Paint is applied to vehicles to decorate and protect them. According to the experts, there are several trends impacting the direction in vehicle coatings:

• Consumers want color options and improved appearance. Research shows paint color and appearance influence new car buyers the most.

• Vehicle manufacturers are continually looking for ways to reduce cost. For example, paint represents only 3 percent to 4 percent of the cost to make a vehicle but the paint shop alone can cost $400 million to build.

• Globalization continues to drive standardization in product quality and improved efficiency.

• Regulations are leading to increase use of lightweight plastics and composite materials in making vehicles.

Today, most vehicles are covered with water-based, acrylic polyurethane enamel paint and a layer of clear coat.

Three suppliers dominate the global market for original-equipment automotive paint: PPG Industries, BASF, and Axalta Coating Systems (formerly DuPont).

The auto coating market is dictated by carmakers. They want paint that will last for the life of the vehicle as well as paint that is more protective. Consequently, the focus of paint manufacturers’ R&D departments has been trends, color brilliance, and sustainability.


According to BASF’s website, the company’s goal is to ensure that paint is resistant to year-long high stresses caused by rain, UV radiation, hot and cold temperatures, road gravel, and the brushes at the car wash.

For example, BASF has developed a clear coat called iGloss® which it says reduces the creation of annoying micro-scratches such as those that can come about at the car wash.

In short, individual molecules of this coating are connected to each other to form a dense network or lattice structure. The closer the cross-linking of molecules, the more impervious the clear coat is to mechanical damage.

According to PPG, it was the first to use abrasion resistant technology with its 2K clear-coat, Ceramiclear®. This patented technology creates a hard, ceramic-like surface that provides superior resistance to damage caused by day-to-day use and environmental hazards such as acid rain and tree sap.

PPG also makes 1K clear-coat (Diamond Coat®), and Global 1K clear-coat, and a range of 2K ISO clear-coats. Regardless of paint manufacturer, the overall design objective of the top coat is to increase brilliance, protect against micro-scratches, and preserve the “new car effect” for considerably longer. This includes the aim to develop paint capable of repairing itself.


Arguably, the information discussed suggests that the commercial car wash is a target rather than part of a strategy or tactic to achieve these goals and objectives.

For example, in the owner’s manual for my car, there is only one reference about using a commercial car wash facility. Here, the manual said to avoid washing aluminum wheels with high-speed car wash brushes.

Under appearance care, the manual recommended washing the vehicle at least once a month with warm or cold water and a mild soap. Use of hot water, strong detergents, water-washing engine compartment, and using highly alkaline or caustic agents on chrome-plated or anodized aluminum parts were not recommended.

The manual mentioned the importance of immediately removing bugs, tar, tree sap, and bird droppings that can damage the paint.

Another area of concern the manual addressed was the importance of cleaning the underbody. Here, the recommendation was to thoroughly flush the underbody and wheel wells at least once a month with cold or lukewarm water and to ensure that the drain holes in the door edges and rocker panels are not clogged.

The importance of cleaning the underbody was reiterated in the “how-to” care for vehicles that are regularly exposed to corrosive materials such as snow melt, ocean air, or industrial pollution.

As for waxing, the manual recommended washing and drying the vehicle and then applying a high quality liquid or paste wax when water no longer beads on the paint or metal trim.


Thus, following the guidance provided in the owner’s manual, I should wash the exterior and underbody at least once a month and apply a coat of wax to the paint maybe once or twice a year.

With exception of underbody flush, the above describes my car washing habits to a tee. My vehicle is now six years old, has 90,000 miles on it, and it looks as good as the day it was driven off the showroom floor. Quite frankly, I attribute this mostly to the superiority of the paint finish.

In the final analysis, the literature suggests that a lot of consumers still don’t take care of their vehicles as recommended. According to the folks that make point-of-sale systems, a typical customer might visit a car wash once or twice a year, and only a small percentage visit once a week or several times a month.

Reportedly this distribution has not changed very much over the years.

Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services ( You can reach Bob via e-mail at