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Since We're Dry, We Rank High


Southern California punishes motorists with endless traffic jams and exorbitant insurance rates, but there's at least this much to be thankful for: Car finishes seem to be blessed by one of the most benign environments in the nation.

Despite heavy urban fallout, nasty ozone and that famous West Coast sunshine, Los Angeles and San Diego were among the cities recently ranked as the best for car paint, according to a survey conducted by Meguiar's Inc., a car wax manufacturer based in Irvine.

The company examined environmental factors in every ZIP code in the United States, collecting data from more than two dozen federal agencies and universities. The resulting data base is the most detailed information of its kind.

The study concluded that Chico, Calif., is the best city in the U.S. for car paint, while Tampa, Fla., is the worst. Among other California cities that did well are Santa Barbara, Santa Ana and San Francisco.

The ratings are based on such factors as acid rain, humidity, dew point averages, ozone, airborne salt, ultraviolet radiation and urban fallout (diesel soot, industrial chemicals and fine particles of dirt)--all the major ravages of car paint.

While Southern California does punish cars with intense sunlight and ozone, its famous dry air more than offsets those disadvantages in most localities.

At the other extreme is Tampa, which is hot, sunny, humid and full of acidic rain all year long. Among other nasty spots are Boston; Providence, R.I.; and Hartford, Conn.


Auto makers have been striving to improve paint jobs after years of consumer complaints about appearance and durability. Virtually all cars are now painted in two stages, in which the color is overlaid by a urethane-based enamel clear coat.

The clear coats are more resistant to environmental contaminants, but even the best paints and applications need to be kept clean, polished and waxed, experts say.

The Meguiar's survey was more than a publicity stunt. The company's data base is used in prescribing the type of care and products (naturally its own) to motorists who fill out questionnaires or call the company.

Barry Meguiar, company president, said the effort is a response to confusion among consumers over the huge number of waxes available in auto stores.

"The question everybody asks is what should I use on my car," he said. Although I can't recommend the company or its products, Meguiar's offers free advice by calling (800) 545-3321.

* Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. No. 1100, Washington, DC 20006 or e-mail to

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