There is a difference between polishing and waxing a car. Most people, however, don't know or aren't sure just what it is.

According to Thomas Wilson, president of Polished Image, the main difference is:Waxing covers over the car's surface while polishing actually removes oxidation, dirt in the paint and scratches, and then puts on a sealing coat.

And what works best?

"To achieve a true luster or shine on the surface, polishing is the only way," he pointed out.

"This is especially important today with the different elements vehicles are subjected to, such as acid rain, salt, industrial pollutants, and other things, such as bird droppings, that can damage paint."

He explained that polishing the surface of a car is a lot like finishing a wood surface to take off old paint and scratches.

"What we use to polish a vehicle is not as abrasive as sandpaper, however. But it works in much the same way in that it smooths out the surface, and being flatter it gives it a more reflective shine. The material we use, too, fills in the small scratches.

"The key is in knowing what you are doing. It takes training and skill to polish a car correctly. Someone unskilled at polishing can be detrimental to the paint. I've seen cases were they've gone right through the paint."

Just how long a polishing will last, Wilson said, depends on the area and environment . . . "A lot of sunlight will break down a finish a lot sooner. Salt, too, is very corrosive. In most cases a good coating will last for six to eight months, generally."

He warned that there are products on the market that claim to clean and wax at the same time, but can't and still give a strong, protective finish.

During this time of year when it is important to have proper care of both the interior and exterior of a vehicle prior to the coming of winter, Wilson offered other examples for getting better overall protection.

In cleaning and protecting the interior, Wilson said that some products are "water base." These, he said, can cause drying and cracking. He suggested using products with an "oil base" in order to help restore such things as vinyls, plastics and rubber.

He suggested using good polishes on aluminum and steel parts on the car to protect against corrosion and rust.

Baked-on hard water spots can be removed with certain chemicals, but urged caution and care when using them.

Washing off an engine is beneficial, but sometimes moisture can get on some of the electrical parts and cause problems. Steam cleaning is one solution. Also, steam cleaning removes oils and grease more quickly.

Interiors should be shampooed, but Wilson warned that the soap should not be left in the carpet or upholstery because it can sometimes do as much damage as the dirt it removed. Wilson pointed out that his business has a full menu of cleaning and care services, ranging from a delicate hand washing and waxing, to full detailing.