Product Awards 2018: the winners

Our 2018 Product Awards reveals the best kit you can buy to keep your car in perfect condition

Want to keep your car in pristine condition or make sure that it is fitted with the latest and greatest gadgets? You’ve never had it so good. Car care and car tech is one of the major growth areas of the aftermarket, with new products and brands hitting the accessory shop shelves and online retailers every year.

Each is claimed to have the ultimate solution, the most effective cleaner, clearest navigation instructions, or the easiest and quickest way to remove scratches. And the choice can be utterly bewildering, which is why we have dedicated this page to recognising the finest, car electronics and care products that money can buy.

• Check out the latest products and accessories tests

Auto Express has been testing aftermarket products for over 20 years, and here our experienced team brings together the cream of the crop from the past 12 months.

With that depth of knowledge, you can trust what we say works will be worth buying. Such advice is valuable given the choice the internet now offers anyone looking to clean, protect or improve their car.

Our testing programme focuses on products readily available in the UK, and we’ve gathered the best in 20 categories from safety items like bulbs and wipers to car care, plus electronic kit that’s now key to drivers’ lives. Whatever your budget, there will be something from the 236 products we have tested in our 2018 Product Awards 2018 that suits your needs.

Scroll down the page for a full list of the Auto Express Product Award winners, click the subheadings for full reviews and links to be taken to a retailer…

Best car products 2018Best wax & sealant

The days of waxes being pretty much just that are long gone, with makers preferring to use many other ingredients, including ceramic particles, to provide the long-lasting protection your paintwork needs. The advancing technology has given rise to sealants, which deliver long-term protection – some up to nine years. For our test of 24 waxes through the worst of the winter weather, we concentrated on those that can be applied at home without extensive preparation by a professional. 

• Best car wax and polish group test

Whatever the product calls itself, and no matter what it contains, the heart of our test remains water beading, this time over five weeks. We assessed ease of use and price, remembering that paste waxes go further than liquid versions. But key was the ability to shift water, even after a week under a blanket of snow.

Winner: Bilt-Hamber double speed-wax

Price: Around £15 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 250ml

Commended

Soft 99 Fusso Coat Light
Price: Around £22 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 200g

Dodo Juice Future Armour
Price: £10 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Gtechniq C2 v3
Price: Around £20 – Buy now from Amazon Size: 500ml

Best wheel cleaner

The red revolution among wheel cleaners shows no sign of ending; formulas that change colour as they work on brake dust dominated this category again. And some producers are looking to extend the technology to removing ferrous fall-out and road film. Whatever they’re called, these products are still the way to go for shifting that toughest of grime to remove: brake dust. 

• Best wheel cleaner group test

Unlike acid and alkali formulas of old, most can be used on delicate surfaces because they’re pH neutral and less aggressive than their predecessors. To find the best we focused on exactly what the formulas do, applying each of our 18 products to a tired wheel trim, and leaving them for the specified time, then rinsing gently. We also rated progress after gentle brushing. 

Winner: Bilt-Hamber autowheel

Price: Around £13 – Buy from Amazon here Size: 1,000ml

Commended

Turtle Wax Redline Wheel Cleaner
Price: Around £8 – Buy from Halfords here
Size: 500ml 

Wonder Wheels Colour Active Super Wheel Cleaner
Price: £5 – Buy from Halfords here
Size: 600ml

Black Diamond Iron Out
Price: £7 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Best pressure washer shampoo

Key to keeping your paintwork swirl and scratch free is touching it as little as possible. When shifting water after rinsing, this can be done by using a blow dryer, but for shifting grime a pressure washer is the tool of choice. To make its task easier and loosen grime, a pressure washer shampoo comes in. Spray over a coating, leave it to work then blast off the dirt. But which formula is best?

• Best pressure washer shampoo group test

We tried 12, spraying each on to a masked-off section, then blasting from a fixed distance for five seconds and monitoring how much muck was removed. Each was used to the dilution for general soiling and we applied them through a lance soap dispenser – the minimum a washer comes with – rather than a foam lance that you’d have to buy separately. We also factored in price at the dilution used.

