Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

How to Keep Your Car’s Acrylic Paint Looking Brand New

vintage VW van

Acrylic paint was extremely popular in older cars, and can still be found on many cars today. While there are many different reasons for manufacturers, auto body specialists, and car owners alike to use acrylic paint, there is one primary reason: the cost. Acrylic paint is very affordable relative to other paint options, which makes it a common choice among people who are re-painting their vehicles. It also has a wonderful glossy finish that made it very popular in decades past, and reminds people of vintage vehicles.

However, acrylic paint is not without its downfalls. The largest issue with acrylic automotive paint is that it can fade and diminish very easily. The paint begins to look soft after a few years, and it does not hold up to natural elements such as sun, wind, and salt very well. It also does not hold up well to chemicals.

So if you have an acrylic paint job on your car, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep it looking brand new. Thankfully, maintaining an acrylic paint job on a car is easier than it sounds.

Part 1 of 3: Scrap everything you know about auto detailing

standard car detailing supplies crossed out

Step 1: Avoid using standard exterior substances. Do not use basic car waxes, polishes, or clays.

Wax, polish, and clay are all common substances to use on the exterior of a car to help it look its best. Chances are, you have some of these in your garage, as they can be very effective. However, these products should be avoided if your vehicle has an acrylic paint job.

Polishes and clays should be avoided because they have chemicals that will break down acrylic paint. Rather than create a fuller, shinier paint job, a polish or a clay will actually soften the color and the shine of your paint job if your vehicle has acrylic paint.

Wax is not quite as harmful as polish and clay, but it creates a layer above the paint job that keeps you from completing part three of this tutorial.

Step 2: Stay away from power tools. Do not use any power buffers, power polishers, or other power tools on the vehicle’s exterior.

Acrylic paint is not strong enough to hold up to the force of a power tool such as a power buffer. Always avoid using power tools on an acrylic paint job, or else you will greatly diminish the color and shine of the paint.

Part 2 of 3: Clean the car thoroughly

person rinsing off the car

Step 1: Get the dirt off your car. Wash any dirt and debris off of your vehicle.

Using a hose or a soft, non-abrasive towel, rinse your car off, making sure that you are removing all of the dirt and debris that may be on the vehicle. Be sure to get the top of the car as well, though you don’t need to worry about the windows since they don’t have paint on them (though it’s a good idea to clean the windows as long as you have the hose out).

Step 2: Remove any wax. Be sure to remove any wax that’s on the vehicle.

If your vehicle’s exterior has been waxed at some point, you will want to do everything you can to remove the wax. Run a soft towel or a non-abrasive brush over any wax clump you find until all the wax has been removed.

close up of a person

Step 3: Use soap for a thorough cleaning. Finish cleaning the car with a soap scrub.

After the wax and the base layer of dirt has been removed from your car’s exterior, lightly scrub it down with some soap. You can use a mild car soap, but a dishwashing soap that does not contain bleach will work perfectly as well.

Use a soft towel to wash the soap all over the vehicle, then rinse it off with water.

Part 3 of 3: Apply some acrylic paint conditioner

Step 1: Purchase a bottle of acrylic paint conditioner. Acrylic paint conditioner is sold at most auto parts stores, and all auto detailing stores.

You can also find it online if that’s more convenient for you.

close up of hand applying conditioner

Step 2: Apply the conditioner to your car. Slowly apply the acrylic paint conditioner to your vehicle.

Using a soft, non-abrasive towel, rub a small portion of acrylic paint conditioner into the exterior of your vehicle. You will have to work in batches to cover the entire car, but make sure that you fully work in the applied amount before you add any more conditioner.

It works best to apply the conditioner from the top down; that way you can keep track of which parts of the car you have conditioned, and any conditioner that drips off will get worked in later.

When working the conditioner into the exterior of the car, rub the towel in circles to create an even finish. Ideally, you want to use as thin of a layer of acrylic conditioner as possible, and you want to avoid getting it on the windows.

  • Tip: Do not apply acrylic conditioner to your vehicle unless the car is completely dry. If you apply the conditioner when the vehicle is wet, it will not do the job properly and the exterior will look streaky.

One of the fun parts of owning a vehicle is keeping it looking good. A great looking car is fun to show off, fun to drive in, and simply fun to own and look at. While acrylic paint jobs do wear out more quickly than other paints would, it’s very easy to keep them looking great. Simply follow these steps and you’ll have your car and its acrylic paint looking brand new all the time.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.


Post a question and get free advice from our certified mechanics.


More related articles

How to Buy Fuel Treatments
Adding a fuel additive to your gas tank when you fill up is one way to clean vital engine parts of deposits, improve the performance of your engine,...
Rules of the Road For Iowa Drivers
Driving on the roads requires knowledge of the rules, many of which are based on common sense and courtesy. However, even though you know the rules in...
The Traveler’s Guide to Driving in Malaysia
CraigBurrows / Malaysia is a popular destination for many tourists today. The country has amazing sights and attractions that you will want to explore....

Related questions

Q: Problem with chipping paint, big chips in front

I have talked to some of my professional colleagues with painting experience and they have told me this paint chipping problem is not uncommon. I own one myself that is doing the same thing as your car. I have thoroughly...

Q: How do I use the windshield washers?

The windshield washers help maintain your visibility by washing the windshields. To use the windshield washers, pull the wiper lever towards you. The washer nozzles will spray washer fluid onto your windshield until you release the lever, at which point...

Q: Paint in a really bad state, can it be fixed?

The reason paint on new cars chips more easily today than it did in the past is because the paint is more environmentally friendly. Traditionally, the majority of car paints were lead-based, but today paints are water-based, which increases the...