You just bought a new car. Most people are really careful for the first month or two, but once the new car smell starts to wear off, it’s human nature to get a little lax in parking carefully, going to the car wash frequently, etc.
The good news is learning the best way to protect new car paint is easy. The key is to understand exactly what can harm your paint and to make a few quick and easy adjustments to your car care routine.
The first step in protecting your car paint is understanding what risks your car faces. We surveyed frequent drivers in the U.S. and found that most cars have to endure a lot of abuse.
The good news is that many of these risks can be mitigated or completely eliminated.
How to Protect Car Paint
We have outlined four ways to help protect car paint. For the daily activities on our list, i.e., defensive parking and using car covers, these should add no more than 5-10 minutes to your daily routine. Make them habits and you won’t even notice.
Clearly this is not an option for everyone, or indeed most people. Over 70% of frequent drivers park outdoors seven days per week. However, if you can find covered parking while you work or even build a small carport at home, it will help your car in many different ways.
Modern car paint is reasonably resilient to UV radiation, but repeated exposure can lead to oxidation. Also, leather / plastic dashboards and steering wheels fade much more quickly than paint.
Also, in almost every region of the country, cars parked outdoors will endure at least a few storm days every month on average. Rain, wind, snow, sand and hail storms all vary in terms of damage potential, however NONE of them are good for your car’s paint.
Keep Your Car Washed and Waxed
Cars accumulate all kinds of contaminants as they are driven and parked. These include acid rain, bird poop, tree leaves, tree sap, and construction dust just to name a few. The longer these contaminants are left on car paint, the greater the chance of clear coat damage. That’s how frequent washing helps.
What is a good rule of thumb for how often to wash and wax your car? Generally, we recommend washing anytime your car is visibly dirty with any of the aforementioned contaminants. For waxing, every 3-4 months is optimal.
Avoid lower-end automated car washes as the brushes are often dirty or not well maintained and can leave fine scratches in the paint. If you plan on washing your car at home, don’t “shoot yourself in the foot” by using dirty cloths or abrasive soaps that will scratch paint.
Depending on what type of debris is on your car, you may have to use bug cleaners, degreasers or other purpose made solvents before washing.
Once you’re ready to wash, use a specially designed microfiber cloth or mitt that is super soft and can be used with confidence.
Also, professionals recommend using two separate buckets – one with clean soapy water and the other to rinse out dirty cleaning cloths or mitts. Only use soap designed for cars, as household soaps and cleaners often contain chemicals that range from mildly abrasive to very dangerous.
Always dry your car to avoid spotting. Microfiber cloths are preferred here as well.
When it comes to door dings, parking lots and parking garages are much more dangerous (roughly 2X) than street and home driveway parking. What is “defensive parking?” It is somewhat like defensive driving. The idea is to know where your car paint can get damaged while parked and to avoid those situations.
If parking spaces are small, park further away and walk. The extra 30 seconds of walking is healthy! Avoid parking near large trucks as they are much wider and drivers must open their doors further in the space next to them just to get out.
Never park under trees merely to avoid the sun. Bird poop and tree leaves can be acidic and etch paint, not to mention they make your car look like a mess. Shade is fine as long as it’s not directly under a tree. Parking near water sprinklers is also a “no no.” Cities often use “hard” water that can leave trace mineral deposits and require a trip to a detailer to remove.
Construction sites are an overlooked danger as well. Why is this the case? Most of the dust projected into the air at construction sites is highly abrasive…think concrete dust. If your car is covered with construction dust, wash with low-pressure water first.
Use Car Covers
Only 14% of frequent drivers use car covers regularly. Yet, 38% report door dings and/or scratches, 34% get bombed with bird poo, 28% are robbed and 17% are victims of vandals. The moral of the story is that there is a lot of expensive damage that is preventable.
Car covers cannot provide complete protection against every threat, but they can help tremendously. Drivers report being able to install car covers in 1-2 minutes after just a few tries. That’s a pretty minor adjustment to a daily driver’s routine.
Car covers exist both for indoor (to keep off dust) and outdoor (to provide protection against all the elements) use. Fit, fabric quality and breathability are the most important factors to consider when buying a new car cover. For a detailed assessment of what’s important and what’s not, read our comprehensive Buyer’s Guide.
As we noted above, car covers are not widely used. Owners of hobbyist cars, such as Mustangs, Camaros and the BMW 3 Series, buy the most car covers. However, we are starting to see more covers used with the big daily drivers, including SUVs, Hondas Civics and Toyota Camrys. Given the high cost of new cars relative to the low cost of the best car covers, this is a trend that needs to continue.
Clearly, knowing the risks and adding just a little bit of discipline to your car care routine can keep your car looking like new for many years. Not only will your car look better, it will hold its value better as well.
Do you AND your car a favor and learn the best way to protect new car paint now! It’s a lot easier than you think.