Winner: Bilt-Hamber surfex HD

Price: Around £17 – Buy from Bilt Hamber here
Size: 5,000ml

Commended

Ultimate Finish Ultimate Snow Foam
Price: Around £15 – Buy from Ultimate Finish here
Size: 5,000ml

Auto Curators Essential Soak
Price: £14 – Buy from Auto Curators here
Size: 1,000ml

Angelwax Fastfoam
Price: Around £22 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 5,000ml

Best colour restorer

If you frequently take your vehicle to hand car washes, where the emphasis is on speed, or don’t use a pre-wash like our winner (opposite), then the chances are you will have swirls in the clear coat on your paint. These fine lines obscure the colour underneath and dull the shine. 

• Best scratch removers and colour restorers group test

To get the showroom finish back you need a colour restorer – an abrasive compound somewhere in between a polish and a scratch remover. It will smooth the clear coat and let the colour shine through. To find the best, we sectioned off a scrapyard bonnet with tired paint, then added lighter marks and deeper damage. 

We then applied our 16 top sellers twice, monitoring progress on the marks and, particularly, the finish. Our scoring emphasised the final finish, plus price was rated.

Winner: Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound

Price: £14 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 450ml

Commended

Farécla G3 Professional Scratch Remover

Price: Around £9 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Angelwax Regenerate
Price: £17 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Gtechniq P1 Nano Composite Polish
Price: £20 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Best bumper shine

Bumper shines have long been seen as the long-distance runners of the car protectant world, still working after most waxes have disappeared. This year we were able to let them stretch their legs as our test ran over no fewer than 10 weeks, including some under a thick layer of snow, plus weeks of heavy rain.

• Best bumper shine group test 

The weather and longer exposure didn’t suit some contenders. The 10-week test meant we also had to revise our criteria as several of the 15 contenders went grey – while still beading water. But the heart of the test remained the same: water beading, which we checked throughout. We also factored in ease of application, initial finish, plus that last check on how each section looked at the end. Price was the final factor. Yet while the test was tougher, there were still some familiar names at the top.

Winner: Turtle Wax Black in a Flash

Price: £3 – Buy now from Amazon Size: 300ml

Commended

Simoniz Back to Black Bumper & Trim
Price: £5 – Buy now from Halfords Size: 500ml

Soft 99 Tire Wax
Price: Around £12 – Buy now from Amazon Size: 170g

CarPlan Original Black
Price: Around £5 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

The best glass cleaner

Cleaning the glass is the finishing touch in more ways than one. Not only does it add that final sparkle to a freshly cleaned interior, but it is also the last job to tackle when you’re valeting your car. 

The trickiest part of cleaning glass is to remove smears that are usually part of the oily film that builds up over time on the inside of windows. This is why our test focused on how well 20 cleaners shift oil from specially prepared side glass.

• Best glass cleaner group test 

We paint the rear black so any traces of oil can easily be spotted. A light mist of oil is sprayed on the pane, then the cleaners are applied five at a time. With limited wiping we try to remove the oil, noting how much is left as the pane dries. This is repeated several times until a winner emerges. Price is a factor, but isn’t key here.

Winner: CarPlan Screen Clean

Price: Around £3 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 750ml

Commended

Dodo Juice Clearly Menthol
Price: £8 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml 

Power Maxed Glass Cleaner
Price: Around £10
Size: 1,000ml

Autoglym Fast Glass
Price: Around £9 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Best bug cleaner

Barely has the weather started to warm up than our screens become graveyards for bugs. While screenwash and wipers can shift some of the mess, the majority will need more than a wipe with a damp microfibre. Car care producers have a range of solutions, from strong glass cleaner-type formulas to other treatments that perform much like liquid polishes.

• Best bug and bird muck cleaners group test

To find the one that works best, we revised our test this year, much as we did with our wheel cleaner assessment, to focus on just what the formulas can do without the help of powerful sprays or hard rubbing. We did a series of tests, allowing each of our 10 contenders to dwell for the specified time, then lightly rubbed or gently rinsed, before rating progress. Price was also factored in, but it played a relatively minor role.

