What does that old adage, “You get what you pay for” have in common with the speed of light? They’re both constants.

Or are they? Light may be the theoretical speed limit of the universe, but do you always get more for an extra outlay of cash? Maybe not.

Carnauba wax has been shining and protecting cars since the 1950s. It’s as traditional as serving turkey at Thanksgiving or hearing oldies music blaring at a car show. But today there’s a broad range of more modern synthetic waxes on the market that promise to deliver much more. Are they really a better option than the tried and true? In this review we put both to the test, sprucing up a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT in need of a little TLC.

To get a sense of what each one delivers, the folks at Meguiar’s sent us a sample pack of popular merchandise, including a tub of Gold Class Carnauba and a bottle of Ultimate Liquid Wax, a pure-synthetic product.

Meguiar’s was founded in 1901 and began developing polishes for lacquer-based paints in the 1920s. By the ‘60s they were focused on meeting the needs of professional car-care shops. In fact, the company’s first consumer product, a cleaner wax, didn’t hit store shelves until 1973.

Positioned as a premium brand, items proffered by Meguiar’s will rarely be the cheapest available. Instead of delivering the lowest price possible, they’ve had great success focusing on the enthusiast market. With more than 350 products in their range, including items for boats and RVs in addition to cars, Meguiar’s is the No. 1 brand in its segment based on dollar spend. Anyway, onward to the test!

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The Reigning Champion: Gold Class Carnauba

meguiar's gold class carnauba plus premium paste wax

Carnauba has been the go-to choice for countless car enthusiasts. And it wouldn’t have seven decades of staying power if it didn’t work well.

A plant-based product, it’s derived from palm trees grown in tropical locales like Brazil. Perhaps this is why it smells like bananas and coconut? But just because this is a natural wax doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Carnauba is more than able to shield a vehicle’s paint from harsh conditions. Think of any car wax like you would sunscreen for your skin.

Applied to a cool, clean surface, this stuff is initially a bit stiff in the tub, but it’s easy to spread around with a foam pad. A little goes a long way so you don’t have to constantly keep dipping in for more. Use overlapping circular motions to work the carnauba into the paint and spread it evenly.

meguiar's gold class carnauba plus premium paste wax

Once you’ve coated a body panel, this wax dries rather quickly, in a matter of minutes even in cooler conditions, leaving a light haze behind. At this point you can wipe it off, ideally with a microfiber cloth or clean cotton towel. Make sure to gently buff as you remove the wax in order to shine the paint to a brilliant luster.

Depending on location, Meguiar’s Carnauba wax sells for about $10 to $15 per tub, a more-than-reasonable price for the amount of product you receive, in this case 11 ounces (311 grams).

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The Future is Here: Ultimate Liquid Wax

meguiar's ultimate liquid wax

Bringing car-care into the new century is Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax. It comes in a squeeze bottle and is much thinner than its old-school rival. Still, it’s easy to rub on, particularly with an applicator pad. Naturally, make sure to use circular motions and moderate pressure to really work it in.

Oddly, this synthetic product doesn’t seem to go as far as carnauba. You have to keep adding more and more to the applicator as you go. Perhaps the paint absorbs it more readily.

In any case, once an even coating has been applied, you wait about five minutes, then wipe it off and buff to a high-gloss shine. Unlike carnauba, this synthetic concoction smells like a fruity ice cream. Delicious either way!

At retail, Meguiar’s Ultimate Liquid Wax goes for anywhere between $20 and $25 for a 16-ounce bottle (473 ml), about twice as much as carnauba. The tradeoff for that added cost is a host of additional benefits.

meguiar's ultimate liquid wax

Polymer waxes like this last much longer than carnauba, providing an extra-durable finish. They also wipe off with less effort, are generally easier to work with and, perhaps best of all, they will not leave ugly white streaks on plastic trim.

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The Winner?

Choosing a winner in this side-by-side comparison is difficult because both products delivered an excellent finish. The difference between them is essentially indistinguishable, though the synthetic wax did seem to provide a slightly deeper shine, at least in this particular case. On another vehicle under different lighting conditions the carnauba could have easily provided a richer look, in fact, some people think it delivers a warmer glow than competing polymer waxes.

In the end, carnauba is reasonably priced, provides excellent vehicle protection and is a snap to apply. But if you can afford it, the polymer wax is a better way to go because the finish it provides is more durable and it shouldn’t stain plastic trim.

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