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Sun, varying temperatures and air pollution can deteriorate the finish of your car and cause irreparable damage. For years, the only way to maintain your car's lustrous finish was to have a professional buff and detail, which costs more than just a pretty penny. With a few simple tools and a little elbow grease, you can do the same job for a quarter of the price.

When Should I Wax?
How do you know when it's time to wax your car? When your finish begins to look dull or when water fails to bead, it's time to get your tools in order. Waxing twice a year is enough to protect your car's finish.

Pre-Wax
Before even thinking about pulling out the car wax, wash your car from top to bottom. There's no exception to this rule. Applying car wax over a dirty car can damage its finish and trap dirt and debris, causing further damage. Using a soft rag or sponge and some mildly soapy water, suds up and scrub your car. (To prevent rags from scratching your car, pre wash them with fabric softener.) Rinse well and allow to dry. Some people follow washing with polishing for a deeper shine.

Waxes
Not all waxes are created equally. Read labels carefully! Ascertain what type of finish your car is made of and proceed from there.
Note: not all plastic and fiberglass finishes can be covered with traditional waxes. Read your owner's manual for special instructions and products.

Wash-Wax-Combos
Wash and wax combos work fine for in between jobs, but should never be used regularly, as they don't provide enough protection to your car's finish.

Rubbing and Polishing Compounds
Rubbing and Polishing compounds are abrasive pastes that can be used before waxing to remove dull, damaged areas of paint. They work great on all surfaces, but must be used with care, as they can also remove all your paint right down to the metal.

Polishes
Applied like a wax, polish has one main goal: to make your car shiny. Note: polishes do not protect your car the way wax does. You can, however, use a polish before waxing to ensure maximum shine and protection. Water spots, small scratches, and imperfections can often be removed with a polish, allowing for a deeper shine.

Waxes
Waxes come in liquid form or pastes. Some are natural, others are synthetic. Again, find out what the surface of your car is made of and choose accordingly.

The Wax Job
Begin by moving your car into the shade. Waxing in the sun will overdry the wax, sacrificing the amount of protection you're giving your finish. As a general rule of thumb: Wax can remain on your car no longer than two hours. After this time, wax imbeds itself into your car and provides no protection from the elements.

It's always best to wax one section of your car at a time. This way, the wax doesn't over dry and you can always take a break, if needed.

Step 1: Dip your rag into the wax, covering the cloth with a light coating.

Step 2: Apply the rag to your car and move your arm in a circular, overlapping motion until the section you're working on is covered completely.

Step 3: Let your car sit for five to ten minutes to allow the section to dry and work itself into your finish. (When wax is dry, it will turn a different color.)

Step 4: Remove the dry residue by rubbing off with a separate clean, dry towel or rag. Use the same circular motion to remove the wax, as you did to put it on. Always use a clean towel to remove wax.

Buff It
Before buffing, check all the grooves in your car (especially around doors and on the hood) for any wax that may have slipped through the cracks. If necessary, you can remove this with a toothbrush and rag.

One you're sure the wax has been completely removed, it's time to buff. Buffing will make your car smooth and slick to the touch. Use the same circular motion and rub down your car for fifteen minutes or until you've covered all areas. (No need to do one area at a time.)

Maintaining the outside of your vehicle is a time consuming project, but fortunately, it's also something that will protect your investment. Waxing your car twice a year will keep it looking showroom shiny!