Winner: Angelwax Revenge

Price: Around £7 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Commended

Simoniz Insect & Dirt Remover
Price: £5 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

CarPlan Demon Machine
Price: Around £7 – Buy from Halforda here
Size: 1,000ml

Turtle Wax Bug & Tar Remover
Price: £6 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Best detailer spray

Need to top up the shine and protection on your car’s bodywork between waxing? Then you need a detailer. The best clean light soiling from panels, then boost the protection on previously applied wax or sealant. Importantly, most are simply sprayed on and buffed, taking the strain out of getting a shine on your car and making them ideal for the summer months. 

• Best spray wax detailer group test

To find the one to keep your bodywork sparkling this summer, we applied 10 to a sectioned-off pair of previously waxed doors. They were hard to separate on cleaning and shine, so we focused on their ability to repel grime on several short, wet journeys. We also checked durability, applying each to a bonnet and monitoring beading over four weeks. Ease of use and price were the final factors.

Winner: Farécla G3 Professional Spray Wax

Price: Around £12 – Buy from eBay here
Size: 500ml

Commended

Sonax Xtreme Brilliant Shine Detailer
Price: Around £8 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 750ml

Gtechniq QD Quick Detailer
Price: £10 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Autoglym Rapid Detailer
Price: Around £11 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Best interior trim cleaner

An interior trim cleaner is an essential part of your car care armoury because even when you’re sitting still behind the wheel, the cabin will be collecting a layer of dust over time. A good cleaner will be tough enough to lift those inevitable dirty boot marks from kick panels, as well as remove unsightly dust and fingerprints from the dashboard and facia. 

• Best interior trim cleaner

Our search to find the best involved a sectioned-off plastic trim panel that we marked with margarine, chocolate and dried fruit juice. Masking off adjoining panels, we sprayed on each of our 17 contenders to the manufacturers’ instructions. We then used limited wiping in two attempts, assessing progress on the marks after each one had dried. Cost was the final factor we took into account.

Winner: Dodo Juice Total Wipe Out

Price: £14 – Buy from Elite Car Care here
Size: 500ml

Commended

Auto Curators Gentle Interior Cleanser
Price: £16 – Buy from Auto Curators here
Size: 1,000ml

Halfords Dash & Trim Cleaner
Price: £4 – Buy from Halfords here
Size: 500ml

Farécla G3 Professional Super Dressing
Price: Around £9 – Buy from G3 Pro here
Size: 500ml

The best leather cleaner

We all love a leather interior, with its upmarket, durable feel. We also love heated seats, and that combination requires a different kind of care to conventional fabrics. All surfaces need cleaning at some point, but our test also includes leaving a protective finish to replace the oils in the hide after the heating elements have dried them out over winter. 

• Best leather cleaners group test

We sourced a scrapyard leather rear seatbase, applied chocolate and ballpoint ink, then used each of our 15 cleaners to try to shift them with limited wiping. Progress was noted on the marks, plus on shifting ingrained grime on the long-neglected seat. We then placed a water droplet on each section and timed how long it took for each to soak through. Final considerations were ease of use and price. 

Winner: Dodo Juice Supernatural Leather Cleaner

Price: £10 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Commended

Armor All Leather Care
Price: Around £5 – Buy now from Amazon here Size: 530ml

CarPlan Leather Valet
Price: Around £8 – Buy now from Amazon here Size: 400ml

Black Diamond Super Clean
Price: £4 – Buy from Amazon here
Size: 500ml

Best headlamp bulb

No matter how good your tyres are or how clever your car’s electronic driver aids, if you can’t see where you’re going, you’re likely to have a crash. New laser and LED headlamp tech is being developed all the time, but makers haven’t forgotten the humble halogen bulb. The best now deliver up to 150 per cent more light at some point in the beam than a standard version. But which should you buy? 

• Best headlight bulbs group test

To help you decide, we took 10 pairs of high-performance double-filament H4 bulbs to GE’s light tunnel in Budapest. As performance has increased, the differences between the best have reduced, so we revised our test. 

We kept our formula based on light readings 50 and 75 metres ahead of the car, which depend on alignment, but added measurements of maximum brightness and how much of the beam was above 20 lumens, which don’t.

Winner: GE Megalight Ultra +130

Price: £28 (a pair) – Buy now from Amazon here

Commended

Bosch Gigalight Plus 120
Price: £26 (a pair) – Buy now from Amazon

Philips RacingVision
Price: Around £26 (a pair) – Buy now from Amazon

Ring Xenon 150
Price: Around £28 – Buy now from Amazon

Best wiper blade

Keeping your windscreen wipers in decent condition is a fundamental part of basic car maintenance, and if you notice the performance from your blades starting to slip, there are a vast number of companies competing for your business. To see which blades you should pick, we selected 10 sets from a range of manufacturers.

