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  • Writer's pictureLewis Fair - Founder

Why it's time to skip the automatic car wash

Skip the automatic car wash and let a professional care for your paint
Skip the automatic car wash and let a professional care for your paint.

They’re convenient, cheap, and fast - but in the same way that fast food does damage to your body, automatic car washes do damage to your car’s paint.

Here are 5 reasons you should be skipping the automatic car wash:

#1 - Harsh chemicals and cleaning products

Automatic car washes are designed to turn out as many cars as possible - it’s how their owner makes a buck. With that mentality comes cut corners and unnecessarily aggressive cleaning products.

The average automatic car wash can take anywhere from 3 - 7 minutes. It is virtually impossible to remove all of the dirt on your paint with proper, gentle car wash soap in that little time. In their place, car washes use cleaning agents laced with hydrofluoric acid and other aggressive chemicals to help break down the dirt and fine particles on your paint quickly. Unfortunately, these chemicals can also break down and remove any form of paint protection (like waxes or sealants) you’ve applied.

Proper wash technique uses the most gentle methods of cleaning first, using solutions designed specifically for automotive paint. Professional Detailers will then move to more aggressive methods of cleaning only if absolutely required and only in the areas necessary.

#2 - Excessive water pressure

While most car washes will use some form of pressurized water, and even professionals use high pressure water to help remove dirt, the pressures used in automatic car washes are far higher and can turn small rock chips into large chunks of missing paint.

While smaller paint chips are usually an easy repair, large areas with stripped paint will undoubtedly require a panel respray, at least.

#3 - Poor cleaning and aggressive methods

Big brushes are hard to find in car washes these days, but their replacement isn’t much better. Those floppy cleaning strips are no better for your paint than the rotating brushes used for decades.

Let me ask you something - When was the last time you heard of those strips being cleaned? That’s right, it’s a rare occurrence. This means that with every swing and slap of those agitating strips, the dirt and grime from your car (and every car before you) is being pressed into and dragged along your paint.

Proper wash technique requires a clean wash mitt (every time) and at least two containers - one for clean, soapy water and one for rinsing. This keeps the wash mitt clean, and the dirt and grime in a dedicated rinse container.

#4 - Drying technique

Once you’ve attacked your paint with acidic pre-wash chemicals and scratched it during the wash process, it’s time for an express drying. Here there are two options, both equally as bad.

The first involves blowing heated air at your paint. This likely will not damage your paint directly, but since they can never dry your car completely, you can be left with water spots that develop when you bring your wet car back into the sun for it to dry. Water spot removal often requires polishing to remove the hardened minerals that have bound themselves to your paint.

The second option is a hand dry performed by a team of attendants. Now, we don’t want to throw shade on these guys, because they likely work very hard and are doing what they’re told.

What we can say is that it is rare that the towels used to dry your car are clean, let alone high quality microfiber. Since we know that the cleaning process doesn’t do a great job removing all of the dirt from your car (and the others before you), that means that the remaining dirt is now being dragged along it by the drying team and their dirty towels.

Proper drying technique starts with using filtered water in your wash process to avoid mineral deposits, and finishes with many clean microfiber towels. Professionals will often use a drying aid to help lubricate while drying.

#5 - They’ll cost you in the long run

The $10 the automatic car wash costs you feels like a deal, right? Your car is clean and you didn’t have to so much as turn on the hose.

Not so fast. Repeated use of these car washes will do real, noticeable damage to your paint, and it doesn’t take long. The next time you’re in a parking lot, take a good look at many of the black cars you pass. While black is not the only color that is affected, it is the color where car wash damage is easiest to notice. From 20 feet the paint may look OK, but the closer you get, the more you’ll notice the swirls and scratches that are the result of the modern automatic car wash.

Don’t feel like inspecting random cars? Fair. Here are some examples we’ve had come through our shop:

This paint damage will bring down the resale value of the car if not repaired before it is sold. So ask yourself, is it worth it to save money on car washes, if it means you lose hundreds or thousands of dollars on the eventual sale of your car?

Not all of us are taught to avoid the automatic car wash, and that’s OK. Our team of professionals can bring your paint to a better-than-showroom finish with one of our paint correction services - all we ask is that you promise to never bring it to an automatic car wash again!

Give us a call and we'll be happy to guide you in the right direction.

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