It's in the finish

A guide to washing and polishing your VW vehicle for the best shine.

Text Sabrina Künz  Photos Volkswagen AG Illustration KircherBurkhardt Infographic


Road grime, slush, salt—your car can collect a lot of dirt in a little time. The best fix is to roll up your sleeves and get to work. First, be sure to read the Car Care Section of your Owner’s Manual for any cleaning guidance specific to your vehicle. Then get started with a thorough cleaning, either by hand or at a car wash. Start with the high-pressure water blaster, and don’t forget to wash the undercarriage.

Is a quick trip through the car wash enough, or should you give it an additional once-over? It’s up to you, but you may have better luck getting the stubborn dirt found in hard-to-reach places if you do at least some washing by hand.

Wash your car with the softest mesh sponge possible or washcloth and car soap. Other soaps (like dish soap) are not suitable because they could dry out the paint’s protective coat. Use plenty of water to rinse so that small pieces of dirt will wipe away completely, and then dry immediately. Dry all over with a chamois or microfiber cloth to help prevent streaking.


Structure of a car paint job.
  • Fine scratches. Once you’ve washed away the dirt and dust, you may find small scratches caused by loose gravel, small rocks and salt. For anything more than surface damage, visit your local Volkswagen dealer to repair as soon as possible. Otherwise, your car may rust, which will be more expensive to treat.
  • Stubborn insects. It doesn’t take long for the front of the car to collect bugs. When not cleaned off, insects stuck in the paint could cause lasting damage. Mesh sponges or a mitt and/or specialty cleaners are effective solutions for removing those stubborn bugs. But don’t ever use kitchen sponges containing fiberglass—they can harm more than help.
  • Persistent bird droppings.  Always wash off bird droppings quickly. Never scrape them off, as that damages the paint. Instead, place a water-soaked newspaper on top to moisten it.
  • Sticky sap. Poplars, linden, birch and maple trees are especially likely to leave their gooey traces behind, so it’s better not to park under those trees. Lingering sap could crack or strip the finish.
  • Get out of the sun. Car paint does not enjoy the sunshine. The UV rays can wear down the finish over time and make it more susceptible to insects and bird droppings literally baking into the paint. The sun can also hinder efforts at polishing or waxing your vehicle because it can warm up the products and prevent an even application, which can lead to streaking.


Paint cleaner, pre-cleaner and polish all contain fine polishing particles that slightly scratch your car’s clear coat to help make it appear smooth. Depending on the surface condition of your car, you can use polishing agents with varying degrees of abrasiveness. However, once the clear coat finish is gone, no amount of polishing will help. That’s why routine care is important.

For polishing, it’s also best to use only clean and dust-free sponges or cloths to prevent damaging the paint. Use one cloth to rub in the polish and a separate one for buffing, and treat only one section at a time. Otherwise, the polish may dry out and fail to create a nice gloss. Brush off excess polish when you’re finished so not to rub particles into the wax.

A car-buffing machine may be helpful, but be careful not to apply too much pressure. We recommend selecting a machine with an adjustable power level so that it does not rotate too quickly, which may allow the polish to get too warm and cause streaking. Direct sunlight on the surface of your car while you are polishing can have a similar undesirable effect.


After polishing, reseal the clear coat with wax for protection. Simply use a cotton or microfiber cloth to rub wax sparingly and evenly onto the surface. See box, left, for some products that can make your car shine. Or, find more accessories here.