Product Awards 2019: the winners
Our 2019 Product Awards reveals the best kit you can buy to keep your car in perfect condition
Looking for some of the best products for your car? Then look no further as the Auto Express Product Awards 2019 are here to help you. We know that your car is your pride and joy so only the very best products will do. From the best car polish right up to finding the best dash cam, we have thoroughly tested over 250+ of the lastest car care and car tech products to help give you a definitive answer.
With car care and car tech being one of the major growth areas of the aftermarket, with new products and brands hitting the accessory shop shelves and online retailers every year it can often seem overwhelming and confusing to know which product is best for you as each brand will claim to be 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 help recognise the finest, car electronics and care products that money can buy.
Auto Express has been testing aftermarket products for over 20 years, and here our experienced team brings together the very best 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 huge variety of products we have tested in our 2019 Product Awards that suits your needs.
Best car products 2019
Product of the Year: Continental
Winning any of our tests is seriously good news for a product, and nowhere is that more true than for tyres. One firm secured a major supply contract with the help of victory in our tyre test. Some companies have won more than once, others multiple times, but the last round of tests saw something that had never been achieved before.
We first added winter tyres to our test programme in 2010 following a couple of severe winters which brought much of the country to a halt. These prompted the start of a market for winter tyres in the UK, before increasingly erratic and severe weather prompted demand for a tyre that coped better than conventional designs with cold temperatures, but without the hassle of changing tyres twice a year.
That prompted the rise of the all-season tyre, which we added to our testing programme back in 2015. No company had made a clean sweep of all three tests in one year – until now. And for this remarkable feat, our Product of the Year award goes to Continental.
What makes its achievement even more impressive is the fact that the firm had only participated in all three tests last year. Before that it didn’t make an all-season product, preferring the no-compromise option of changing tyres with the seasons.
It has won summer and winter tests since 2010, and the new AllSeasonContact took victory first time out. Impressive stuff that makes Continental a worthy winner of our award, which recognises innovation and outstanding performance. So Continental is our first triple winner. Did we have any double winners when we just did two tests? Yes – there were two. And yes, both were Continental.
Best car washes
Despite repeated warnings, and accessory-shop shelves being packed with car shampoos, many drivers still clean bodywork with washing-up liquid. It’s foamy, so it’s the same, right? Wrong!
Washing-up liquid is designed to cut through the grease that food leaves on dishes – something not usually found on cars. And that cleaning power with its high salt content can actually harm paintwork and will certainly strip any wax you’ve applied to protect the body. You need a specialist cleaner if you’re going remove that grime properly, without harming the paint and, critically, the clearcoat that is key to getting the car to shine.
To find our pick of the many car washes on the market, we took 12 top sellers and mixed each to the maker’s instructions. We then used them to clean a sectioned-off panel. Because cleaning performance is hard to differentiate, we wanted a wash that left as little water as possible to be leathered off. The final factor was price.
Winner: Halfords Car Wash and Wax
Price: around £2Size: 1,000ml
Autoglym Bodywork Shampoo Conditioner
Price: around £8Size: 500ml
Price: around £10Size: 1,000ml
Price: around £10Size: 300ml
Best clay bars
Clay bars are the cleaners you never knew you needed. If you’re doubtful about their abilities, wash your car, use a microfibre mitt to release as much grit as possible, and then dry the car. Now slip a finger into a thin plastic bag and run it over the bonnet, roof or boot.
Chances are, if the car is more than a few months old, and depending on where it’s kept, you’ll feel a sandpaper-like surface. That’s due to the contaminants that bond to the paintwork. To shift them, you’ll need a clay bar. To use this, spray on a lubricant and run the bar over the surface. As the tiny particles are lifted away, the bar runs freely – plus they can be seen on the clay surface. After claying, the paintwork makes a better bond with any protective layer you apply.
However, all clays are not the same. We tried 10 on a neglected panel, making two attempts with limited wiping and assessing progress with the plastic-bag test. We also factored in price.
Winner: Bilt-Hamber auto-clay regular
Price: around £10Size: 200g
Meguiar’s Smooth Surface Clay Kit
Price: around £32Size: 160g
Price: around £8Size: 200g
Farecla G3 Deep Clean Clay Mitt
Price: around £15Size: N/A
A traditional polish is something of a forgotten concept in car care, because owners seek quick fixes for paintwork scratches and swirls by using more aggressive formulas.
