If you want the pride and joy on your driveway to stay looking showroom-fresh - to shrug off summer grime caked across the roads, and even come back to its best after someone carelessly clips the paintwork in a car park - you’ll need to crack out the best wax and best polish.
But there is a huge range of products to choose from, with prices stretching from inconsequential to borderline absurd. There is also masses of jargon to get your head around, and then, of course, you’ll want a hearty dollop of elbow grease to make any of these products really work their magic.
There’s also a very important thing to remember: Car wax and car polish are not the same things. In fact, they are basically the opposite of each other. So before you start layering up the polish and buffing out the wax (or is it the other way around?) let us explain.
What’s the difference between car wax and car polish?
Car wax - where you tend to see higher prices - is a substance that is applied to the car to protect its paint. When a quality wax is applied properly, the car’s paintwork gets treated to a brand new protective layer, helping to keep it looking shiny and new for longer.
Also, because waxes tend to be made from substances that are difficult to dissolve in water, moisture doesn’t cover the paintwork. Instead, rainfall will cause ‘beading’, where large blobs of water sit on the surface, demonstrating how the wax doesn’t wash off your car every time it rains.
Car polish, on the other hand, is actually a very light abrasive. Rubbing polish into the paintwork will remove a minuscule layer of the paint’s topcoat (or wax, if you’ve previously applied some). This can have the effect of stripping away damaged, faded or oxidised paint, revealing a fresh layer underneath. Polish also removes grease, dirt and even light scratches from the paint.
The best practice is to wash your car normally, then inspect the paintwork to see if any polishing is required. After this, apply the wax to create a protective seal which should last around three months, during which time regular washing (without polishing) is best.
Looking for more information? Read T3's informative guide: car polish vs car wax: what's the difference?
Best Car Polish
Autoglym is a highly regarded name in the car cleaning world, and you’re likely to find a bottle like this in professional garages and workshops everywhere. The company offers a wide range of car care products, but this super resin polish is surely the ideal starting point when it comes to looking after your car.
Apply to freshly washed and dried paint, and the polish will gently clean and condition paintwork, working out imperfections and helping to remove minor scuffs and scratches. The polish also restores gloss to dull and faded areas, giving your car a new lease of life. Looking for the best car polish? This is it.
Turtle Wax is another well-known name in the car care industry, and this paint renewal polish is a good place to start if your car is starting to look tired. The polish has been created to subtly revive old neglected paintwork by gently removing light scratches.
The polish will also remove oxidation from the paint, and it’s safe to use on all cars to help pump some life back into old and scruffy looking paint. Light scratches, grazes and scuffs can be removed with this polish, but - like all other products in this article - you must remember that it cannot perform miracles.
You can use this polish on the chrome details of your car as well as the body paint itself. Once applied, leave to dry to a hazy finish, then buff gently to a mirror shine with a microfibre cloth.
While we said above that waxes and polishes are separate products, there are some all-in-one solutions which can act as both. Need for Speed by Dodo Juice is one such product, and as the name suggests, this is the ideal car cleaner for anyone in a hurry.
Forgot about volunteering as chauffeur for your mate’s wedding? Not to worry; splash out on some Dodo Juice and after quickly rubbing it into your paintwork (by hand or machine) and buffing it to a shine, the car will be both clean and protected from the elements.
The cleaning properties work in the same way as other polishes, gently removing light scratches and signs of oxidation. But this product also contains wax, so leaves a shiny finish and a layer of protection which is claimed to last between two and three weeks. Dodo itself admits this won’t replace your dedicated car wax, but for a quick fix it’s a good product to have.
This three-in-one solution includes polish, glaze and wax - hence the ‘tripple’ name. As with other combined products, the Auto Finesse might not perform as well as a dedicated (and far more expensive) wax, but for general and occasional use, it’s a solid option to keep you car shiny and protected from grime.
As with other polish/wax combos, you’ll want to rub this into clean and dry paintwork, then leave until a haze forms and buff it to a showroom finish with a microfibre cloth. The addition of carnauba (also known as Brazil wax or palm wax) is the key here, as it forms a protective layer over your paint, helping to guard it against water, road grime, and the elements.
Once applied, you can wash your car normally for the next month or so, safe in the knowledge that the wax is there and doing its job.
While some polishes and waxes are designed to give your car a general clean, this product from market leader T-Cut is formulated specifically to help remove scratches, scuffs and other blemishes from paintwork.
Instead of cleaning your entire car with it, this is a product to be used after the car is washed (but before you polish or wax), and only on specific areas of damage. Apply the paste on a scratch or scuff, then work into the paint using a circular motion, and you should see light scratches disappear.
This T-Cut scratch remover is safe to use all over various types of vehicle, including painted metal, enamels, gloss painted surfaces, most plastics, fibreglass gel coats, glass and ceramics.
Best Car Wax
Car waxes have come a long way over the years and for the modern motorist there are a mind-boggling array of liquids and pastes to choose from for adding lustre to your paintwork. While some of us love nothing more than a few hours spent buffing the motor, easy to apply car waxes are the way to go if you’d rather just get it over with.
