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How to Wash and Wax Your Car The Easy Way (Like Back In The Day)

Remember when 'taking care of your car's exterior' implied no more than a hose and soap, maybe a token water fight?

curbside shine

Well I do. And I miss them, terribly.

But I'm like that, I don't want to spend lots of time and money protecting a paint job. After all, I could swear when I bought my car that the slippery dealer suckered me into a sealant-like up-sale that promised to do this for me, at least for a few years.

Neither am I pleased with the growing list of products and tools available, like "pre-wax cleaners". Come on. Pre-wax cleaners remind me of those phony syndromes invented by the pharmaceutical industry to sell more products (i.e. shaking leg syndrome).

The following 3-step piece isn't for would-be detailers, it's for me–the person who wants to maintain his or her car's finish with minimum effort, maximum results, and then go do something else with their life.

1. Wash

Car soap or car shampoo plus water, plus sponge. OR, you can use a waterless cleaner and protectant like and skip to Step 4. Dirt is the thinnest on top—hood, roof—and it gets worse as you go down—wheels, hubcaps—so start high, end low. If you do use water, rinse frequently. To avoid water spots, dry as you go.

I know, I know—when this part is done, the car's glimmering, it looks good enough to quit. Been there myself many times. But all that glimmers is not clean.

2a. Polish

It kind of burns me to include a polishing step, but I said 'maximum results' and polishing is part of that. If you've been taking care of your car and water still beads on top of the paint, skip to 2a. If not, get a rubbing compound or silicone rubbing clay and polish away that oxidized top layer of paint.

3. Wax

In my lifetime, waxing a car was the cool thing to do from late June to early November, 1984. I'd hum Survivor's "Moment of Truth" even though I knew it was a let-down after "Eye of the Tiger", and believe that I wasn't really waxing the car, I was getting my Black Belt in Karate. I know better now.