Is it true that one shouldn't wax modern car paint finishes?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a persistent memory that you once said on your radio show that modern paint finishes do not need waxing, and that wax actually attacks and shortens the life of the paint and dulls the finish. I searched your Web site (the Car Talk section of and found no such mention. As I am a senior citizen and rely heavily on my brain in my work, I need to know if you ever said anything of the kind -- since this may be evidence that I am finally succumbing to Alzheimer's. -- Gordon

TOM: We'd love to help you remember, Gordon, but we've both succumbed to a pre-Alzheimer's condition known as CRS. That's "Can't Remember Squat."

RAY: Actually, we didn't say that. But we probably did warn people about using older wax products on newer clear-coat finishes. A clear-coat finish is essentially a top layer of paint with no pigment in it. In other words, it's a clear layer of paint that covers the car's other layers and gives the car a "wet look," kind of like what Vitalis did for your hair in the '70s.

TOM: And older waxes contained abrasives and polishing compounds. You may remember waxing your car 20 years ago and seeing some of the car's paint color come off on the waxing rag. Well, if you used a wax like that on a clear coat, you'd scratch it, and it would quickly look like ... well, like my brother.

RAY: So if you have an old tub of wax that's been sitting in the garage since the Carter administration, it's probably best to throw it out and start over. You also want to avoid polishing or rubbing compounds, which are still available. But assuming you use a modern, name-brand wax that's approved for clear-coat finishes (and almost all waxes today are), you'll certainly help maintain the car's finish by waxing it.

TOM: Wax provides one more layer of protection on top of the paint so that acid rain, or that pigeon with digestive issues, won't eat into the paint quite as quickly. The car will certainly survive without wax, but it'll look better and probably fetch a higher resale price down the road if you wax it every couple of months or so (when the water stops beading, it's time to wax again).

RAY: By the way, Consumer Reports recently tested car waxes, and the top-rated products were Zymol Cleaner Wax, Prestone Bullet Wax, Nu Finish Car Polish and ArmorAll Car Wax.

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