I just bought a new Hyundai Veloster and want to take good care of it. It is my first car and, while I helped my dad clean our family car on occasion, I have never actually waxed a car. When I went to the local Canadian Tire store to buy some wax, I was shocked at the variety and confused by some of the terms. Can you help me out? What is the difference between wax and a polish? – Dorothy in Mississauga, Ont.
I hope you are enjoying your new car and am glad to hear you want to keep it that way. Your efforts will pay off, not only in pride of ownership, but higher resale or trade-in value down the road.
Generally speaking, a polish is designed for repair and wax for protection. I'll get into more detail in a moment but first a little background.
Paint is applied in microscopic layers and virtually all modern vehicles, including yours, have a final application of "clear coat" to protect the colour coats beneath. That clear coat also makes the paint look deeper and richer.
The instant that shiny new paint is exposed to the elements, on its way to the dealer, in his lot or your driveway, it is under attack.
The object is to clean that surface and protect it. The simple way to do this is to use a combination polish and wax, the most common item among the many on that shelf at Canadian Tire.
These cleaner "waxes" have a mild abrasive that scours the surface and some wax to leave a protective layer. The opposite end of the work spectrum is a complete detail job, which involves something called a "clay bar," which is used with a lubricant to scrub off anything lying on the surface of the paint. That is followed by a polish, which uses a mild abrasive or chemical agent to clean the surface, removing minor scratches, water marks, deposits, oxidation, etc.
Scratches, even minor ones, result in a microscopic depression in the surface. Light is reflected off the edges of this depression and the result is an uneven reflection. A polish will smooth out those tiny edges and serve to level or flatten the surface so light is reflected evenly.
Once the surface is thoroughly clean, it is time for a pure wax, one that contains no abrasives. The final step is a polish with a buffer, leaving a clean, clear protective coating that will prevent stuff from coming into contact with the paint. I like to think of this as a sacrificial coat that can be removed and replaced as it ages.
A couple of side notes: If the surface of the paint is damaged by a deep scratch, it can probably be removed by a professional using "compound." This is much more aggressive than a polish and can easily damage or even completely remove the clear coat applied at the factory. As the saying goes, "do not attempt this yourself at home."
Also, when you hear someone brag that they put three layers of wax on their car, they can only do so with a pure wax. The vast majority of the "waxes" on the market contain a cleaning agent that will remove any previous coat of wax.
And finally, you might also notice something called "detailer" or "refresher." This is an extremely mild polish used as a touch-up – often at car shows. It also contains a lubricant so that, when wiping off a clean car to remove dust, etc., it does so without allowing that dust to scratch the surface.