If you’re a more casual car washer, you might have never even bothered with car wax before. However, amongst all the weird and wonderful detailing products out there, wax is something that’s a must, and in the long run it’ll make your life a hell of a lot easier when it comes to keeping your car clean.
But what exactly goes into wax products? Why are they so important, and how are you supposed to use them? To find out more, we visited the headquarters of car care company Autoglym in Hertfordshire to have a chat to Technical Director Paul Coley:
The most obvious starting point is to look at exactly what the stuff you’re slapping on your car is. At its core is - well, wax actually. But wax is a term that encompasses a wide variety of materials. “Wax refers to a hard hydrocarbon at room temperature. The waxes can come from natural sources like carnauba - which is made from the wax on the leaves of the carnauba plant - or you can have palm waxes, and you can even find waxes in hydrocarbons like coal. Or you can have synthetic waxes, such as waxes from silicones,” Paul explains.
The problem is, spreading a hard material over a car isn’t possible, which is why solvents and oils are then added to the mix to make a more malleable substance. More than one kind of wax can go into a car wax product, and the oils and solvents can vary greatly.
Wax is - for the most part - about protection. You’re putting a barrier between the clearcoat and the outside world to protect it from nasty stuff in the air, UV rays, and water. Water is of particular concern - rainwater and spray from the roads is full of all sorts of pollutants which can easily transfer onto the paint, so the best way to protect against it is to make sure water quickly runs straight off your bodywork - something that wax will do by making the surface ‘hydrophobic’.
Take a look at the video above of our Jaguar XE S longtermer: the left-hand side of the bonnet has been given a layer of wax, so the water runs off very quickly. On the unwaxed right-hand side of the bonnet, the water sticks around for a lot longer.
In fact, as you’ll see in the video below, wax is so efficient at repelling water, that it’s possible to dry a waxed car using water - specifically, from an open hose. This is far safer than ‘contact’ drying using towels, as it eliminates the possibility of scratching.
The benefits don’t end there. Making it harder for mucky air and water to deposit grime all over your car means washing doesn’t need to be so frequent, or so intensive. Again, that’s less time spent in potentially harmful contact with your paintwork, and you might even be able to make the car sufficiently clean with a ‘non-contact wash’ using snowfoam. For that method, it’s just a case of coating a car in foam using a lance on a pressure washer, leaving it for a few minutes, and then rinsing away the foam and any contaminants.
If you’ve ever used car wax, you’ll also know that it gives the car a nice shiny finish. The diagram above should give you a good idea of why: what the wax is doing is filling in all the gaps in the clear coat caused by scratches and other imperfections. “It will help you with your colour, and it will help you with your blemishes because micro scratches will be filled. You effectively get a new surface on the top,” Paul explains.
There are two parts to this question: when during your wash regime should you use wax, and how often should you use the stuff? The first one is easier to answer - it should always be the last thing you apply. After washing the car and applying treatments like polish, the wax goes on to ‘seal’ and protect your hard work. Paul warns against the common mistake of waxing and then polishing - doing so simply strips off the wax.
The question of how often you should apply wax is a little more tricky to answer, but Paul suggests around three times a year, depending on the sort of driving you’re doing. Between then simple shampoo washes (or even a snowfoam treatment, if the car’s not too mucky) will be sufficient, and good car shampoos shouldn’t strip away the layer of wax.
It’s all about applying in small, even circles with a decent amount of wax, without slapping too much on or being too stingy. How long you need to leave it before buffing off (preferably with a mircofibre cloth) depends on the wax - if it’s the Autoglym High Definition wax we had applied to the Jaguar, the first part you applied will be ready for buffing in the time that you’ve been around the car to wax the whole thing.
If you want to look after your paintwork, make car washing easier and get a little extra shine (we hope that’s a yes to all three), you should absolutely wax your car every now and then.
It’s not terribly difficult or expensive (yes, you can spend thousands on a tub of wax, but it’s unlikely that you’ll notice a huge difference between that and a more sensibly-priced product), and doesn’t even need doing that often. Is it time you got a little more wax in your life?