To Wax or Not to Wax?

Jimmy Branch Comments
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To Wax or Not to Wax?
Operators should stress the importance of wax

By Jimmy Branch

When will our customers stop saying, "I was told not to wax my new car. It has some kind of special paint or coating?"

Since the introduction of clear-coat paint into the domestic market in the mid-1980s, there has been a prevalent misconception that clear-coat systems do not need protection. Look at any neglected clear coat and you will agree that automobiles still need waxing.

The confusion lies in the fact that wax performs a different function today. We used to wax to maintain the color. Reds would turn orange and blacks would fade to gray. Today, we wax to maintain gloss. Clear coat is a highly reflective thin layer of paint, in which every imperfection stands out like a sore thumb. It will begin to look dull if not washed and waxed often enough. But the dullness is not from color change but from imperfections in the gloss.

We tell our customers that it is more important to keep a clear coat washed than waxed. Regular washing will protect and maintain a clear-coat finish better than just occasional washing combined with infrequent waxing. If a car stays clean, it has nothing on it to damage the gloss. The less you wash, the more you need wax. And most people don't wash enough.

At our full-serve location, we have tracked every tag number for six years. Fifty percent of our customers are "once-a-year" customers. Holidays, weddings, trips, bug season or special events send them to our full-serves. We wash 30,000 different tag numbers every year and less than 100 of those car owners wash once a month. So you could say, just about everybody needs wax.

Wax serves two purposes for clear-coat gloss:

  • It improves the shine by masking imperfections created by acid rain, scratches, spider webbing, etc.
  • It provides a sacrificial layer of protection, until contaminates can be washed off.

We have tried several ways to remind customers of the need for wax. Salespeople and cashiers have buttons that say "Stop paint abuse, wax it," and "Save your gloss...wax." Our computer records every hand wax date per vehicle. It prints reminders of that date on every pre-receipt and alerts the salesperson when a vehicle has never been hand waxed or hasn't been waxed in 90 days. We've mailed 90-day reminder cards to customers, and we have even posted a $100 reward for a customer who can find any owner's manual that says: "Never wax your car." The owner's manual is the real authority. We encourage customers to read their owner's manual and train their salespeople on some of the more popular manuals.

Here are some recent excerpts:

  • 1999 Ford Escort. "Wax when water stops beading on the surface. This could be every three or four months, depending on operating conditions."
  • 1999 Ford F150/250. Same as Escort
  • 2000 Mazda 626. "Your vehicle needs to be waxed when water no longer beads on the finish."
  • 1999 Dodge Truck. "It is important that you wash it often and thoroughly. If desired, you may polish your vehicle immediately by using Mopar Automobile Polish."
  • 2000 Chrysler 300M. "Wash your vehicle regularly. Use Mopar Automobile Polish to remove film and stains and to polish your vehicle."
  • 2000 Jeep Cherokee. Same as Chrysler 300M
  • 1999 Buick Park Avenue. "Occasional waxing or mild polishing of your vehicle by hand may be necessary to remove residue from the paint finish."
  • 2000 Monte Carlo. Same as Buick Park Avenue
  • 2000 Jaguar. "For maximum protection against road dust, salts, industrial fallout, etc., it is recommended that the vehicle is polished regularly..."
  • 2000 Lexus SUV. "Once a month or if the vehicle surface does not repel water well, apply wax."
  • 1999 Toyota Camry. Same as Lexus SUV
  • 2000 Subaru Outback. "It is recommended that a coat of wax be applied at least once a month, or whenever the surface no longer repels water."
  • 1999 Nissan Maxima. "Regular waxing protects the paint surface and helps retain new-vehicle appearance."
  • 1999 Infiniti. "If you wish to wax your vehicle, only use a wax specified for use over clear coats, such as Nissan liquid or spray wax, because your Infiniti has been finished with the finest paint and fluorine clear coats."
  • 1999 Acura. "Wax the car when water will no longer bead on the paint."
  • 2000 Kia Sephia. (Same as Acura).

Reminding customers of the importance of wax will protect cars and increase sales.

I don't like the term "polishing" in these manuals. It implies the use of abrasives and only a professional detailer should "polish" a clear coat. But I do like the phrases "once a month," and "every three or four months." These are some encouraging changes. Having this knowledge of the Lexus manual, my salespeople love to greet Lexus owners. Share these quotes with your staff and post them for your customers to see. E-mail me at if you find any interesting quotes on your own or have found a creative wax marketing program. Maybe during the next 15 years of OEM use of clear-coat paint, the public will gain a better understanding of the role and importance of washing and waxing.

Informing customers

While the average consumer knows wax can protect his car's finish from damaging substances such as salt, tar and bugs, the public isn't as aware as it should be about the damage acid rain can cause. The problem with acid rain is it's not as visible as salt. We need to promote the fact that acid rain is found everywhere in this country and that summer is acid-rain season. Every carwash should have a long line of customers after rain and our detail shops should be loaded with customers every spring in preparation for summer acid-rain season.

In a recent $1 million study, the rural panhandle of Florida was found to have more air pollution than any other area of the state. The explanation has baffled experts. The panhandle's only industry consists of two coal-burning power plants, one paper mill, two small air force bases and Eglin, the world's largest air force base. Maybe it's UFOs that are causing our pollution.

One summer, I became curious as to why I was seeing so much acid-rain damage. I captured some rain in a cup and tested it with my pH meter. Initial readings were around 4.5 pH and tests a few minutes later were always slightly higher pH. I was shocked. Water is supposed to be 7, neutral. The rain I had collected was like orange juice, coffee or Coke. I called the state and spoke with an environmental official who monitors the state pH levels. He confirmed my tests and said, if anything, my pH reading was a little high. Also, the initial lower readings I got were caused by a flushing effect of the rain. You would get the same initially low pH in a storm water ditch. Short showers are more acidic than long downpours.

In our area, we see a lot of acid-rain pitting on vehicles that are parked near airports or air force bases. I've been told that the pinhole-size pitting is caused by the jet fuel exhaust in the atmosphere. We also see a lot of acid-rain rings during the summer months. Why just the summer?

  • Heat is the catalyst for speeding any chemical reaction.
  • Atmospheric higher temperatures cause pollution to concentrate below the cloud level where it is more easily picked up by rain.
  • Sunshine first evaporates, then concentrates and then burns rings into the clear-coat gloss.
  • Intermittent showers and periods of highly acidic rain followed by sunshine are more prevalent in the summer.

So, if we have an acid-rain problem in the sparsely populated, non-industrialized panhandle of Florida, you can bet you do too. The carwash industry has done a good job of educating operators about winter salt damage but not summer acid-rain damage. Frequent washing and regular waxing should be a year-round habit. The International Carwash Association has developed acid rain promotional kits that our facility has used, but no one has educated the market on the increased dangers of spring and summer seasons.

Jimmy Branch is the owner of two Speedy Car Wash locations in Panama City, Fla. and is a member of the Modern Car Care Executive Advisory Board. He can be e-mailed at


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