Car exterior care tips

Updated: March 2014
Well maintained  car

Is it difficult to keep your vehicle in a like-new shape longer? Do you have to take it to a body shop every now and than to have it coated with a fresh paint? Not really. With a regular care you can keep even a very old car looking shiny like new. This 15-year-old Mercedes-Benz with 170K miles saw many hot summers and cold winters with salt on the road. Yet, it has never been repainted, this is still its original paint. Looks nice, isn't it? So, how to keep your car in a good shape? Is it time consuming? Not really. The secret is to wash your car regularly, wax it once in a while and take care of minor scratches and chips timely. Rust proofing will definitely help if use of road salt is common where you live during winter months.

• Wash your car regularly
• Wax your car at least once or twice a year
• How to use tire shine
• Why you need to rust proof your vehicle
• Keep the touch-up paint in your car
• Repair stone chips and scratches before they start to rust
• How to touch up minor scuffs
• How to repair larger scuffs with a touch-up pen
• How to touch-up stone chips
• How to remove paint marks left by other objects
• How to remove minor scratches
• How to polish foggy headlights

Wash your car regularly

Washing a car

Wash your car regularly. Bird droppings, dead bugs, or limestone dripping from the basement parking will cause damage to the paint if not washed off in time.
In winter time, the road salt can damage the alloy wheels finish and cause rust spots on the body panels if left for a long period of time. In addition, a last stage in most car washes includes spraying your car with a car wax that will help preserve paint finish.

Cleaning sand off of wiper blades

Regularly clean off the dirt and sand from under the wiper blades. Sand that gets caught under the wiper blades can over time cause scratches on your windshield.

Cleaning leaves form under the winshield

Clean the leaves and other debris from the areas below the windshield (cowl panel), as the leaves block water drains and collect the moisture, causing a damp smell inside your car.

Wax your car at least once or twice a year

Car before and after waxing

A car wax makes your car shiny and protects the paint. It also covers minor scratches and stone chips slowing down the corrosion. If you have never waxed your car before, it's very easy and takes only about half an hour. Plus, it's a good workout! A good-quality car wax will stay on the car for several months. When shopping for a car wax, opt for premium-quality products. A $25 bottle of a good car wax product will be enough to wax your car for a few years.

Tire shine

Tire shine

If you want your wheels appear black and shiny, apply some tire shine. Just spray the tires and wipe off the excess.

Consider rust proofing your vehicle

Rusted part underneath vehicle

If you live near the coast or where the salt use is common in winter months, consider rust-proofing your vehicle. This rusty part in the photo is one of the components of the brake system located underneath the car. This vehicle is only seven years old, but it has seen many winters with salty roads. Eventually, this part will fail.


Properly done rust proofing can protect important components of the car from corrosion. It's better to have your vehicle rust proofed before the rust starts to appear. Rust proofing can be done for $200-$400, but avoid companies where the process involves drilling holes in your car. Make sure, the bottom parts of the doors and trunk lid are rust proofed well.

Keep the touch-up paint in your car

Car touch-up pen

If you don't have one yet, it's a good idea to buy a touch-up paint. You can purchase it from your dealer, order online or find in the automotive section of your local department store. Typically, a touch-up paint comes as a double-sided pen, with a base paint on one end and a clear coat on the other.

Car color code on the manufacturer label

To buy a touch-up paint you need to know your car's color code which you can typically find on the manufacturer label. "C/TR" means Color/Trim, this car's color code is 8R5. In this car, the manufacturer label is located on the driver's door jamb.

Touch-up pen color code

The color code on the touch-up paint should match the code.

Repair stone chips and scratches before they start to rust

Rusted stone chip

Stone chips, scratches and dings are a common problem. When the paint surface is damaged and the bare metal is exposed, it starts to rust. That's why it's important to touch-up stone chips and scratches before the corrosion process starts. It's fairly easy; see instructions below.

How to touch up minor scuffs

Scuff on the car door

Let's see how we can repair this scuff on the edge of the door. If you look closely (click to see the larger image), this damage goes all the way through the clear coat, base paint and the primer (the grey stuff) and you can see the bare metal in the middle. This scratch will get rusted if not repaired, so we are going to touch it up.

Using a touch-up pen

For this we need a car to be clean and dry, matching touch up paint, wooden toothpick, bottle cap and a clean paper towel. Park the car somewhere in the shade, because if it's too hot, the paint will dry too quickly and won't be smooth. First what we do, as it says on the touch up paint, shake it well.

Touch-up with a touch-up pen

As this touch-up pen's tip is too thick for this scratch, we squeeze a small amount of the base color paint into the bottle cap. You have to press down a few times for the paint to appear.

Touch up a car with toothpick

Close the pen cap so it won't dry. Deep a toothpick into the paint. We need just a small drop of paint on a toothpick.

Touch up a car with toothpick

Now fill up the damage very accurately without letting the paint to come out of the scuff. If you put too much paint, wipe it out right away with the clean towel and try again.

Repaired scuff

It's not perfect, but it looks much better now and it won't get rusted. In a half an hour, when the paint dries up, add the layer of the clear coat from the other end of the touch-up pen (Instructions are on the pen) using the same process. The clear coat seals the paint better and makes it more shiny.