Maintaining a black car's exterior is an intimidating experience considering a single finger swiped across the paint can show a noticeable blemish. Cars.com's long-term 2013 Subaru BRZ test car's Crystal Silica Black looked awful after 14, 000 miles of not-so-great paint care, and we vowed to never own a black car again. We didn't have much choice when it came time to buy our 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 long-term test car; black is the most popular C300 color in Cars.com national inventory of 2015 and 2016 models, and our car came with the right options and price.
Nationally, however, the color silver led the list in Axalta's Global Automotive Color Popularity report for 2014, with black a close runner-up. With so many cars coming off the assembly line with fresh coats of deep, glossy black paint, we gathered tips from car-care experts on how to keep that luster looking as good as new.
Truth is, a black car doesn't scratch more easily than any other color; the tips below will help keep any car's paint color free of scratches and swirls. Modern cars use clear-coat paint, and what you're actually washing and working with is the top layer of clear coat; the colored paint sits underneath this protective coating. A scratch in the clear coat appears white in all cars but contrasts with the black paint to create a more noticeable blemish, said Mike Pennington, global director of training at Meguiar's, a manufacturer of car-care products.
Dirt is Your Enemy
Clearly, right? Why else would you be washing your car? But what's really happening is the fine scratches and swirls you see in a black-painted car's reflection are typically the result of careless, preventable car-washing techniques. Cobweb-like swirls and scratches can look like a bad machine detail even though they're inflicted by washing techniques.
"If there's dirt, then you're grinding it into the paint. The whole idea is to not scrub the paint. And that's important in a black car because every scratch will show, " said Mike Phillips, director of training at Autogeek.net, a car-care vendor and enthusiast detailing forum.
Cobweb-like swirls and scratches;
Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek
Before scrubbing the car, remove as much mud or dirt with a water hose or high-pressure car wash hose.
Two-Bucket Wash Method
Separating the dirty rinse water and clean soapy water into two buckets can keep contaminants from going right back onto the paint. Using just one bucket means that all of the dirt and grime taken off the exterior with a wash mitt dumps into the wash bucket, where the mitt can then pick it up again. "The idea of two buckets is that one is your wash solution and the second is plain water. Start washing at the top of the car and work your way down, rinsing the mitt by going into to plain water bucket first to dislodge debris. Dirt going back to [the] car is a big contributor to scratches and swirls over time. You might not see it immediately, but long term, absolutely, " Pennington said.
Experts warn to avoid using dishwasher detergent for car-wash soap. Dish soap is a degreaser and cleaner, so it strips wax or sealant protection away from the clear coat. Instead, use a car-wash solution to keep lubricity over the paint while washing, which will help minimize friction and the potential of scratching.