How to prevent your car looking prematurely old

Person polishing a silver car

Some people are obsessive about looking after their cars, parking in spaces far from where they need to be, just so other inconsiderate owners don’t open their doors into theirs, and carefully removing every little mark as soon as it appears.

But even those people often make the most basic mistakes when it comes to keeping their cars looking like new.

I can’t tell you much about maintaining your own youthful appearance, but I do know how to keep your car looking younger. So, here’s what to do to your own car.

Never use an automated car wash with swirling brushes

Notice that those brushes are called ‘swirling’ brushes and that’s exactly what they’ll do to your paint. Even if you don’t notice it, you’ve probably added a whole swag of new swirl marks to your paintwork.

Those brushes in car washes are seldom cleaned so the accumulated sand, grit and other debris is being swirled across your paintwork every time the brush passes over. Some car washes use synthetic brushes that are better at shedding dirt and debris, but it’ still not failsafe.

Don’t go to a car wash where attendants dry your car

If there are people hand drying your car after it’s passed through the car wash, it can be almost as bad as using a brushing car wash because chances are the towels they are using haven’t been washed. Drying your car with a dirty towel simply swirls the grit from other cars around your paintwork. Nasty.

Don’t use a high pressure ‘touchless’ car wash

So, you think taking your car to a self-serve or touchless high-pressure wash will protect your paintwork? Wrong again.

If your car is exceptionally dirty, hitting it with high pressure water can push debris across your paintwork and still cause those awful swirl marks. Even if the car is relatively clean, you aren’t safe.

Many car washes use recycled water and no matter how hard they try, or what they tell you, it isn’t possible to remove all the contaminants, so every squirt of high-pressure water is effectively sandblasting your paintwork.

Another problem with those car washes is they may use a higher concentration of detergent that will quickly strip off the wax you so carefully applied (you do apply wax, don’t you?).

And as if that isn’t bad enough, touchless car washes don’t even remove all the dirt from your car. Look closely and you’ll see a hazy film of grime remains on the surface after the wash.

If you still decide to use a touchless self-serve car wash, always start the wash on high-pressure rinse and before you point it at your car, run it for at least 20 seconds against the wall to clear out any harsh chemicals left in the lines.

Don’t leave bird droppings on the car until the next wash

Birds must have an evil sense of humour, because no matter how far away from a tree you park, one of the little buggers will let fly and leave a deposit on your paintwork.

The likelihood of this happening is in direct proportion to how recently you washed the car.

Bird droppings contain acid that can cause damage to the paint surface. It is even worse under direct sunlight. The best advice is to wash bird droppings off your car as soon as possible – the longer it sits there, the more damage it can do.

Don’t not wash your car, because ‘it’s only going to get dirty again

There’s a sense of inevitability, especially during winter, that as soon as you wash your car it will rain and undo all your good work. However, the longer all that muck and dirt sits on your paintwork, the more damage it can do, so cleaning it off, even if the car is likely to get dirty again, is good pre-emptive practice.

Don’t sit so close behind that vehicle in front

Some people seem to delight in sitting as close to the vehicle ahead as they possibly can. Not only is this a stupid and dangerous practice, it also peppers your car with debris.

For every clink you hear hitting the bonnet or windscreen, there are probably three more taking aim at your bodywork, grille, headlights, bumpers and other vulnerable parts. And as for sitting close behind large trucks, be warned: the larger the tyres, the bigger the projectiles.

Avoid that great parking spot near a freeway or in an industrial area

We all know how hard it can be to find a convenient parking space, but don’t be tempted to park anywhere near a busy freeway, railway line or in a heavy industrial area.

While dark coloured cars are susceptible to swirl marks, cars with lighter coloured paint are affected by dust and other fallout that rains from above. What appears to be tiny flecks of rust in your paintwork is actually microscopic pieces of metal and other pollutants sent into the atmosphere from car and train brakes. They sit there unnoticed until they bloom as tiny rust dots all over your paintwork.

Caught early, they can often be wiped off, but once they get established, you’ll need a clay bar or even an acid wash to get rid of them.

Avoid hard and unnecessary braking

This is another stupid behaviour that increases the risk of somebody tail-ending you, but it also creates more brake dust residue to settle on your own car. Not only will you find yourself replacing brake pads and rotors more often, you’ll be looking at getting your car detailed to preserve the finish.

Don’t wait for ice and snow to fall off the car

Maybe not a problem that afflicts too many Australian drivers, but ice, frost and snow do occasionally cover the roof, windscreen, boot and bonnet.

While ice and snow on their own won’t scratch the paintwork as they slide over it, the dirt and debris underneath it will. Remove ice, snow or frost carefully, or wait for it to melt before moving off.

Wax your car twice a year

Wax is a protective coating for your paintwork and over time it breaks down. It should be applied each year before winter and again before summer. Use a reputable brand, apply it in the shade and take your time.

Of course, some owners actually prefer an unloved patina, so ignoring the advice above will ensure your car looks older than it really is. But keeping your precious paintwork looking like new is possible if you follow this relatively simple advice. And apart from the satisfaction of owning and driving a smart car, you’ll benefit when it’s time to trade it in or sell it privately.

What’s your secret to keeping your car clean? Why not share your tips in the comments section below?

Also read: The car colours that could make or break the resale value

Paul Murrell is a motoring writer and creator of, which specialises in “car advice for people whose age and IQ are both over 50”.

Originally published on and republished with permission.

Written by Paul Murrell

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