Automotive Maintenance

How to wax your car

While most people know that regularly waxing your car is beneficial, many don’t know why or how often you should wax your car.

Wax acts as a protectant for your car’s clear coat and helps shield your vehicle’s finish from water, UV damage, road contaminants, and other pollutants.

Water beading and sliding off a waxed car.

How often should you wax your car?

AAA recommends waxing your car at least twice a year, but if you park your vehicle outside and it’s frequently exposed to harsh winter or summer weather, you may need to wax every 3-4 months.

One way to tell if you need a car wax is to see how water collects on painted surfaces when you’re washing or detailing your car. Wax is designed to make water bead or slide off your car. If the water clings to your car’s surface, the layer of wax is gone.

How to wax your car with different types of wax: step by step

You should only wax your car after it’s been washed and dried, and if possible, after a clay bar treatment. Before starting, park your car in a shaded area and make sure it’s cool to the touch.

Ceramic sprays make waxing your car much easier.

Ceramic wax

Compared to traditional waxes, ceramic wax requires less effort to apply as it just needs to be sprayed on and wiped off. It also chemically bonds with your car’s paint on a molecular level, making it more durable.

  • Step 1: Shake the bottle well.
  • Step 2: Work in one small section at a time and spray the ceramic wax twice per panel. Don’t overspray as this may cause streaking.
  • Step 3: With a clean microfiber cloth, wipe off the wax in a straight motion. Use a second dry microfiber cloth to clean up any excess.
  • Step 4: Use a damp microfiber towel to wipe away any streaking.
  • Step 5: Repeat steps 2-4 until you’ve finished waxing all the painted surfaces.

Carnauba wax gives cars one of the best shines available.

Carnauba wax

Carnauba wax is known to give cars one of the smoothest shines possible, which is why it’s one of the most popular types of car waxes and is a top choice for some auto detailers. Unlike ceramic wax, carnauba breaks down faster when it’s continually exposed to UV rays and harsh weather.

  • Step 1: Apply a small amount of carnauba wax on a clean microfiber towel. Avoid using too much as this may make it difficult to clean off the wax later.
  • Step 2: Rub the wax onto your car in a circular motion one small section at a time.
  • Step 3: Wait for the thin layer of wax to dry. The wax will appear chalky or hazy.
  • Step 4: Using a different clean microfiber cloth, buff away the wax in a circular motion.
  • Step 5: Repeat steps 2-4 until you’ve finished waxing all the painted surfaces.

AAA TIP: An orbital buffer can significantly reduce the time and effort it takes to wax your car. To ensure you don't damage your car's paint, follow any included instructions if you decide to use special waxing tools.

What does wax do for a car?

To demonstrate the benefits of waxing your car, the Automotive Research Center conducted a friction test to measure the pull tension needed to drag a 16.56-pound weight wrapped in a microfiber cloth across an unwaxed car surface and a waxed one.

To determine the baseline pull tension, the weight was first dragged across a washed, unwaxed car hood. We then divided the hood, and applied ceramic wax to one side and carnauba wax to the other. The results showed that there was a 25-30% reduction in friction after applying carnauba wax, and a 14-16% reduction after using ceramic wax— illustrating how car wax helps water easily bead off surfaces.

Conducting a wax friction test by pulling a weight across a car hood.

Wax friction test results

An average was taken using measurements from 5 pulls horizontally and vertically.

No wax

Vertical pulls: 8.55 lbs.

Horizontal pulls: 8.2 lbs.

Ceramic wax

Vertical pulls: 7.15 lbs.

Horizontal pulls: 7.05 lbs.

Carnauba wax

Vertical pulls: 5.9 lbs.

Horizontal pulls: 6.15 lbs.

Car trim before (left) and after using a ceramic coat protectant.

Can I use ceramic car wax on plastic trim or headlights?

In addition to spray waxes, ceramic products have also been created to protect other car surfaces, such as headlights or plastic trim, from becoming faded and discolored. While ceramic spray coating designed for paint can be used on trim, it’s best to use a plastic trim ceramic protectant to get long-lasting results. For headlights, AAA recommends cleaning or restoring your car lenses before applying a ceramic coating specifically formulated to protect headlights.


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