Father's Day gifts needn't be expensive to be appreciated. If you're looking for a last-minute gift, consider car wax. Buying Dad a top-rated car wax will help him preserve the finish on his car and help ensure it is looking its best. Plus, an afternoon of car care can make a great bonding activity, if you help wash and wax the car.
Premium car wax brands don't necessarily hold up any better than lower-priced alternatives, based on our latest tests of 19 products. We have found that some moderately priced liquids scored near the top of our Ratings—better than some products costing twice as much.
We also found that pastes performed no better than liquids overall, though the two top-scoring pastes were the only waxes to rated excellent for durability. Both wax types had similar scores for ease of use.
We did not evaluate spray-on/wipe-off products this time, because earlier tests have shown them to be less effective for cleaning, to be ineffective against weather, and they rate worst for durability. They're best only for newer finishes and if you wash and wax frequently.
If Dad has an older car, or one whose finish has already begun to oxidize or has embedded grime, you may want to consider a product that scored high for cleaning to help bring back and maintain the finish. Liquid waxes proved best for this.
Waxes can be abrasive, and the tiny particles in car waxes or harsh chemicals can leave fine scratches or a haze on a car's finish. Dark-colored vehicles show scratches more easily than lighter-colored ones. If Dad owns a black or dark-colored vehicle, be especially wary of products that scored low in our scratching and hazing tests. The same abrasiveness can make clear-coated surfaces look hazy or cloudy by leaving fine scratches, giving the paint a duller look than before waxing. Most wax packaging indicates whether a product is safe for clear-coat finishes.
All waxes require elbow grease, patience, and time—typically about an hour to do a good job. Of course, it will go quicker if you help Dad.
For best results, be mindful that some waxes can leave a visible residue on non-glossy, porous plastic parts such as bumpers, plastic body panels, and door trim. Those parts are often black or gray, and some newer cars may have a lot of them. If Dad's car has such trim, choose a product that scored well in our compatibility-with-plastic tests.
While buying car wax for Dad, treat him to some new micro-fiber rags to apply and remove the wax. We have found these work much better than a terry cloth rag. While they may cost slightly more, our testers say they are worthwhile.
Testing shows that a coat of wax lasts only a few weeks, meaning you might want to plan to help Dad wax again in about three months. Or if he's a really good Dad, maybe just go ahead and wax the car for him. After all, it's his day.