Points to look out for are buff-ability and the ease with which you achieve that all over shine on your car. Some car waxes can be temperamental, preferring optimum conditions such as not too much sun and cooler temperatures. At the same time, apply car wax when it’s too damp or if there’s moisture in the air and you could be waiting a long time to achieve maximum lustre.
The selection of the best car waxes, we’ve lined up products to cover all bases and are pretty flexible when it comes to application. Best of all, if you apply them following the instructions and using the right buff on and buff off technique you should soon be enjoying the full benefit of the best car wax. You’ll know when you’ve done a good job as raindrops should roll off the bodywork in super-slick little beads.
Meguiar’s are masters of the deep shine and this wax ticks all the boxes if you’re after a stress-free lustre. And, if you’re one of those who finds car waxing too much like hard work Ultimate Liquid Wax can be applied and polished off without breaking into a sweat. It also fends off the elements well too, meaning less frequent waxes are needed. It’s not the cheapest car wax you can buy, but a little goes a long way and you can tell you’re using a premium product. Added to that, the package comes with an ergonomically designed foam applicator and the microfibre buffing towel is good quality and buffs to perfection.
You’ll need to take your time with this paste wax and also put in plenty of elbow grease. However, the results that come once you’ve finished the buffing will be hugely rewarding. This is a quality paste that is great at keeping its shine, even after protracted rain soakings. Plus, pastes generally last that little bit longer than liquids and this British company seems to be particularly adept at making its waxes go that little bit further. They claim it’s a quick wax, but we’d say this gorgeous pot of carnauba deserves plenty of time to get the best from its charms.
This seemingly innocuous spray-on wax packs plenty of punch and, more importantly, is perfect if you baulk at the thought of a morning spent waxing the car. It works a little bit like a sealant, and you’ll want to apply it to spotless paintwork, so a deep wash is best first. But, once you’re onto the application bit it’s a real doddle. Take your time buffing off and it reveals a shiny finish that they reckon will last a good few months. Use it sparingly and the bottle should keep you going for a good little while, making this a solid bet for the more budget conscious motorist, despite the initial outlay.
We know there are plenty of people out there who love nothing more than a few hours spent waxing the car and this tin of high-quality Brazilian carnauba is top notch. Super Cera is apparently a cocktail of traditional Brazilian carnauba T1 - the premium grade variety - and modern synthetic hard waxes, polymers and other ingredients. The wax certainly provides a deep and very lustrous finish, but you’ll need to work it in carefully taking your time not to cover too much of an area. Nevertheless, after some solid buffing your paintwork will come up a treat. Better still, it packs a very appealing coconut fragrance too, so you’ll be able to enjoy a whiff of South America as you polish.
This clever liquid wax stands out for its ability to be used on both wet or dry cars, making it a great timesaver if you need a clean machine in a hurry. It gives a smear-free finish on just-washed surfaces and saves a huge amount of effort by cutting out the middleman between soaping and shining. The wax itself doesn’t last too long in unfavourable weather conditions, but for pure convenience, we can’t fault it. If you prefer the watertight nature of a traditional wax, you might not want to opt for this one, but for anyone who loves the idea of applying a wax to their car in minutes that provides a really decent shine, this is a top choice.
Everyone with light-coloured paintwork on their car will know what a pain it is to keep it looking clean: enter Soft99’s Fusso Wax Coat. Specifically designed for white and light cars, it forms a protective layer that repels dirt, debris and water. While it takes a bit of elbow grease and around an hour of your time to properly apply and buff in, the finish is excellent. This wax is also available in a dark vehicle alternative and comes with the somewhat comforting knowledge that the finish can last for up to 12 months.
The original product from the classic company we all know and love. Green Line wax from Turtle Wax is an excellent budget buy, offering a great finish for a tiny price. It applies smoothly and easily, lifts away grime and light oxidisation, brings a brilliant shine to lacklustre paintwork, and protects against the elements. Porsche owners might balk at the idea of using it on their steed, but for your average motor, it’s really fantastic. For anyone looking for a cheap car wax that actually performs pretty well, grab a bottle of this stuff.
Simoniz’ Original Wax is probably exactly what’ll come to mind when you imagine “proper” car wax. Its tin, with its vintage stylings, just adds to the ritual of really looking after your motor. It’s hard work to apply, but a little goes a long way, and the payoff is more than worth it. Using natural Carnauba (the “queen of waxes”), it buffs to a brilliant shine for long-lasting protection. A classic for a reason, with unbeatable value for money. If you are looking for a car wax for a traditional vehicle or classic car, don't bother with anything else on this list.
This wax looks ludicrously expensive compared to the other picks on our list, and frankly, it is. But if you’re a dedicated restorer of vintage vehicles, or take great pride in an immodestly priced but incredibly beautiful car, this is the detailing wax for you. With 5 months of performance after application, its protective prowess is pretty incredible, plus it’s easy to apply and remove, smells amazing, and gives a glossy finish, considering how expensive it is, that’s exactly what you’d expect. If you drive a standard car, this is total overkill but if your cruiser is upmarket, treat it right with this wax.