How to Properly Care for Your Car's Paint

The paint on your car has to go through a lot–literally. Here are basic steps you can take to keep it protected and looking its best.

ebay parts and autos under the hood illustration protext paint job
Editor's Note: In this limited series, Under the Hood, we'll share do-it-yourself tips from drivers who want to wrench their own cars, no matter their skill level.

After extensive mechanical repairs, paint jobs can be one of the most costly vehicle-related expenses you’ll encounter if you want to keep your ride nice and shiny. Simple jobs–say, repainting a single area or panel–often start in the low hundreds, and full paint jobs can cost well into the thousands. If you’re serious about your car’s paint job, you may be familiar with paint protection film (PPF), a clear layer of polyurethane that is almost invisibly wrapped around your car’s exterior, covering and armoring every painted surface. Getting PPF wrapped around your entire car can also cost well over $1,000.

If you do plan to invest heavily in how your car looks–and especially if you want great paint without spending big time–then you’re going to have to know how to keep your paint clean, protect it from chips and dings and maintain its shine.

Here’s how to protect your car's paint job.

Wait For the Paint to Dry

ebay parts and autos under the hood illustration protext paint job

Detailers recommend waiting at least two weeks after any paint job before thoroughly washing a car. Cleaning any dirt or other debris off of your car during this waiting period should be done extremely carefully, using a non-abrasive cleaning solution and lightly wiping with a cloth. Keep in mind that the two-week waiting period only applies to hand washing. If you want to run your car through an automatic car wash, wait about a month. After any wax job, wait at least two months to hit the car wash.

After applying any PPF, it’s safest to wait about a week before working on the coated surfaces so that the film settles properly. Definitely don’t wash your car during this time, and avoid putting any kind of pressure on the film during the weeklong settling process.

Give it a Wash

(Purchase any of the following supplies and tools from eBay Motors or your retailer of choice.)

ebay parts and autos under the hood illustration protect paint job

After waiting the appropriate time for the (hopefully metaphorical) dust to settle, you’re in the clear to wash the car. First, invest in a cleaner that’s easy on car paint. Household cleaners aren’t specifically produced for this, so avoid using these, lest their chemicals wreak corrosive effects on your paint job.

Instead, look for products that are designed to interact with car paint, like Paint Cleanser from AMMO or Meguiar’s Gold Class Car Wash Shampoo. Before applying these products, thoroughly rinse the car with a hose to remove any loose debris that might scratch the paint during the next steps of the process.

Recommended quantities vary by product, but you'll likely need to grab a clean bucket and mix the cleaning solution with water. To apply the soap mixture, dunk a soft car washing sponge (or other product, like a microfiber mitt or similar) into the mixture and apply a generous amount to the paint, gently rubbing it along the length of the car in horizontal motions. Though tempting, it's inadvisable to wash in circles, as you risk creating swirl marks. Rinse the car with fresh water from the top down. When there's no soap left, dry the car, starting at the top, with soft and very clean towels to prevent watermarks (microfiber works here as well).

Give it a Wax

ebay parts and autos under the hood illustration protect paint job

For an extra bit of shine and protection, wax your car's paint using automotive-specific wax and a microfiber applicator pad or orbital power buffer. First, gently apply the wax panel by panel using up and down motions. As the wax sets, it will create a dull finish. To work the wax in well and remove excess, take a soft cloth like a chamois or microfiber towel (or the orbital machine again, this time with a removal pad), and using circular motions, remove the wax. Now, take a second to admire the smoother, shinier finish you've created. Make another pass with unused cloths to ensure you removed all of the wax from each panel.

Do It All Again, as Often as Possible

The best thing you could do for your car’s paint job is to do everything described above every two weeks. If that's too frequent, adjust the schedule to fit your lifestyle–the less of this work you do, the less protected your paint will be. But any protection is better than none, so make sure to give your car's paint some TLC as frequently as possible. If you love driving, there’s no way to avoid picking up the dust and debris that’s present on every road. So to keep your car's paint fresh and clear, make all of this a habit.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Sponsored