And that’s true of our assessment programme, because we’ve not tested polishes since they were synonymous with waxes, ignoring their true role as paint and finish improvers. In that time we have done multiple tests of their more abrasive siblings, scratch removers and paint restorers. We’ve put that right this year, however, with a test of the least aggressive of the DIY compounds designed to improve the shine by smoothing the clearcoat.
It’s definitely a gap that needed to be filled, but doing so is tricky because the differences between rivals reduce along with the abrasiveness. For our 15 contenders, we went for the lightest abrasive and looked for the best shine after a set number of passes using a microfibre cloth and pad to ensure even pressure. Price was the final factor.
Winner: Angelwax Perfect Polish
Price: around £10Size: 500ml
Autobrite Direct Cherry Glaze
Price: around £12Size: 500ml
Autoglym Super Resin Polish
Price: around £15Size: 500ml
Simoniz Diamond Wax & Polish
Price: around £4Size: 500ml
Best waterless cleaners
Their creation may have been inspired by the hosepipe bans that occasionally sweep the UK, but waterless cleaners now have a firm place on the garage shelf. While other solutions have fallen by the wayside, the simple squirt then wipe-and-buff sprays have stayed. Some detailers double up on cleaning duties, yet there are plenty of specialist waterless washes to meet demand.
While we might not currently have hosepipe bans, this is the time of year when waterless washes are in their prime, because the grime is light and safely removed with a spray. Plus the best examples leave a protective finish, saving you from sweating away in the sun with a tub of wax.
To find the best, we took 12 and used them on two sectioned-off areas. We monitored how much dirt was removed with restricted wiping, and then checked beading immediately after application, and again following a few days’ driving. Finally, ease of use and price were also factored in.
Winner: Meguiar’s Waterless & Wax Anywhere
Price: around £16Size: 768ml
Auto Curators Rapid Cleanse
Price: around £15Size: 1,000ml
Polished Pigs Quick Detailer
Price: around £11Size: 550ml
Turtle Wax Wash & Wax
Price: around £18Size: 750ml
Best waxes and sealants
There was a time when this test was only for waxes, with just a smattering of polishes that aimed to combine protection with improving the shine. The current category title is quite deliberate, though, because there’s a wide range of ways to protect your paintwork – and few are pure waxes.
Most now incorporate some form of sealant in the formula, while others simply ignore the ‘paste in a tin’ format and put their solution in a trigger bottle. So our test – the biggest in our car-care programme, with 24 rivals tested over nine weeks – included pretty much every option. The only restriction was that they must be applied without extensive professional surface preparation.
We used each on a bonnet that had been clayed and treated to remove all previous coatings. We noted ease of use, before regularly testing water beading. Price was the final consideration.
Winner: Bilt-Hamber double speed-wax
Price: around £15Size: 250ml
Auto Curators Signature Sealant
Price: around £25Size: 200ml
Polished Pigs Hybrid Show Wax
Price: around £45Size: 130g
CarPlan No1 Super Gloss
Price: around £8Size: 600ml
Best wheel cleaners
The red revolution that has swept through the world of wheel cleaners faltered this year, because our test found two new solutions that do not turn purple as they work to free brake dust.
The advantage of the colour-changing formulas is that they can work on pretty much any surface without damaging it or removing the shine, while still proving effective at battling grime. Many can do without being agitated with a brush, relying purely on loosening the grime, which is then removed with a blast from a pressure washer.
To find the best way of shifting baked-on dirt, we focused on how well the formula worked. Our 19 rivals were applied to sections of neglected wheel trims, allowed to work to the maker’s spec, then gently rinsed and progress assessed. We repeated the test, adding limited, regulated agitation. Several tests were done before taking price into account.
Winner: Bilt-Hamber auto-wheel
Price: around £13Size: 1,000ml
The Treatment Wheel Cure
Price: around £8Size: 561ml
Polished Pigs Wheel Cleaner
Price: around £12Size: 550ml
Wonder Wheels Super Cleaner
Price: around £5Size: 500ml
Best wheel wax & sealants
the battle for bodywork supremacy between traditional waxes and the latest sealants is being repeated for wheels. This isn’t a surprise, because the requirements are similar. Applying some form of protection should enhance the rims’ shine and shrug off grime, slowing the build-up of disc dust and ensuring alloys stay cleaner for longer.
