The paint on a vehicle has a tough job to do. Sure looking sleek and shiny is something that we expect from our vehicle’s clear coat paint, but those are some big shoes to fill considering your paint is constantly battling the elements of wind, sun, and water.
More than this, people are keeping their cars longer. The average age of a vehicle on the road in the United States today is about 11.5 years which is the highest that number has ever been! This is thanks to advances in the automotive industry making cars safer and more reliable. The longer a vehicle is on the road, the longer its paint is susceptible to deterioration.
Drivers around the world want to keep the paint looking the way it did on the day their car rolled off the dealership lot. Well, there are a ton of innovative products and practices that you can use to do just that.
- Applying a protective finish like waxes, polishes and coatings
- Pick the best soaps and products and use them regularly
- Quickly remove animal droppings
- Park in a sheltered location
- Utilize a car cover
- Detailing spray
- pH balanced soaps
- Car polish
- Paint sealant
- Ceramic coating
- Paint protective film
- Car covers
Understanding Your Vehicle’s Clear Coat Paint Finish
Most modern vehicles on the road have what is called a clear coat paint finish. What this means is that your car has a base paint that is finished with a thick clear coat of paint that seals in and protects the color of the car. More than this, the clear resin applied to the vehicle is luxurious to the touch and amplifies the color of the vehicle promoting deep breathtaking hues.
The resin finish is designed to protect your car from the elements such as damaging UV rays, lengthening the life of your vehicle’s paint.
A common misconception among car owners is that the clear coat finish prevents all damage from the sun, but this is simply not true. While the clear coat does filter out a significant amount of the UV light, it doesn’t prevent it all.
But never fear there are steps you can take to give your paint a helping hand and keep your vehicle looking newer for longer. The best thing that you can do is start with a protective top-coat finish. From there, things like keeping the paint free of bird poop and tree sap are great practices, but we don’t stop there.
Applying A Protective Finish
There are several options on the market for someone looking to put a protective barrier over their car’s clear coat, and they are available for any budget. The level of protection will vary as will the length of effectiveness. We’ll give you 4 excellent options, tell you what they are, how they work, and the pros and cons of each finishing product.
Waxing is pretty standard in the automotive community. We’ve all heard the phrase wash and wax and that’s because it’s been used since cars were invented in the early 20th century. Before then, people were washing and waxing their carriages!
There are a ton of different types of waxes on the market and the application types vary quite a bit as well. You can purchase a solid wax that has been derived from plants and is relatively natural and unrefined, or you can alternatively buy a liquid wax that contains an infusion of synthetic ingredients. Regardless of your preference, there is a product on the market that will meet your needs.
- Inexpensive: Waxing is the least expensive paint protection method on our list.
- Most waxes will last you for around 20 applications and they don’t expire for years and years.
- Good to use with car polish. Wax is very friendly with other products, you aren’t going to pair a wax with a car polish or synthetic sealant and have bad results
- Easy: Most car waxes require very little special treatment for application and there is absolutely zero guess work involved, all you have to do is carefully read and follow the instructions provided by the wax manufacturer.
- Protection: Will protect you from UV rays, acid rain, tree sap and bird poop.
- Longevity: Waxes start to wear off as soon as they are applied. A standard wax will last around 6 weeks, at which time the wax will need to be removed before another can be applied.
- Stickiness: Wax is known to collect dirt and debris because it is an oil with a bit of stick to it. You’re going to have to wash your car more frequently, which in turn deteriorates the wax.
- Effectiveness: While having a wax coating over your paint is better than nothing at all, wax has the least protection in comparison to the new innovations on the market.
- Protection: Won’t help you when it comes to dings, scratches, chips and rocks.
Here are some of our staff favorites.
It is important to note the distinction between waxes and polishes, and thus we’ve included car polish though it does not protect your paint.
A polish is simply for aesthetic purposes leaving a creamy and shiny finish with a high lubrication. Wax on the other hand is designed to protect your car from scratches, debris, and UV rays. Polish is for shine and wax is for protection, but when used together they produce lovely results. Some excellent car polish options on the market include:
Paint sealant is a relatively new synthetic technology engineered by chemists to cover the clear coat of your paint with a thin protective barrier. Essentially it is a longer lasting synthetic liquid car wax.
This genre of products typically will last for about six months before needing to be reapplied. Before the paint sealant can be applied there is a relatively heavy amount of prep work and if you are reapplying the product it will need to be removed first.
- Easy: like wax products, paint sealant is exceptionally easy to apply. Most products instruct users to apply using a spray or cloth dip process then to buff out with a microfiber cloth.
- Can be used with multiple products: paint sealant is similar to wax and is designed to be effective when combining with car polish and waxes.
