How You’re Ruining Your Car at the Car Wash, and What You can Do About It!

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re slowly killing your car at the car wash, $6 at a time! There’s a dirty little secret in the auto industry, one that I’m surprised very few people actually know about (I guess that’s why it’s a secret, huh?) Here it is: AUTOMATED CAR WASHES RUIN YOUR CAR!

So, the it’s not a secret any more, but let’s get to the heart of what’s happening, and why I believe (and pretty much everyone but auto paint shops and car wash owners agree,) that you should never take your vehicle through an automated car wash. That includes so called “touchless” washes.

Let’s start with the traditional automated wash systems. They are a series of big “soft” brushes that slap against your car to get the dirt off, in combination with soap, spray on wax, dryers, etc.

Here’s why these are ruining your paint:

If I told you that I was going to go out to your driveway and get it clean by running a belt sander over it, you’d probably punch me in the face. But, when you go through the car wash, you are basically doing the same thing. The dirt, sand, oil, soap, and water basically make a semi-liquified sand paper, that each time the brush touches your car, it scratches the clear coat, creating small scratches over the entire surface. In some cases, the damage is severe.

A Car Wash is Like Sand Paper

A Car Wash is Like Sand Paper to Your Paint

If you think the “touchless” washes are any better, think again. First of all, at least here in Montana, there is often an attendant at the wash that “helps” to pre-wash the vehicle by using his own sprayer, and most of the time he’ll break out some sort of brush. This is a nice added bonus, but with terrible results, it might help get the dirt off, but at a huge cost to your finish.

Secondly, in order to remove dirt without physically touching the vehicle with some sort of apparatus, a combination of very high pressure water, along with really harsh chemical soaps have to be used. This combination quickly removes all of the protective waxes and polishes that might be on your paint, exposing it to the elements. Even if you opt for “the works” car wash where a little spray wax is applied, you’re still not getting much protection. At the end of some washes, you have “hand drying” workers. Let’s face it, they have about a minute to get your car dry, and the towel they are using has been on every car that day, so it’s likely you’ll end up with some bonus scratches from your “touchless” wash experience.

“Come on Dude, what’s the big deal? My car looks clean, and the paint looks fine!”

Here are a few different things that happen to the finish:

  1. Paint Swirls – the little (and sometimes not so little) scratches all over your paint. You can see these easily on a really sunny day, or if you shine a bright light across the paint.

    Like liquid sand paper, car washes create microscopic scratches throughout your paint!

    Like liquid sand paper, car washes create microscopic scratches throughout your paint!

  2. Water spots – particularly with touchless washes, you’ll often get water spots and dried “wax, soap, and rinse solutions” on the paint.

    Harsh chemicals and incomplete drying can cause water spots on your paint.

    Harsh chemicals and incomplete drying can cause water spots on your paint.

  3. Trim and accessory damage – most likely, it’s not as bad as this guy, but antennas, mirrors, and wipers can feel the damage.

The damage the car wash is causing is a bit like cancer, it slowly eats away at the vehicle a little at a time (with each trip through) without you knowing it, until it comes time to sell it and you realize you need a $3500 paint job to fix it.

So, what to do? Well, of course, I’m going to tell you that your best bet is to call me and have your vehicle professionally washed by hand, right? Hey, this is my blog, and I’m allowed to do that. That’s probably the best answer actually. Have your car professionally detailed with hand washing, dry, and a protective wax put back on it to protect the finish. Especially during the Winter, when options are scarce for washing your car yourself. Even if you hire another company, PLEASE do your car a favor and avoid automated washes.

But, if you’re more of a DIY person, what you need to do is learn how to properly hand wash your car in your driveway (or garage even). In my next blog entry, I’ll give you the tools, tips, and tricks to get that done, so check back soon!

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