• Best wiper blades group test

Each one was inspected closely for build quality. We also looked at the clarity of the instructions, before considering how easy they were to install on our 2011 Skoda Superb test car, rating how snugly they fitted into the wiper arms. 

Once they were securely in place, we looked at how cleanly each set of blades cleared the windscreen, how effective they were at dispersing screenwash and made a note of how noisy they were in their action.

Winner: Bosch Aerotwin

Price: Around £26 – Buy from Halfords here
Adaptors: One

Commended

Wiperblades Aerowiper
Price: Around £17 – Buy from Wiperblades here
Adaptors: One 

Trico ExactFit
Price: Around £20 – Buy from Wiperblades here
Adaptors: One

Valeo Silencio X.TRM
Price: Around £27 – Buy from Amazon here
Adaptors: One

Best digital tyre pressure gauge

Makers work hard to maximise your car’s fuel economy, but under-inflated tyres will undo much of their efforts. With pressures as in the handbook, you can optimise mpg and cut emissions, while boosting handling and braking. 

Checking the pressures – always on cold tyres – takes a few minutes a week with the right gauge. We tried eight to find the best, testing them on two tyres, alloy and steel wheels, and checking readings at 20, 25 and 30psi. 

• Best digital tyre pressure gauge group test

A clear display was essential, ideally backlit. A nose light is handy and while the auto power off saves battery life, we preferred it to stay on for at least 25 seconds, so you don’t have to constantly reset the gauge.

Winner: Ring RTG4 Digital Keyring Gauge

Price: Around £7 – Buy from Amazon here

Commended

PCL Digital Tyre Pressure & Tread Depth Gauge DTPG7
Price: Aorund £17 – Buy from Amazon here

Michelin Programmable Digital Tyre Pressure Gauge 12295
Price: £30 

Best dash cam

There are now more than 2.6 million dash cams on Britain’s roads, with the sector growing at an incredible pace. Police are even looking at introducing new methods to quickly process dash cam footage of road offences, while insurers are offering discounts of up to 20 per cent on annual premiums for drivers operating the devices, so there are certainly plenty of incentives for motorists to purchase and use one. 

• Best dash cams group test

The newest dash cams to hit the market now come with the ability to capture high-resolution 4K footage, and to find out which is the best we tested eight devices. Clarity of recording was the most important factor for us, while ease of use was another vital point. As always, price was noted, too.

Winner: Nextbase 612GW

Price: Around £250 – Buy now from Amazon here

Commended

BlackVue DR900S-1CH
Price: Around £400 – Buy now from BlackVue

Philips ADR820
Price: Around £140 – Buy now from Currys

Best sat-nav

The sat-nav sector has been shaken up of late. Portable devices are facing tougher competition than ever from apps. This has led to traditional mapping companies like TomTom and HERE joining the party with their own smartphone applications. 

But portable sat-navs still have their place – regular drivers wanting great map coverage without worrying about phone signal or data costs will find them a safe bet.

• Best sat-navs group test 

We assessed four apps and four portable units to find the best one. Accurate instructions and a simple-to-follow map interface were central to our test, as was overall ease of use. Traffic alerts scored marks, especially if they were accurate and the navigation system came up with clever alternative routes. The final factor in our test was prices from online sources (where applicable). 

Winner: TomTom GO

Price: Free (for 50 miles per month, around £15 a year) – Download from TomTom here
Available on: iOS, Android

Commended

CoPilot
Price: Free (seven-day trial, full EU maps around £25) – Download from CoPilot here
Available on: iOS, Android

TomTom GO 6200
Price: Around £340 – Buy from Amazon here

Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-D – Buy from Amazon here
Price: Around £330

Best safety camera locator

The number of fines dished out by safety cameras reached record levels last year, with 2.15 million drivers caught. But regardless of what motorists think of the devices, they’re there to keep us safe. 

