cheaper ones have nylon which can be a little hard on black paint.
If there is a film of water left on your car at this point you can now wipe it off with another smaller microfibre towel. You can also dry your car with a drying aid spray or detailer spray to add shine and protection. Read my guide to drying a black car for more details.
9. You don’t use a pressure washer.
I love my pressure washer. It’s a cheap electric model but it removes a lot of grit and dirt from the car before I touch it with a microfibre mitt. The more dirt you can remove from your car without touching it the better.
There was some doubt in the past about using pressure washers but pretty much everyone accepts now that they are safe and are an awesome tool in your car cleaning arsenal.
I also use a foam cannon to soak the car in white suds. This softens the grease and dirt to make it easier to remove. The pressure removes all the heavy mud plus some bugs and brake dust.
10. Protect your car from the sun and weather.
Oxidization has many causes. And the sun has a lot to do with it. Dark paint in particular seem to suffer from this problem over time. Oxidization can also affect glossy black plastic. Other black plastic can turn white because of the sun.
Oxidization can be seen when your paint seems to have a milky or foggy look. It can be removed by polishing but prevention is always better than cure.
Parking in the shade is not always possible but it’s the best way to minimize sun damage. But there are some products that contain some UV protection that will definitely make all the difference. These can also protect plastic trim which can get bleached by the sun.
Many products need to be kept away from plastic because they can stain it. Carnauba waxes especially have should be kept away from plastic so be sure you check the label or online to learn about the products you have.
Most modern sealants contain some form of UV protection that will help protect your paint from the sun and also from ice and rain. Sealant is better than wax because wax can soften in the heat of the sun and disappear from your car. Some waxes only last a week.
Sealant on the other hand can last 6 or 12 months and hot weather does not soften it. Just to confuse things a little, some waxes are actually synthetic so they are not affected so much by the sun.
A coating (also known as a ceramic coating), is like sealant except it sets much harder and can last a year or more provided you take care of your car properly. These can be a little more expensive and can cause streaking on your car that’s difficult to remove of they are not applied properly. It’s probably best to get this applied by a professional car detailer if you really want one.
My recommendation is to use a sealant and to top it up every few months. They are super easy to apply. Read my guide here.