Preserving Your Car’s Paint Finish

         As we are into a new century, it is easy to reflect on the advancements that have occurred since 1900 and how significant advancements are in science, medicine and technology that are reported virtually every day.

        Just a few decades into this past century several of the world’s most visionary individuals used to spend hours together camping and recreating away from their stellar careers.  As they were enjoying the chances to witness their achievements reaching the masses, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone used to sit for hours together socializing in the humble outdoors. During those visits, each one of them reportedly coveted their shared openness to ideas about what the future of technology would bring for humanity.

        To a certain extent, the contributions of each of these individuals helped prepare subsequent generations for the incredible succession of inventions and “possibilities” that would follow in this century.

        So, what’s this have do with waxing and automobile paint finishes? Well, it seems that Edison and his sidekicks did such a good job of opening up our expectations that we’re almost too easy on “new inventions.”

        Take “clear coat” paint finishes, for example. Some people have believed that if a car has one of these clear coat paint jobs on it, it never needs waxing.

        Well, hey, why not a no-wax car paint? We’ve walked on the moon — been there, done that! And some cars can go ’100,000 miles between tune ups’ today. I like the idea, too, of never having to get out there and rub that wax again. But it isn’t so — at least not yet.

        Even ‘clear coat’ paint finishes need the protection afforded by periodic waxing — and, of course, so do so-called “conventional” (regular enamel and lacquer) paint finishes. But let’s move in for a closer and more specific look at today’s topic of car wax and preserving your car’s paint finish.


The Enemies


        It’s not that clear coat finishes are not helpful on automobile paint finishes, they are a great improvement in paint “technology.” And we’ll come back to clear coats in a moment. What’s more important right now is recognizing that the foes to your car’s paint, with or without a clear coat finish, still haven’t changed — and they’re pretty formidable. Let’s start with the biggest one:

o THE SUN
Oh, yeah, the sun. UVA rays and all that stuff. Thought you’d heard enough about how important it is to protect your skin from the sun? Good. Now it’s holistic car care — cars have skin, too, you know. And your car’s paint finish breathes and even has pores! In the hot sun the paint’s pores expand and can absorb more dirt and moisture.

o BIRD DROPPINGS
From that gargantuan ball of fire to those pretty little tweeting birds. When we go out for picnics we look for nice shade trees with no ants and no … birds (at least above us). Great. How about when parking that car? Bird droppings are highly acidic and can erode paint and clear coat paint finishes. A couple of my exotic-car owner pals have even made cracks about watching out for “low altitude air-to-surface missile” raids when driving by Santa Barbara’s lovely bird sanctuary!

o SAP FROM TREES
It’s easy to think about those times you’ve discovered the clear sticky blotches of tree sap. They seem like magnets for other particles of dirt, dust and grime — unless you remove them quickly (which you should do!). But more importantly, a lot of trees can drop small mist-like droplets on your car’s paint — the kind of sap that you can’t see unless you look very closely. Again, in hot sun this stealthy foe of tree sap will bake into the pores of the paint surface and can leave stains.

o SALT AIR
“But I love the smell of that ocean air!” OK, but do you know what your car’s paint thinks of living in Santa Barbara? “Nice views and great weather, pal, but this salt in the air isn’t doing much for that ‘mirror-like’ sheen you expect from me!” your paint would tell you. “Especially when the sun’s out and with that ‘terrific ocean breeze’ combined with salt in the air, boss,” it would go on to say. “Salty moisture all over me — yuck!”

AIRBORNE CONTAMINANTS
Even though Santa Barbara has much higher air quality than many larger metropolitan areas, there are airborne particles in our air that can damage our cars’ paint surfaces. By-products from construction, small manufacturing operations and even your own home chimney can contribute floating elements into the air that threaten your car’s paint finish.


The Friends


o GARAGES, PARKING STRUCTURES AND CAR COVERS
Any time you can park your car in the shade (without that shade coming from a sappy tree) you’re contributing to longer life for your car’s paint finish. If you’re a stickler for protection and are willing to take the time to use one — a car cover made of cloth or synthetic material is a great investment, especially if you don’t have access to a garage.

o CLEAR COAT PAINT FINISHES
Back to the clear coat paint finishes. Since the late 1980s and with increasing prevalence since about 1990, car companies have been using so-called clear coat paints as final “sealers” on new cars. As the term indicates, the clear paint is used as a protective film over the pigmented (colored paint) base paint layer. When applied at the factory, the clear coat paint is applied as the final step to the car’s finish to enhance paint luster, depth and protection from the elements. Yet, it is not a substitute for wax because it can still (1) breathe, (2) erode, and (3) absorb moisture, collect grime and stains (tweeting and sappy tree droppings) on its surface.

o WAX
Good ole wax. Through the test of time, there’s that loyal and humble friend to your car’s paint. It works — it helps clean, enhance and prolong luster, creates a thin protective film to help insulate from the elements … and some waxes even have, yes, sunscreens!

Next week we will continue with tips on selecting and using various waxes and polishes. But for now, if you own a car with a clear coat finish just be sure to use a wax made for use with clear coats – any abrasive type waxes will scratch the clear coat and give it a hazy appearance!

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