The paint finishes applied today are much more durable than those available ten or fifteen years ago. As a result, even average care can yield great, long lasting results. Be aware, however, that the more you do to preserve the appearance and lifespan of your vehicles paint, the more sales and trade-in value you will receive when it is time to purchase your next vehicle.
Washing - This is the single most important thing you can do to preserve the finish. Hand washing is by far the best, however, if you must use an automatic car wash, stick to those that don't have any brushes. Hand washing should always be done in a shady area and you will need a soft cotton cloth or chamois to dry the vehicle before water spotting occurs. (Note: If you have recently had a portion or all of your vehicle painted, do not take the car through ANY automatic wash for 30 days.)
Products to Use - Sticking with cleaning products that are designed and tested to be used on a car's finish is very important. Most auto parts stores offer a good selection of different products that will not damage your vehicles finish.
Avoid Parking under Trees or in the Sun - Trees provide good shade but they are also the source of tree sap and bird droppings. Depending on what type of tree or what the bird ate that day, either can contain chemicals that will stain or even blister your cars finish if not removed promptly.
Keep Covered When Not in Use - The ultraviolet rays from the sun, over a long period of time, can cause cracking, blistering, and peeling. Most of us don't want the hassle of using a car cover; however, parking your vehicle in a garage or carport can make a big difference regarding the lifespan of your vehicles finish.
Wax - This will provide an extra layer of protection. The added benefit is that when you are applying wax, you are doing a very thorough cleaning job at the same time. Always wash the vehicle immediately prior to applying the wax. (Note: Always wait at least 30 days before applying wax over a newly painted area.)
Paint Chips - Gravel roads can cause excessive chipping very quickly. Bug shields for your hood as well as mud flaps behind each of your four wheels will help significantly. Parking lots will also cause you dings and paint chips unless you park far enough out that nobody is banging their door into the side of your car.
Professional Detailing - If you can afford it, have this done at least once per year. It will usually run between $100 and $250 for an inside/outside detail depending on condition, type of vehicle, and the level of quality you choose. A good detailer will take care of those hard to get at areas that are usually ignored.