The major difference between body and wheel waxes and sealants is that the latter must deal with the extreme temperatures generated by braking. And while the battle for paint finish is far from settled, with hybrid products increasing the performance of traditional waxes, on rims the newcomers rule. In this smaller market, less innovation and fewer new products leave the field largely to sealants.
To find the one you should use, we took eight and applied them to a rim to the maker’s instructions. We then drove the car for six weeks, monitoring how clean each section remained. We also took into account ease of application and price.
Winner: Wonder Wheels Wheel Sealant
Price: around £7Size: 300ml
Armor All Shield Brake Dust Repellent
Price: around £9Size: 300ml
Autogylm Wheel Protector
Price: around £12Size: 300ml
Best tyre shines
It’s hard not to like tyre shine. It has to be one of the easiest car-care products to use, with the best simply requiring a quick spray from an aerosol. No buffing, no working in – just spray and go. And the results make a big impact.
Wheels are key to a car’s kerb appeal, and wrapping them in black, rather than grey, rubber makes the most of their style. However, while tyre shine might be easy to apply, you don’t want any effort to disappear at the first sign of rain, so our test focused on durability. To ensure we got a result during the mild weather at the beginning of the year, we applied our 14 contenders to both a front and rear wheel, assessing ease of application as they went on plus the initial appearance.
The treated sections were then monitored over four weeks. Price was also part of the final result, although the focus was on longevity.
Winner: CarPlan Tyre Slik
Price: around £5Size: 500ml
Simoniz Back to Black Tyre Shire
Price: around £5Size: 500ml
Price: around £10Size: 500ml
Halfords Wet Look Tyre Dressing
Price: around £4Size: 500ml
Best upholstery cleaners
So far our Product Awards for car care have focussed on the exterior, but now we turn our attention to the interior. Leather upholstery may be more popular in the market than ever before, but there is still plenty of fabric trim that needs cleaning, and we have the best options here.
When putting together a test to find the most effective upholstery cleaner, we wanted it to find a product that tackled not just those glaring marks like ink or food stains, but also that ground-in dirt that builds up almost unseen over time. And there was plenty of that grime on our once-beige rear bench test seat that we found in a scrapyard.
We sectioned off the base, then added ink, ground-in chocolate and a smear of margarine. The instructions for each of our 11 contenders were followed, with limited wiping, and the seat was allowed to dry before assessing progress. As usual, cost was taken into account, although the bulk of the marks went to cleaning power.
Winner: Simoniz Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner
Price: around £4Size: 500ml
CarPlan Stain Valet
Price: around £6Size: 600ml
Halfords Upholstery Cleaner
Price: around £4Size: 500ml
Auto Curators Gentle Interior Cleanse
Price: around £14Size: 1,000ml
While some drivers prefer to leave car-cleaning to the professionals or machines, nearly all of us buy screenwash. But just grabbing a bottle at a service station is not the best way of buying this vital liquid, because it has to work quite differently depending on the time of year.
In the winter you want something that won’t freeze, so you can keep the screen clear of road spray, and in the summer, bugs need to be shifted. Our test covers both aspects, with the winter mix spending time in a deep freeze, and the summer versions dealing with bugs and oil on the screen.We also calculated costs for both seasons.
For the first time we also included rain-repellent screenwash, with the tests repeated, and we added an assessment of how well they shifted water.
A section of screen in the wiper’s sweep was masked off, then each wash applied in its winter mix and beading monitored for two weeks. Eight of each type were tested to produce our top four.
Winner: Prestone Extreme Performance Screen Wash
Price: around £3.50Size: 2,000ml
Halfords Screen Wash Super Concentrate
Price: around £3.50Size: 500ml
Dirtex Aquaphobic Screen Wash
Price: around £14Size: 1,000ml
Price: around £8Size: 1,000ml
Best cordless drills
A cordless drill is essential for any motoring DIY-er, especially because the latest motors and batteries are sufficiently advanced to give little away to their cable-encumbered, mains-operated counterparts. These very versatile tools can buff, sand and wire-brush as well as drill wood, metal and even masonry (with a hammer function).
We balanced battery size and number against the price; a bigger battery (measured in Ah) gives more running time, but costs and weighs more. Of course, a spare battery can be charged while the other is in use. Each device had to plough through some hard work designed to challenge its torque capabilities and test the battery. We ran each for five minutes unloaded, screwed large screws into wood, drilled into steel and aluminium, and wire-brushed a rusted panel for five minutes.
