Car body care tips: how to wash and wax your car and touch up stone chips

Updated: October 05, 2019
11-year old well-cared Toyota Corolla
This 1994 Toyota Corolla has never been painted. The photo was taken in 2005.

Is it difficult to keep your vehicle in like new shape? Not really. With a regular care you can keep even a very old car looking shiny like new. For example, this 11-year-old Toyota with 130K miles saw many hot summers and cold winters with salt on the road. It has never been repainted, this is its original paint. Looks nice, isn't it? So, how do you keep your car body looking shiny? Why do you need to wash your car? What does waxing a car do? Do you need to rust proof your car? Let's try to answer these questions.

How to repair stone chips and scratches before they get rusted?

Rusted stone chips
Stone chips and deep scratches will rust if not repaired.

Stone chips and deep scratches will rust if not fixed in time, like on this car. There are several ways to repair them. It doesn't take more than half an hour if the car is clean. The touch up paint is sold in spray cans or touch-up pens. Some touch-up paint have a thick "marker" tip, others have a sharp tip. First, let's see how to use a touch-up pen with a marker-like tip.

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How to touch up stone chips and scratches with a marker-like touch-up pen

Car paint color code
Car paint color code.

You can purchase a touch-up pen from your dealer or online. To order it, you will need to know the color code of your car. You can check the color code on your VIN sticker. In most cars, it is attached to the driver's door jamb. Look under "Color / Trim" or "C/TR". This car's color code is 8R5. A parts advisor at your local dealership can also check the color code by the VIN number.

Touch-up with a touch-up pen
Squeeze small amount of paint into the bottle cup.

It's easier to work in a shade, because if it's too hot, the paint will dry too quickly and won't be smooth. When it's cooler, the pain spreads over scratches and chips more evenly.

The tip of this touch-up pen is very thick for small scratches and chips. Instead, I'm going to use a toothpick. I shook the pen well and squeezed a few drops of paint into this clean bottle cap. You'd have to press the pen down a few times to get the paint coming out.

Touch-up with a touch-up pen
Pick a drop of paint on the tip of the toothpick.

Now, I'm going to use this toothpick to apply the paint.

Touch-up with a touch-up pen
Fill up the scratch carefully.

Fill up the scratch carefully. If you applied too much paint and it leaks out, wipe it out right away with the clean towel and try again.

Touch-up with a touch-up pen
Now, this scratch doesn't look as bad as before and it won't rust.

It's not perfect, but it looks much better and it won't rust now. 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.

How to touch up with a sharp-tip touch-up pen

how to touch up a stone chip
Fill up the stone chip with a small drop of paint.

This touch up pen from Mazda has a sharp enough tip to use it on small stone chips. I washed and dried this car. I shook the touch-up pen well and did a first try on the piece of paper to see paint coming out in matching color. Often, the first paint that comes out doesn't have the right color.

Now, I filled up the stone chip, so it looks like a drop of paint on top of the chip. When the paint dries up it will shrink a bit and will be almost level with the surface.

Why do you need to wash your car?

Corrosion on a car door
Over time, moisture and dirt accumulating behind mouldings and in hard to reach areas cause corrosion.

The dirt accumulates around the mouldings, headlights and in other hard-to-reach areas and collects moisture. Over time this causes corrosion, like in this photo. The other reason is the brake dust that sticks to alloy rims. If not washed off regularly, the brake dust will be very hard to remove. Bird droppings will also cause stains on the paint if not washed off in time.

Car wash options

Automatic drive-through car wash
Automatic drive-through car wash

There are car wash stations everywhere, and they are not very expensive. Some people don't like those large wrap-around brushes because they can break a rear wiper or antenna. I didn't have any problems with them, but you can always look for a 'touchless' car wash if you prefer. An automatic drive-through car wash costs from $8 to $20. Many car wash stations have an option to wash the underneath of the car. It can help if you want to wash off all the salt accumulated over the winter. I like using a coin-operated self-service car wash.

Coin car wash
Wash your car regularly to prevent dirt collecting in hard-to-reach areas causing rust.

A coin car wash station provides plenty of options. If you want to save money, you can even wash your car for as low as $5-$6.

A coin car wash usually has a high-pressure washer gun and a brush connected to a hose that supplies soap. Here, I took a minimalist approach and used only these 3 options:

1. Use the High-Pressure Soap mode to pre-wash the car.

2. Switch to Foaming Brush and brush the car starting from top, doing the wheels last.

3. Switch to High-Pressure Wax and rinse the car. Once the car is done, rinse the brush too so it stays clean for the next person.
I got it done in only 6 minutes!