- Added shine: Paint sealants further enhance the clear coat of your vehicle’s paint making the sheen and color incredibly luxurious.
- Highlights imperfections: As we previously discussed this product really makes your paint shine. Unfortunately a drawback to this is that it also accentuates any scratches or chips in your paint.
- Tough to take off: this product is built to last for about half a year so it goes without saying that you need something special to remove it. Once it has aged and starts to deteriorate it can be removed using specific automotive soaps that specialize in wax and sealant removal. Regret on a freshly sealed car is going to be more difficult to overcome, requiring specialized products and/ or multiple washes.
- Not the best protection by any means: this product is definitely a step above wax, but it will by no means protect your paint from things like rocks or people keying your car (yes there are products that do!)
Here are some brands we recommend:
Ceramic Coating is a bit difficult to explain.. Essentially it is its own thick barrier that uses nanotechnology to stick to the exterior layer of your car’s paint. It is applied wet, but as it hardens it becomes a layer of glass so thin that you need a microscope to see it.
This is not your average thin glass, as the coating hardens, it settles into any cosmetic damage that your paint has, creating a renewed flat surface. The best part is how tough this stuff is! A ceramic coating will protect your car from scratches and dings, bird poop, tree sap, UV light, chemicals and even spray paint!!
- Longevity: while inferior products on the market only last week or months, a ceramic coating will last you between 2 and 5 YEARS.
- Shine: Because the product essentially hardens into glass, it gives your car an unbelievable gleam.
- Hydrophobic: Meaning it repels water. This is great for when it rains and you don’t want your car covered in water marks. In addition it has similar repelling properties when it comes to things like dirt, sap and poop. Even bugs are repelled off of a ceramic coating.
- Scratch Resistance: This coating is tough! While it isn’t 100% scratch proof it does a hell of a good job at preventing most scratches
- Difficult to remove: after two to five years ceramic coatings do wear off and they are a huge pain to remove before you reapply. Before you purchase this product, look into manufacturer recommendations for removal.
- Highlight imperfections: because ceramic coatings tend to accentuate the imperfections in your paint it is important to complete paint corrections prior to application. If you don’t any subtle paint swirls or scratches can become glaring.
- Prep time: As we just discussed imperfections become more noticeable once a ceramic coating has been applied. Because of this there are a lot of steps that a car owner has to take before application including hand washing, paint correction, polishing etc. To get the desired results you need to thoroughly follow manufacturer instructions and consider doing your own research or consulting with a professional before embarking. Here is a helpful video on preparing a car to be coated.
Ceramic coatings we recommend:
Paint Protection Film
Finally, we have paint protection film as a paint barrier product. These products are incredibly strong and provide (BY FAR) the most protection available but on the flip side, it can also be extremely (if not unreasonably) expensive for the common car owner.
This technology was originally designed to protect helicopter blades on military aircraft and it has evolved from there. Essentially paint protection film is a vinyl that is installed onto the surface of the paint. Unlike the rest of the products on the list, I have been unable to come up with a good DIY option.
Because of the overall cost of the product, it is likely better to consult with a professional anyways. You can get an estimate for paint protection film through a professional detailer or an automotive vinyl expert. Before you commit, read the cons.
- Longevity: Paint protection film in some cases lasts well over 15 years. On average PPF will last around 10 years which is about the same average age of the vehicles on the road today.
- Protection: Paint protection film is essentially scratch proof. If you are someone who frequently upsets those close to you and ends up with your car keyed, this is the product for you! Jokes aside this really is the toughest paint protection around. You don’t need to worry about rocks or other debris chipping your paint
- Self restoring: this stuff is like wolverine. It really is capable of restoring itself of any and all damage. Sounds too good to be true?
- Cost: Application of paint protection film can be very pricey. A full coating of your entire vehicle can run you between $4000 and $8000.
- Frequent washing: because this product is made of vinyl, dirt tends to really stick to PPF.
- Replacement: removing PPF can be really difficult and will be necessary if part becomes damaged. The entire section will need to be replaced.
- Discoloration and heat vulnerable: over time PPF will discolor due to UV rays. For this reason you will want to use a car cover for your vehicle if it isn’t stored in a garage. In some extreme heat cases the PPF can actually melt into your vehicles paint and removal will strip the car of its color entirely. This is rare but it can happen!
Now that we have covered waxes, sealants, ceramic coatings and films, lets talk about what you can do on a more frequent basis to protect your paint.
- Regularly Use A Detailing Spray
You might think this sounds ridiculous, but many detailing sprays actually have waxes and polymer sealant in them which when applied regularly can protect your paint.