Sticking to the speed limit isn’t always easy, especially on unfamiliar roads, so safety camera locators notify you not only about upcoming traps, but also help drivers monitor their speed. The latest batch of devices pick up everything from average speed camera zones and fixed cameras to laser guns used by the police and red-light cameras. 

• Best speed camera locators group test

We tested apps and physical devices to see which is the best. Locators were assessed for accuracy, with those alerting us to cameras on the opposite side of the road penalised. Ease of use and price were also factors.

Winner: Road Angel Pure

Price: Around £250 – Buy from Bulldog Secure here
Subscription: £99 (one year) 

Commended

Snooper 4Zero Elite BT
Price: Around £180 – Buy from Amazon here
Subscription: Free

TomTom Speed Cameras
Price: Free – Get from Google Play here
Available on: Android

Sygic Speed Cameras & Traffic
Price: Free (Pro: Around £4 for a year, around £9 lifetime) – Get from iTunes here
Available on: iOS, Android

Best roof bars

Drivers have long exploited the load-lugging potential of their car’s roof, from roof racks grasping gutters to today’s rails and bars. The current preferred way of mounting bars is flush mounts, so our latest test of eight sets focused on bars suitable for these. 

• Best roof racks group test

Convenience is king, from initial assembly to fitting and removing from the car. We rated bar weight because this affects what you can carry (all roofs have a limit), plus security and noise at speed. Price was our final factor.

Winner: Summit SUP-957

Price: £90 – Buy from Amazon here

Commended

Farad Aerodynamic Aluminium Roof Bars
Price: Around £100 – Buy from Drive Den here

Atera Signo RTD
Price: Around £145 – Buy from Roofbox here

Best roof bike carrier

The latest cycle technology has made bikes lighter than before, reducing the main drawback to roof-mounted carriers. Even modest machines are now easier to place on the roof, so more drivers can benefit from easy access to the boot or tailgate and not have to invest in a light board. 

• Best bike rack group test

To find a winner from eight top sellers we wanted ready-to-go carriers that work with a range of bikes and bars with good security. Also taken into account were ease of use and price.

Winner: Atera Giro AF

Price: Around £80 – Buy now from The Roofbox here

Commended

Yakima Frontloader
Price: Around £125 – Buy now from The Roofbox here

Thule Proride 598
Price: £110 – Buy now from Halfords here

Best battery charger

AGM, gel, stop/start – today’s chargers have to cope with all the latest tech while still performing their primary roles of reviving and maintaining batteries. Gone are the days of big linear chargers that had more in common with toasters than today’s designs, which are packed with electronics and switch modes to match the state and requirements of the battery. They can also recondition long-neglected powerpacks. 

• Best car battery charger group test

So which is the one for your car? We enlisted the help of CTEK to conduct our most comprehensive charger test so far, with nine contenders. Speed of charging was vital in our assessment, and we monitored the average charge rate. We checked for sparks during misuse, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and the minimum voltage each would work at. Instructions, specification, versatility and price were also rated.

Winner: CTEK Time To Go CT5

Price: Around £83 – Buy from Amazon here

Commended

NOCO Genius G7200
Price: Around £90 – Buy from Amazon here

NOCO Genius G3500
Price: Around £54 – Buy from eBay here

CTEK MXS 3.8
Price: Around £57 – Buy from Amazon here

Best inspection lamp

It’s not as high profile as the fast-moving world of dash cams, but the inspection lamp sector has also seen a revolution. Battery and LED development has brought ever brighter, longer-lasting chip-on-board (COB) and strip LEDs, and now makers are putting these in slender, ruler-like blades to light even the narrowest of gaps. 

To see how they compared with more conventional rivals, we took eight and looked for a bright, wide and even beam with power modes to extend battery life. 

• Best inspection lamp group test

We rated the latter by running each until it had shut off or dropped below
a pre-set light output, then looked for mounting options – hooks, magnets and joints – to get light where you need it. The final factor was price from online sources.

Winner: Sealey LED180

Price: Around £40 – Buy from eBay here

Commended

Draper 65395
Price: Around £40 – Buy from Draper here

NightSearcher Star Blade
Price: Around £30 – Buy from Machine Mart here

Ring RIL3600HP MAGFlex Twist
Price: £40 – Buy from Halfords here

Not enough products for you? Then take a read of our best car tyres page. 

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