In our time mobile auto detailing, we always have customers calling for a wax job when in reality they need a polish and vice versa we have clients calling for a polish when in reality what they mean is they need to wax.
For someone who is not in the auto detailing world, terms can easily be misused and to be honest, prior to learning about auto detailing, we didn't know the difference between the two either.
So what's the difference? Its big.
Lets first get started with wax.
Auto detailing Wax is the oldest form of protection when it comes to car enthusiast looking to protect their cars paint. The most common form, is Carnauba wax.
This form wax provides a deep gloss and lasts roughly 6-8 weeks depending on the conditions the vehicle is kept in. If you car is outside and driven a lot, than you can expect the wax to last shorter than a car that is garage kept and driven only on the weekends.
The MAIN point of wax is the protection it provides to the clear coat.
Cars have multiple layers of substance that create the paint we see. First you have the actual frame of the car that is usually made of metal. Then you have base coats, primer coats, the paint color, and finally, the clear coat. The clear coat is what makes the actual color shiny. And since its the outermost layer to the vehicle, it takes the heaviest beating in comparison to the other layers so it's a good idea to keep it protected.
The purpose of wax is to provide ANOTHER layer of protection that will help preserve you cars paint from the harsh elements from the outdoors. In other words, its basically just to add a shine and protection.
If your vehicle has scratches, wax won't really do much for you. To some degree, wax does help fill MICRO scratches in the paint to enhance gloss, but that is not its main purpose.
For a car that has scratches or damage from UV rays and being outside too long, that is where the polish comes in.
In the example above, you can see the car on its left side has severe swirls and has oxidation from years of UV rays damaging the clear coat surface. Polish unlike wax, has small little bits of abrasive substances that when rubbed on a vehicle, will help shave down the clear coat to make it even again and bring back the gloss.
While wax can be applied by hand and a polishing machine, most times, when applying a polish, a polish machine is used. The machine is able to provide heat and to spread the polish over the paint to shave it down and create the gloss you are trying to achieve.
So next time you need some protection, more times than not, you're going to need a wax or some type of protection like sealants or ceramic coatings. If you need to remove swirls or imperfections in the paint like oxidation or hard water spots, that will need a polish of some sort.