- Choose Your Soap Wisely
The 6 Important Things To Look For When Buying A Car Shampoo
- pH balance. You’re going to want to make sure whatever car soap you purchase is first and foremost pH balanced. This is ultimately the most important factor when it comes to protecting your paint during the wash cycle. A balanced soap will be neither acidic or basic and maintains a pH of 7, which is the same pH as water! Lower quality soaps can contain harsh solvents that strip away your car’s clear coat. Soaps that have not been tested for pH balance can leave damaging acidic or basic residues that will eat away at your vehicle’s clear coat.
- Foam. You will also want to pick a soap with a heavy foaming formula. Foam actually does a lot of the heavy lifting for you in the washing process and is a great way to protect your paint thanks to the thick lubricant between the coat of your car and the dirt you are removing when you wash. You can also use a foam cannon to achieve even more suds!
- Only a wash. DO NOT BUY 2 IN 1 WASH AND WAXES. Seriously these products are a total sham. Washing intends to degrease and remove dirt whereas waxes are oily, sticky and can accumulate dirt when exposed. The two ideas of washing and waxing are conflicting and creating a product that encompasses both simply is not realistic. Any product that claims to be doing both is likely not doing a good job at either. If you do want to apply a wax coating to your vehicle, wash and dry your car and then apply wax by hand or hire a professional.
- Scent. Many car soaps have quite a strong smell to them. Chemical companies sometimes turn their otherwise unusable products into car soaps and may use artificial smells like berries to cover up the odor of some of the nasty chemicals they contain. Personally I prefer to use scentless cleaners that are free and clear of dyes in all areas of my life from laundry detergent to hand soap. Depending on your preferences, skin sensitivity and allergies you may wish to opt for a not so fragrant car shampoo.
- Eco-friendliness. Remember that when car soaps are rinsed off of your vehicle, the soap doesn’t just disappear. A typical wash solution will run down the driveway or parking lot and into the grass, gutter or street. From there they end up in surrounding rivers, lakes and other bodies of water or will run into storm drains and eventually become part of the ecosystem. Because of this it is unacceptable to knowingly buy products that are not naturally based and biodegradable. We have to do our part to protect the planet and choosing an eco-friendly car wash is a simple way to reduce your footprint!
- Concentration. If value is something that you, well, value, then consider buying a concentrated brand of soap (considering it meets all the other criteria). It will save you A LOT of money in purchasing one of these. With concentrated soaps, you mix less soap with water to achieve the same desired sudsy levels. So that gallon container of soap can last you years when washing one car weekly or bi weekly.
Soaps we’ve approved:
3. Quickly Remove Bird Poop
It’s practically impossible to prevent birds from taking a number 2 on your car. Sure, you can do things like avoid parking under trees but eventually you will end up with a fresh pile on your hood.
Bird poop may seem like a harmless inconvenience, but it can actually be pretty harmful to your paint. Bird droppings are highly acidic which as we discussed when talking about car soap, acidic and basic solutions can eat away at your car’s paint even if you have a clear coat finish.
Obviously it is better to remove the excrement from your vehicle when it is fresh, both for your sake and your cars. There are wipes on the market which you can keep in your car that are specially designed to safely remove bird poop from your vehicle without compromising your paint or paint sealant.
There are also car cleaners that can be kept in the trunk of your car with a microfiber cloth for instances where your car is having a crappy day. Here are some good options
DIY bird poop removal recipe: Club soda and a microfiber towel
4. Be Sure To Remove Tree Sap Too
Tree sap won’t damage your car immediately, but it will eventually leave a stain on your paint if left to continuously bake in the sun. If you live in a particularly hot climate, this will speed up the baking process.
Another reason to quickly get rid of tree sap is that the longer it sits, the more difficult it is to remove! If you want a DIY recipe for tree sap removal, baking soda paste works wondersMix a 1:1 ratio of baking soda and water and put a big glob on the sap. Allow the baking soda paste to sit for a few minutes then wipe free. For those of you who want a professional grade product, there are plenty on the market. These are the most highly reviewed products.
Park Your Vehicle In A Sheltered Location
Cover your car up with a garage or covered parking spot. This makes a world of a difference for maintaining the entirety of the vehicle, but especially the paint. The sun produces harmful UV light which over time can deteriorate your paint and also sun bleach the interior of your car.
In addition, you are less likely to come across sap, bugs, and bird poop in a covered area. This may seem pretty obvious but you can really tell the difference between two cars of the same make, model, and year when one has been garage kept and the other has not.
Invest In A Car Cover
A simple, easy and inexpensive option for anyone who doesn’t have access to a covered parking space is to bring the cover to yourself! A car cover will run you anywhere from $20 to $100 making this an extremely affordable option for most car owners.
These are also great for the car owner that wants to cover their vehicle while away from the house like during their work day. Here are some great car cover options.