What’s the best car wax on the market? That’s probably the most common question ever asked in the detailing industry. Everyone wants to know the secret product or the magic sauce that will instantly make their car look amazing. There’s nothing wrong with that because after all, we all want a slick, shiny looking vehicle.
The truth is, wax doesn’t matter. Sealants don’t matter. Ceramic coatings don’t matter. At least not when it comes to the appearance and feel of your paint. Car wax should be used for protection, not for appearance. A proper paint correction is what will bring out the ultimate in shine and gloss.
That’s right folks, it’s time for another Canadian Gearhead myth-busting style article. Ones that I’ve written previously (like my post about the reality of ceramic coatings) have been really well received, so I’m going to keep sharing this type of honest, real-world content with you.
If you’ve come here looking for a count down of random car waxes that I’ve never even tried, you came to the wrong place. I’d rather share with you the real reason the paint on my vehicles looks the way it does.
My cars are noticeably shinier than others when they’re seen out in the wild. It’s something I take pride in. They stand out to the point where I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked the same question while I’m washing one of them in the driveway, or out pumping gas. “Holy smokes, what kind of wax do you use on that thing?!”
They’re hoping I can point them to a $9.99 bottle on the shelf of the auto parts store, but I can’t. The problem is that they’re asking the wrong question.
So what’s the right question to ask?
These people are assuming that truly amazing looking paint comes from some type of wax. The reality is, it doesn’t. It comes from hard work, a bit of knowledge, and many hours. I know that’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it’s the truth.
The right question to ask is “why does that paint look so great?”. The reason I say that is because it has nothing to do with the final product you apply. Real shine and slickness come from the things you do long before you apply your wax of choice. So you want wet looking paint? You’re going to have to earn it.
What actually makes paint jobs look amazing?
If you want your vehicle to look better than any other in the parking lot, it’s going to take a lot of effort. People that think I’ve accidentally stumbled on a game-changing wax don’t understand what has gone on behind the scenes. The answer is paint correction. It’s what I do, it’s what I love, and it’s what makes your paint look better than the day it left the factory in most cases.
Unfortunately, paint correction is not a quick, simple task. It takes a lot of time and quite a bit of skill. There is no such thing as the “best wax”. Waxes, sealants, and ceramic coatings are meant to be used as protective products. They aren’t responsible for the way your paint looks and feels, although some of them may offer it a bit of a boost.
I spent 4 days just on removing scratches from my 4runner alone. That’s why it looks the way it does. It was pretty badly scratched when I bought it. The paint was dull, hazy, and just plain worn out looking. It had tons of swirl marks, long scratches from tree branches, and even leftover wet sanding marks from someone that thought they knew how to remove scratches.
Clearing everything up and removing most of the defects with a proper paint correction is what makes it so shiny. How do I know? Because the paint looked exactly the same when it was completely naked before I applied the ceramic coating.
Why paint correction is the king of shine
Paint correction is a term that describes thorough compounding and polishing with a buffer. It requires proper lighting and a lot of focus. Most importantly, it takes time.
Paint correction is done by finding every individual scratch or defect in a vehicle’s paint job and either improving them so your eye no longer notices them or removing them permanently. This levels the surface of your paint, making light reflect off it much better. That’s what the human eye sees as a shiny car.
A good paint correction will take anywhere from 6 to 40+ hours to do. Examining an entire car basically an inch at a time is very tedious work – that’s why it’s so expensive to hire a professional detailer to do it.
It also requires the knowledge and experience to know what scratches are safe to remove, and when there’s too much risk of burning through the clear coat. But man, are the results ever worth it!
After a paint correction, your vehicle will look better than 99.9% of the cars on the road, even with completely naked paint. Applying a wax, sealant, or coating is the final step of a paint correction.
These products are mainly used to PROTECT the paint at this point, which is what they were designed to do. Your paint will look perfect on its own without needing a product to trick your eye into thinking its shiny.
A paint corrected car wearing a coat of the cheapest wax will look, feel and last longer than the most expensive carnauba wax on ordinary paint.
How long does a paint correction last?
A typical carnauba wax will last a few weeks, maybe up to a month. The results of a paint correction will last indefinitely. Once again, you aren’t relying on a product for the look and feel. So as long as you care for the paint by keeping it clean and protected, it will always look that way. In theory, your vehicle should only need heavy compounding once in its life.
After a complete paint correction has been done, what some refer to as a “maintenance polish” should be all it needs every couple of years to keep it looking perfect.
A maintenance polish or one step correction is basically the final step of a paint correction. If you’re caring for your vehicle by washing it carefully with proper methods, the most it should ever have is a buildup of light swirl marks over time. When these appear, a very light polish can usually bump the paint back up to perfection again.
This is important because every time we machine polish our paint, whether with a compound or a polish, we’re removing a layer of clear coat. That’s what makes the scratches disappear. Not having to remove any more paint than we absolutely need to will allow our paint jobs to last a very long time.
