There used to be a time when a favorite activity for car owners was to wash and wax their cars whenever the weather-gods served up a warm and sunny weekend.  It was a bonding experience where car owners lavished over their mechanical friends and got ready for the evening activities. Today, you don't see this weekend waxing happening very much. Ever wonder why?

Horse-drawn carriages

It started with horse-drawn carriages. The coatings on the carriages of yesteryear were oil-based. Natural oils, such as tung oil, linseed oil, were brushed on both the painted and unpainted surfaces on the coaches.  After drying over several days, the oil coatings were hand-buffed to a high gloss.

The bodies of early automobiles were initially built the same way that horse-drawn carriages were. And the same natural oils were used with excellent results. Eventually, however, the natural oils started to phased-out in favor of natural waxes. The major advantage to these natural waxes was that they would be hard and dry before the day was out, thus eliminating a critical bottleneck point in production.

The wax era

Within no time, the protectant of choice for automotive paint became natural wax. Waxes were easy to apply and lasted much longer than oil-based finishes. Plus it gave the youth of America something to do on weekends. During the fifties and sixties, There were dozens of waxes one could choose from but the detailing guys at Cass Burch Chrysler of Quitman, GA explained to us that Carnauba Wax was one of the most popular ones.

Abrasive waxes

As the car industry shifted to lacquer-based paints and enamels, protectant technology changed and special waxes came into vogue. The automotive detailing industry developed waxes containing light abrasives that allowed a detailer to remove just a very thin top layer of the paint.  This "polishing" process exposed the paints original showroom color and shine, and the waxes offered protection and gloss.

Today's paints

The auto industry switched to the new basecoat/clearcoat paint technology in the late 1980s and this changed things again.  Traditional waxes/polishes weren't mandatory anymore. In fact, they can be damaging to the surface of the clearcoated paints because extensive polishing can remove the top clearcoat. Today, most car manufacturers recommend against applying waxes/polishes containing abrasives on clearcoat finishes.


That being said, there are certain waxes and protectants that can polish and recondition clearcoat paints. For paint that is in good condition, non-abrasive products such as Optimum Car Wax will offer protection without damaging the paint.  For further advice, your local dealer or automotive parts store should be able to help you out.

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