Professional Carwashing & Detailing

What your customers need to know about car waxes and polishes

With increased customer demand for a lasting, durable shine, education must be applied first.

October 22, 2012

We have heard of the shifting trend evolving for several years now. Loyal carwash customers are not waiting to return to your business when their cars get dirty. Rather, many are coming back when the shine starts to fade. Today’s customers are paying more money for their cars and are often interested in maintaining their vehicles’ trade-in potential. Therefore, these customers understand the value of protecting paint with top waxes and polishes. Furthermore, some customers simply admire a shiny car and require the gleaming appearance always.

But, there are several variables when applying waxes and polishes that can affect frequency, application and results. We contacted some top minds in the industry to find out what your customers and employees should know about these products and techniques.

Wax on, wax off   

If you have been in the carwash business for a few decades, did you notice a steady increase in visits from your loyal wax and polish customers in recent years? Also, has positive customer feedback regarding the results of your carwash’s ability to produce an excellent shine also increased? These customers most likely made more frequent visits because of the changes in car manufacturing processes as well as improvements in product chemistry over the years.

“The biggest change that we have seen is in the selection and technology of abrasives,” said Bob Goldenberg, C.A.R. Products Inc. “As paints have changed so have the abrasives to adapt to these newer paints. The end result is that we can produce a greater gloss in the finish like never before. With the majority of OEM paints changing towards water-based clearcoat, the paints will be softer, therefore requiring more protection and care than ever before.”

And, added Goldenberg, since most, if not all, vehicles on the road today have clearcoat paint, carwash operators’ marketing messages should be about the paint not being as durable. “Therefore, regular polishing and waxing is needed to maintain that new car appearance,” he explained.

Chemistry advances for waxes and polishes

Waxing and polishing results are enhanced with today’s products as well. The chemistry of waxes and polishes has come a long way and progress continues forward. According to Rick Martens, senior chemist for Lustra Car Care Products, these products have made great strides in recent years in the area of repelling water.

“The ingredients that add a water-repellent coating have become more substantive and there are more numerous options with a wider variety of beneficial characteristics,” noted Martens. “This is most evident in the rapid growth of the ‘super sealant’ products now being offered by most companies. Predicting the future is always difficult, but progress has been made in the past and is likely to continue.”

In the years ahead, spending a little more money on a high quality wax or polish will be a deciding factor on whether or not your location(s) attracts more or less business. When looking to save or maximize profit potential, carwash operators and owners should not compromise on protection products, such as waxes and finishes. Products that contain “bare bones” formulations can impact your customers’ investments, and subsequently your reputation and business, for the years ahead.

With poor performing products, Martens cited such loss of benefits as wide range ultraviolet light protection from the sun and a longer lasting sealant that will not get rinsed off with the first rainstorm.

Factors that can affect outcomes

In addition to making sure your tunnel’s equipment is operating correctly and top quality products are employed, there are other variables that may affect your carwash’s ability to produce a consistent shine on customers’ vehicles. Temperature should not be a factor since these products are applied after the car has been washed and rinsed, cooling the surface enough to apply wax even on the hottest days. However, in general added Martens, sealants and polishes can be applied with cold water and using hot water will not improve the outcome. 

“For exterior washes and self-serve washes slightly tempered water may improve the loft of fragrances in scented products, thus improve the customer experience, [but] I would not recommend using hot water,” Martins said.

The challenges are a bit more complex in detailing. When detailing cars with waxes, polishes and buffing methods, there are several issues to consider including weather conditions. When done correctly, buffing can enhance a shine as well as customer satisfaction. However poor buffing techniques and poor pad selection will result in haze and swirls that are more prominent on darker colored cars.

“Temperature makes a difference,” asserted Goldenberg. “In colder weather waxes and polishes are slower in drying which may add more effort to be removed if not allowed to dry. Hotter weather may reduce the buffing working time which is required for maximum results as the wax or polish dries too quickly. Never wax a car when the paint surface is hot. This will result in the solvent portion of the wax or polish [drying] too quickly.”

Additionally, cheap waxes and polishes can leave white residue on black exterior molding. As experienced detailers know, this residue is difficult and time-consuming to remove from these areas. Furthermore, incorrect buffing methods, even with high quality waxes and polishes, can leave burn marks and swirl marks, resulting in overall poor vehicle appearance.

But, what customers cannot see can be just as harming. “Inexpensive waxes can give a false security that the paint is being preserved,” said Goldenberg.

Marketing applied

Making this information available to customers will help them understand the value of higher quality protection products, resulting in increased business and customer confidence for you. Customers who have had a previous negative experience with waxes and polishes need to understand why in order to avoid these setbacks in the future. Owners and operators have a unique opportunity to educate customers in this area in how correct processes and sound products can save them money in the long run.

Bring customers behind the scenes while their cars are being cared for and show the differences in result outcomes between cheap products and high performance products. Include before and after photos of current customers’ cars for a visual impact. Explain the trends in paint and car manufacturing procedures. Then, close the sales pitch with reasonably priced monthly passes or frequent visit discounts.

Carwashers and detailers can also take advantage of upselling wax and polish applications, added Kelly Anderson, Marketing Communications for Lustra Car Care Products. Offering premium polymer sealants that provide a superior shine and protective layer on the vehicle’s surface is a good example of an upsell opportunity.

“The advanced brightening polymers that reflect otherwise unseen ‘white light’ and bonds to the vehicle’s surface provides a protective barrier that creates a smooth, shiny surface to increase the vehicle’s gloss,” she said.  

For many of today’s customers, a clean and shiny car offers a good feeling or boosts status. In order for waxes and polishes to perform as designed, your cleaning techniques also need to be top notch. Dirt or soiling that is present on the car’s surface can hamper a sealant’s ability and performance level. Additionally, always be mindful of the shifting developments in product chemistry and manufacturing processes.