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Which Wax Works Best?

Which is the Best Car Wax for Your Vehicle?

Ever wonder which car waxes make the grade and which don't? Or if, in fact, a car wax is really necessary for that sparkling shine? A recent study by Consumer Reports reveals the truth behind car waxes and weighs in on the products that outperform others — Black Magic and Turtle Wax.

Out of more than two dozen liquid, paste and spray car waxes, Black Magic Wet Shine Liquid Wax and Turtle Wax Carnauba Car Wax T-6 tied with “excellent” overall scores. Both products sell nationally for around $7 a piece.

A total of 28 different brands of car wax were tested, including 16 liquid waxes, five pastes, and seven spray-on, wipe-off products. The waxes ranged in price from about $5 to $32.

Consumer Reports found that the liquid waxes generally provide the best combination of cleaning and protection. But contrary to conventional wisdom, they required more effort than paste waxes to apply and remove. As a group, liquids were the hardest to apply evenly, and they took the most time to buff out.

Some also left a powdery residue that had to be wiped off. Even the top-rated Black Magic Liquid Wet Shine Liquid Wax required an extra bit of buffing to eliminate any streaking. The other best all-around choice, Turtle Wax Carnauba Car Wax T-6, can cause slight scratching or hazing on newer dark-colored finishes.

What about pricier waxes favored by auto enthusiasts? They don't necessarily work better than some less-expensive brands. The two top performers cost just $7, while a product selling for $32, P21S Concours-Look Carnauba Wax, ranked no better than mid-pack.

Among the four paste waxes tested, the Nu Finish NFP-80 ($8) outscored its competitors with a “Very Good” score. Tied for the best spray product was Eagle One Wax-As-You-Dry ($6) and Turtle Wax 1 Step Wax & Dry T-9 ($6), both with a "good" score. Turtle Wax Platinum Series Ultra Gloss T-413R came in just behind the two top-rated sprays.

How to Select the Right Car Wax

  • Liquid waxes are good for cleaning, gloss, and durability. But they can be more difficult to apply evenly and buff out. Most dry to a haze within about a minute, but this varies with wind, sunlight, and thickness of application.

  • Paste waxes are good for easy application. Overall performance is not as good as with liquids. It can be difficult to remove wax from the container as you near the bottom. Paste waxes usually dry to a haze within 30 seconds.

  • Spray waxes are good for new cars with excellent finishes since new paint is still shiny and shouldn’t be oxidized. They are also good for consumers looking for convenience, plastic compatibility, and spot waxing. They are quick to apply and many can be wiped off without drying. But they are not as good for cleaning and are the worst for durability.

How car waxes are tested
Overall scores for the waxes are based primarily on gloss; durability; ease of use; cleaning; resistance to scratching, swirls and hazing; and plastic compatibility.

Consumer Reports tested using sample panels uniformly finished with white or black automotive paint, both with and without clear coat. Some were left to weather for 12 months on the roof of CR’s National Test Center in Yonkers, NY and others were put into a device that simulates extreme weather conditions. The panels were brought into a lab weekly, where technicians washed and dried them, and applied drops of water to measure beading effect. How well a wax causes water to bead, or repel water, is one way to determine whether wax still provides protection from acid rain and contaminants. To test for ease of use and how well products worked to clean and improve gloss on fading paint, CR used real vehicles, some of which had rarely or never been waxed.

To assess gloss, CR did side-by-side visual comparisons. For durability tests, CR tracked how the water beaded to show how quickly the wax wore away. Cleaning and scratching-hazing tests also relied on side-by-side visual comparisons. For ease of use, CR used cars owned by staffers.

(Source: Car Care Council)