We looked for good balance and extras such as an LED light, case, multi-torque settings and battery-state indication, plus warranty and price.
Winner: HiKOKI DV18DBFL2/JM Brushless Combi Drill kit
Price: around £150
Ryobi R18PD3-0 18V ONE+ Cordless Compact Percussion Drill
Price: around £149
Wolf 18V Li-Ion Combi Impact Drill
Price: around £66
Panasonic Li-Ion Brushless Combi Hammer Drill kit EY74A2LJ2G31
Price: around £280
Best pressure washers
Add a pressure washer to your car-cleaning arsenal and you open up a whole new world of possibilities. With the right attachment, you can use a snow foam to loosen grime without touching the car. Grime and heavy soiling can be blasted away without the risk of scratching the car with a mitt or sponge; wheelarches become much easier to clean, and you can tackle under the chassis.
A pressure washer is a sensible investment, and a steady stream of new models makes upgrading attractive. To find which is the best to boost your car cleaning, we hooked up eight models. Their power was rated on paving, but ultimate punch is not key when it comes to car cleaning because too much can damage surfaces.
Our test focussed on ease of use, so lead and hose storage was assessed – long leads and hoses mean less moving of the machine. We also wanted accessory storage, detergent reservoirs and easy-to-use lances. Price was taken into account, too.
Winner: GMC PW165
Price: around £173
Hozelock Pico Power
Price: around £109
Karcher K4 Full Control Home 1.324-005.0
Price: around £250
Price: around £132
Best headlamp bulbs
All that electronic gadgetry to keep your car on the road counts for nothing when you can’t see where you’re going. Headlamps are key safety items in the same vein as tyres, and while new technologies are appearing on the latest models, halogen bulbs dating from the 1960s are the most common on UK roads.
Last autumn we put single-filament H7 bulbs to the test to find the best. These are used for main and dipped beams, but we concentrated on testing the latter in the Philips light tunnel. In recent years we’ve toughened up our bulb test to reduce the dependence on alignment.
We retained our proven formula of combining light readings at 50 and 75 metres, but we also measured the entire beam, calculating how much was more than 30 lumens, plus its length. We also measured the maximum light output to ensure the products were within legal limits. Overall, a tough test that provides a comprehensive measure of a bulb’s performance.
Winner: Philips RacingVision
Price: around £26 (a pair)
Price: around £23 (a pair)
Price: around £25 (a pair)
Osram Night Breaker Laser Next Generation
Price: around £29 (a pair)
Thanks to their lower price and availability, sat-nav apps are slowly replacing traditional GPS units as the first choice for drivers. Due to hi-tech features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, many of these apps can now be shared across the car’s infotainment unit, making them even more desirable.
However, traditional satellite-navigation devices still have their place in the aftermarket sector, especially because they make up for their expensive price tag with high-quality instructions and traffic alerts.
We tested eight apps, along with four more traditional portable units, to find the best devices to get you from A to B. Across both groups, we looked for clear instructions and map layouts,
an easy-to-use interface and excellent voice guidance. Traffic alerts and cleverly chosen alternative routes were also ranked. Finally, we took cost into consideration.
Winner: TomTom GO
Price: Free 47 miles per month, one-year subscription around £15Available on: iOS, Android
Price: Free 14-day trial, one-year subscription around £11Available on: iOS, Android
TomTom GO 6200
Price: around £340
Garmin DriveSmart 65 & Digital Traffic
Price: around £250
Best dash cams
A dash cam is currently one of the most popular aftermarket purchases for drivers. These can prove crucial in successfully pursuing an insurance claim, which is why some providers offer discounts of as much as 20 per cent for motorists who have a dash cam installed.
The latest units on the market now record in crystal-clear 4K footage, and feature smartphone compatibility so that you can easily download and adjust recorded video. To find out which is the one to spend your money on, we looked at eight models. Crucial to our 2019 test was the clarity of footage. Dash cams that captured clear images in all driving conditions, and also picked out important details such as registration plate numbers, received the highest scores.
We also looked for an easy-to-use interface, in which changing camera and recording settings didn’t involve significant fiddling. Finally, the price of the unit was also taken into account.
