Few car waxes will outlast winter

Last reviewed: November 2011
Consumer Reports testing car waxes
Luster muster
Vincent Leonardis applies different waxes to this oxidized hood to evaluate how well they restore the shine of faded paint. Only a few rated above average.

For drivers in the snowbelt, now is a good time to wax your car, before seasonal hazards such as wet leaves and road salt can damage your finish. But wherever you live, be prepared to wax again in two to three months.

Only two of the 19 car waxes we tested were excellent for durability; most began deteriorating within a few weeks. And no waxes performed well enough to be rated excellent overall, a change from our last test, which found two top-tier products. (Ratings are available to subscribers.)

Other findings: Two moderately priced waxes, Nu Finish NF-76 and 3M One Step Cleaner Wax, performed better than some products costing much more. And overall, liquid waxes performed as well as paste waxes, with the best liquids providing better shine on faded paint.

We didn't test spray waxes because earlier tests showed they were less effective at cleaning and the least durable as a group.

Shielding your car's finish

Regular washing is the most important step in maintaining your car's finish. But a coat of wax adds protection against tree sap, bug splatter, bird droppings, road salt, and other contaminants. Most waxes we tested, however, showed a significant loss of protection within about five weeks; even the best lasted only a few months.

If your car is older or the paint is turning dull, some waxes can make a big difference in its appearance. They can fill tiny finish imperfections and improve the shine. Waxes that scored highly for gloss improvement removed layers of oxidation and made paint appear darker and more vibrant on older vehicles.

That said, because today's vehicles have clear-coat finishes over the color paint, even the best wax will probably not improve the shine on a newer car.

Be aware that some dark-colored finishes can be damaged by more abrasive waxes, resulting in swirl marks or hazing. Check our Ratings (available to subscribers) for products that might pose that problem. And with any wax you choose, we recommend you apply it first on an inconspicuous painted surface such as a doorjamb.

Regardless of how hard you work, how much you spend, or what longevity claims manufacturers make, we recommend waxing even new cars at least every two or three months for maximum protection.

Stop using those old rags


What you use to remove car wax can make the job easier. We've found that terrycloth towels don't remove residue as easily as microfiber rags, which are found at auto parts stores, big-box chains, and supermarkets. They're typically sold in packages of five or 10 rags and cost about $2 apiece.