See these Youtube videos on how to wash a car in a coin car wash station.

Keep your wiper blades clean and in good shape

Clean the wiper blades
After washing the car, clean off the dirt and sand from under the wiper blades.

After washing the car, clean off the dirt and sand from under the wiper blades. Sand that gets caught under the wiper blades can scratch your windshield over time. This will cause glare at night. Check the condition of the wipers. If the wiper blades are damaged or worn out, the metal parts can also scratch the windshield. Change the wipers if they are old.

Remove leaves and other debris accumulating below the windshield

Remove leaves from under the windshield
Leaves and other debris collecting under the windshield will cause rust and moldy smell inside the car.

If you park your car under a tree, you may find leaves and twigs piling up on the cowl panel cover. Those leaves need to be cleaned out. There is a wiper motor under this cowl panel. Leaves and twigs falling through the cover can clog up the drain, so water will overflow and damage the wiper mechanism and can even leak inside.

The air intake for the cabin also comes through this cowl panel. If you have a lot of wet leaves and other debris, the air inside will have a musty or moldy smell. Read more in this article: How to clean a car interior.

Why do you need to wax your car?

Layer of car wax on a clear coat
The layer of car wax covers scratches.

The layer of car wax seals scratches and chips in the paint preventing the exposed metal from rusting. After waxing, a thin layer of wax covers the clear coat, protecting it from sun fading and bird droppings, see the illustration. The car wax fills up minor scratches, making them less visible. And of course, the wax makes the car look shiny!

Dirty car
Let's see how this car looks after waxing.

How long does it take to wax a car? If no rush, it takes about an hour. How long does the car wax stay on the car? A good product should stay from 6 months to a year. If you reapply the wax at least once a year, it should be enough to keep the clear coat shiny.

How to wax a car
Apply a small amount of wax on the sponge applicator.

All you need is a clean sponge applicator and a high quality car wax. Carnauba wax works the best. An electric buffer can help, but it's not very difficult to wax a car manually, using a clean soft towel.

Of course, the car needs to be washed and dried first. It's easier to wax a car in a shade, when the clear coat stays cool to the touch. First, let's see how to use an electric buffer.

Waxing a car
Apply a thin layer of wax evenly.

Work one panel (e.g. one door) at the time. Apply a thin layer of wax with the sponge evenly. Wait a minute or two to let the wax haze.

Electric buffer
Buff the panel to a perfect shine.

Use the electric buffer with a waxing pad at a slow speed, buff the panel to a perfect shine.

Waxed car: before and after
Waxed car: before and after.

Done! Not only the car looks shiny, its clear coat is now sealed and protected and the owner got the workout!

How to wax a car by hand

washing a car
This is again a coin car wash station.

The first step is again to wash the car.

Dry with a chamois
Dry with a chamois.

Dry the car with a clean chamois or towel.

Waxing a car
Apply a small amount of wax on the sponge applicator.

Apply a small amount of wax on the sponge applicator

Apply thin layer of wax
Apply thin layer of wax evenly.

Spread the wax evenly on one section. Wait until it hazes. It takes may be a minute or two.

Buffing a car
Give the wax a minute to dry up. Buff with a clean soft cloth until it looks even and shiny.

Buff with a clean soft towel until it looks shiny. Flip the towel frequently. The clean side of the towel works better.

Freshly-waxed car
This one done too!.

Waxing this car didn't take more than 40 minutes, and it was a good workout.

If your headlights are fogged up, buff them out

Dim vs the restored headlight
Having clear headlights is important for the safe driving.

Do your headlights look like this? It's not that difficult to restore faded headlights, if they fogged up from the outside. This will help you see the road better at night. See these Youtube videos on how to restore dim headlights.

7. Dress up your tires

Using a tire shine
A good tire shine product also protects the tire sidewall.

A tire shine spray is not expensive, but it makes your tires look new. A good tire shine product also protects the tire sidewalls. Applying a tire shine is easy: Spray evenly around the tire, then wipe the excess off.

Protect underneath components from rust in the rust belt

Rusted car
This is only what's visible, many underneath components are probably rusted too.

Rust damage is a concern if the salt is used on the roads in winter. If you want to keep your vehicle for many years, consider rustproofing it. Many local shops offer rustproofing and undercoating and it's not very expensive ($60-$250). Rust damages not only the body panels, but some of the vital parts of the chassis and suspension.

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