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If you have ever gone into an auto supply store and dared to walk down the wax aisle, you already know there is an abundance of waxing and polishing products on the market. In case you might need a crash course in paint protection before your next shopping adventure, here are the answers to some questions you might have about the Wonderful World of Waxes.

Q: How often do I need to wax?

A: Ask 10 people and you will get 10 different answers. That is, because like many aspects of car care, the most accurate answer is, “It depends.” Some factors to consider are the environment where you live including exposure to acid rain, birds, tree sap, ocean air, etc., whether the car is kept outdoors or in a garage, how often the car is washed, and the color and condition of the paint. Some people recommend waxing when water beads larger than a quarter or even a nickel. Others will instruct you to run your finger over the paint and if it squeaks, it is time to wax it. For those who prefer a timetable approach, it is recommended you wash your car weekly, wax every 1 to 2 months, and polish 2 to 3 times per year.

An interesting technique I discovered in researching this article is that of perpetual waxing. (Don’t worry – it only sounds cumbersome!) The idea is to wax a different section of the car each time you wash it. This way the car is always being waxed.

Another tip if you are short on time is to wax the “flat” parts of the car’s paint, meaning the hood, roof and trunk. This is where bird droppings, tree sap and rain are most likely to adversely affect the paint. It’s better to wax some of the car than none of it!

Q: What is the difference between a polish and a wax?

A: Despite what the Turtle Wax people tell you, there is a difference! A polish uses mild abrasives to bring out the car’s color and shine and give a smooth finish. Polishes instill oils and conditioners into the paint to create a glossy finish. A wax protects the areas you have polished.

Q: What should I look for in a wax?

A: The ingredient you want to look for in a good, quality wax is “carnauba wax”. It is a very hard, natural wax that gives you the hardest protection while still being a natural product that will not react with or damage your paint. Because it is a natural wax, it can expand and contract and is said to allow the paint to “breathe”. Products with carnauba wax will often have petroleum distolates to soften this naturally hard wax and make it easier to apply.