From Headlights to Taillights: Wax on, wax off

By Mark Kozemko, Johnson College’s Automotive Technology Program Director

Original published in the October 29, 2021 edition of the Valley Advantage.

As October turns into November, some of you, like me, want the warm weather to stay all year round. At the same time, others are upset that cold weather is not here yet. Either way, your vehicle needs to be protected from the elements in warm and cold weather. This leads me to a few questions we received about protecting vehicles from anything Mother Nature throws at us during the different seasons.

Our first question is, “Is it still necessary to wax my car to protect it from the elements?”

The simple answer is yes. I recommend protecting your vehicle’s painted finish if you want it to look good years down the road. If it is not protected somehow, the rust will slowly eat away at the metal until it’s a heap of rust sitting in your driveway. That is an exaggeration, of course, but only slightly because rust can ruin a vehicle.

“If it is necessary, what kind of wax should I use on my vehicle?” is our second question.

The answer to this question is not so simple. Everyone has different opinions on how to treat their vehicle, so it’s tough to tell you what is best. Let me explain.

If you treat your vehicle like one of the family then you keep it clean (wash it), keep it healthy (maintain it, change the oil), and protect it (wax or protective coating). With proper care, the vehicle remains in good shape for a long time.

If all you care about is that your vehicle gets you from point A to point B and you don’t spend much time on car care, your vehicle will not keep the good looks it had at the beginning and may start looking bad very quickly. If this is you, it’s OK because not everyone has the time to treat a vehicle like family in this hectic world.

If you are the type to take very good care of your car or truck, there is a variety of different waxes or coatings that have been proven to keep it looking great for a long time. Some are very easy to apply, and others are not so easy. It all depends on how hard you want to work to reach your end goal of protecting your vehicle from the elements.

If you go to an auto parts store, you will see an entire aisle dedicated to products that protect everything from the paint to the dashboard and windows of your vehicle. The price range also varies as much as the product selection does.

I recommend doing some research before you purchase a wax or coating. You may want to google “what are the 10 best car waxes” to find out what is available. Then, watch YouTube videos to view the application process. This research will help you determine what product to buy and the degree of difficulty in applying that product. Because there are so many products to choose from, the choice can be tricky.

Our third question is, “I took care of my last vehicle regularly. I washed, waxed, and so on, but the body panels still rusted. Did I do something wrong or use the wrong product?”

I don’t believe you did anything wrong or used the wrong product. Unfortunately, our vehicles are subjected to a multitude of elements that can destroy metal body panels. Without knowing how often you applied the product, I can only speculate you followed the instructions on when to use it and how to apply it for the best results. If you followed the instructions, there isn’t anything more you could have done.

A major headache in keeping a vehicle looking good is stone chips. They happen when stones are kicked up in traffic and hit your car or truck. A small stone chip, if left unrepaired, can result in a fender rotting away right before your eyes. Stone chips need to be touched up as soon as they are detected, so rust is not given a chance to start.

You would think vehicles would last forever if you could bubble wrap them and keep them in the garage every minute you own them. But even if you did that, your vehicle would still rust because it would attract moisture, and then rust would eventually take over.

Bottom line, no matter the season, cold or warm, protect your vehicle. Choose a product that fits the level of protection you want to give your vehicle and always follow the instructions. Plus, applying an extra coat or two will provide your car or truck additional protection to keep it looking good longer. In the words of Mr. Miyagi from the film Karate Kid, “Wax on, wax off.”