Winner: Nextbase 612GW
Price: around £250
Price: around £400
Thinkware Q800 Pro
Price: around £269
Price: around £140
Best cordless vacuums
With no cable to hinder progress, a cordless vacuum is a safer and more convenient way to clean your car’s cabin. Carpets, trim and seats are constantly under attack from mud, leaves, abrasive grit, dust and food, especially during the winter months. It pays to keep your interior clean; apart from being nicer to drive, a fresh and well-maintained car will have a higher resale value.
We tested eight vacuums, looking for quick, efficient cleaning. Each was expected to work
for at least 15 minutes on our car, and they had to suck up an unpleasant mix of salt, rice and fine, damp grit from a thick-pile mat. We marked them for performance, usability and accessories, all balanced against the cleaner’s price.
It’s wise to regard maximum run times as a rough guide, because these are calculated with the lowest power setting and fewest accessories. Some models have a removable battery, so a second one could be charged as you work, lengthening the run time.
Winner: Vax Blade 2 Max 40V inc. Car Cleaning Kit
Price: around £249
Hoover H-Free HF18CPT
Price: around £119
Gtech Multi MK2 K9 (+ Car Kit)
Price: around £170 (+£25)
Dyson Cyclone V10 Animal
Price: around £399
Best screwdriver sets
A decent set of spanners or a ratchet and sockets may last you decades, but screwdrivers need replacing more often. That’s partly due to the fact that they are more likely to be abused – doubling up as chisels or levers, which can cause damage to the tips.
Screwdrivers can also need updating because makers change the type of fixings they use from slot or cross-heads to Torx and hex. There’s also been an improvement in handles over those you bought years ago. To find the best set to keep your tools up to date, we took 12 top-sellers into the workshop and first assessed what you get for your money. Prices were taken from a range of online sources.
We looked for common car fixings to be covered in both long and stubby forms. Handles were tested, looking for those that allowed the most force to be applied. We wanted parallel shafts for easy access and looked for hex nuts to allow for additional torque. The final factor was a decent case.
Winner: Kennedy Professional KEN-572-6040K
Price: around £33
Magnusson 6934V Six-Piece Screwdriver Set
Price: around £11
Kreator 18-Piece Screwdriver Set
Price: around £16
The pace of tyre development is getting ever faster, and a design’s life shorter, as companies strive to meet car maker and driver demands. Our 2018 test of 225/45R17 rubber, one of the biggest-selling sizes, saw not one contender from our previous test in the same size.
Another driver behind this quest for better-performing, more frugal tyres is EU labelling, which reveals performance in three areas.
We put conventional summer tyres through nine tests and took price into account. Alongside wet braking, we also assessed handling and cornering plus curved and straight aquaplaning.
In the dry we tested braking and handling plus, in the lab, rolling resistance – the key factor in fuel economy. These gave a broad picture of a tyre’s performance. We purchased the products to ensure we tested only what you can buy.
Winner: Continental PremiumContact 6
Price: around £94
Dunlop Sport Maxx RT2
Price: around £77
Michelin Pilot Sport 4
Price: around £90
Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3
Price: around £84
Every autumn, drivers start to debate whether they should switch to winter tyres as the temperatures drop. However, there can be no doubt: if you want the best tyres all year round, you do need to swap for the seasons.
To find the best for the coldest months, we first headed to Goodyear’s Arctic Centre in Saariselka, Finland, with eight 205/55R16 winter tyres for the snow tests: handling, circle, traction, and braking.
We then went to Germany and Continental’s Hanover proving ground for the wet and dry tests: braking, handling, cornering, and aquaplaning. We also rated each tyre’s fuel efficiency and factored in the price from winning online retailer Black Circles.
Winner: Continental WinterContact TS 860
Price: around £118
Hankook Winter i*cept RS2
Price: around £87
Goodyear UltraGrip Performance Gen-1
Price: around £115
Pirelli Cinturato Winter
Price: around £90
There’s no doubt that all-season tyres are the hot ticket among tyre makers, because new designs hit the market faster than any other type.
Erratic and extreme weather, plus the complication of changing tyres for the seasons, is driving this demand, with buyers looking for more security when temperatures drop. To find the best, we put six 225/45R17 contenders through the same tests as our winter tyres in Finland and Germany.
Several makers could not take part because new or upgraded models were coming but, as before, we bought our tyres to ensure we test what you can buy.
Winner: Continental AllSeasonContact
Price: around £121
Price: around £114
Goodyear Vector 4Seasons Gen-2
Price: around £120
Not enough products for you? Then take a read of our best car tyres page.