For reference, compounding removes the most clear coat. A finishing polish will still remove some, but it’s nearly immeasurable. Staying on top of it not only keeps your paint looking good at all times, but it eliminates the need for heavy compounding ever again. That leads me to my next point:
Once the paint correction is done, the work isn’t over
How you care for your paint going forward is crucial. It only takes a handful of washes with a bad technique to completely undo the results of a paint correction. Whether you did it yourself or you paid a pro, going backward is the last thing you want to do!
Another reason my paint looks the way it does is because of the way I treat it. I do things that many people would think are silly.
I park at the very back of the lot to avoid door dings and scratches. I wash my car with multiple buckets and blow it dry with a leaf blower. I avoid brushing snow off it unless it’s a safety issue for other motorists. If I find a smudge, bug splatter or bird dropping, it stays there until I have the opportunity to wash it properly. And I never, EVER, lean on a vehicle no matter how tired I might be.
The average person isn’t willing to adopt this kind of lifestyle. But this is what makes my vehicles look above average. Not a wax, not a glaze, not a sealant. It’s many hours spent polishing followed by treating it like fresh, wet paint afterward.
Come to think of it, a good rule of thumb if you want your paint to look wet is to treat it like it is wet (after a paint correction, of course). That’s a pretty simple way to put it.
Reintroducing scratches and swirl marks will drastically change how long your paint correction lasts. For more ways to avoid scratching your paint, check out this post.
Different types of paint correction
There are a few different options when it comes to paint correction. No job is exactly the same. It all depends on the condition of your vehicle, the money you want to spend, and the time you can invest. You won’t truly know what level of correction your paint requires until you start polishing it.
That’s why performing a test spot before you begin is so important. Marking off a section of your paint and trying the least aggressive method first will allow your paint to tell you what level of correction it needs. If the scratches remain after a light polish, it’s time to step up to a compound.
Carrying on that way until you reach the result you desire will then set the plan for the rest of the car. If you’re paying a pro to do this, they’ll be able to give you a much better quote on the time estimate and cost of the job. So expect that phone call.
All paint correction methods require the use of a machine polisher like this one. They begin with decontaminating the paint thoroughly with a clay bar and sometimes fallout removal products.
This removes any bonded contaminants that can stick to the polishing pad and end up scratching the vehicle worse. It will also remove any paint overspray, tree sap or tar and make your paint feel silky smooth. Again, no wax is capable of doing this.
An AIO polish like this one is a great time saver. It combines a light finishing polish with a wax or sealant. That means you can fix and protect your paint literally in one step. This won’t give you the same type of results as a multi step correction but it can be done in a fraction of the time. If you’re hiring a pro, time = money so this will be much more cost effective too.
Time Spent – 1 – 4 hours
Professional cost – $100-$200
Ideal use – Someone who wants a freshly polished appearance without paying for a total correction
One Step Correction
A one step paint correction typically uses the final polishing step of a paint correction on its own. Any time “correction” is mentioned, it implies that the entire vehicle will be inspected and each scratch will be tended to. Many finishing polishes like this one actually have decent cutting ability when used appropriately and can remove some scratches on their own.
I know it’s confusing, but a one step correction will have a separate step in which a wax, sealant, or ceramic coating is applied. For more on the differences between an all-in-one polish and one step correction, check out this post.
Time Spent – 5 – 10 hours
Professional cost – $500 -$750
Ideal use – New vehicles with nearly perfect paint or owners who are fine with leaving less noticeable, deeper scratches in their paint
Multi Step Correction
In most cases, this can be done in 2 steps: 1 compounding step and 1 polishing step. In some cases, it might require heavier compounding or even wet sanding which will add additional steps to the process.
This type of complete paint correction will offer the closest to perfect results. It will also take much more time than any other polishing method and cost a lot more money. Compounds are much more abrasive than polishes and do a far better job of eliminating scratches.
Because of their abrasive nature, they’ll often leave a haze behind. That haze is then cleared up with a finishing polish, leaving you with perfectly clear, glossy paint. This will give you show quality results.
Time Spent – 10 – 40+ hours
Professional cost – $750 -$x,000
Ideal use – Vehicles that may have previously been neglected but will now be cared for and pampered properly. Typically used on show cars, high-end cars, or daily drivers that want to stand out from the crowd in a big way.
The times and costs I listed above are very rough estimates. No two vehicles are the same and on top of that, prices vary greatly depending on your location. I mainly wanted to show you how these different options stack up against each other.
Car waxes should be used for protection
If you came here hoping to find out what the best wax for black cars, white cars, and red cars is, I’m sorry to disappoint you. There’s no such thing. I wish I could recommend an easy to apply witchcraft liquid that will make your car look perfect forever. I really do.
I know there are product manufacturers out there that will promise you the world. They’ll even formulate a wax for a specific color. Those will only cover your paint up for a short period of time. If you want serious results, paint correction is what you need. Don’t fall for marketing tricks!
The truth is, if you want your car to really stand out from the crowd, you’re going to have to work for it (or pay for it). For those that have asked me what wax I use on my vehicles, I guess the right answer is Elbow Grease combined with many hours of my life that I won’t get back.
If you’re willing to make that sacrifice, your paint can look amazing too. Now, if only there was a way to pack all that into a bottle…
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: