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Are Automatic Car Washes a Good Idea?

Exactly what you need to know, but no one will ever tell you.

The lure of the automatic car wash is tempting. For a few dollars, you can coast through a cloud of soap and bubbles, and listen as the water cascades over your car, all without ever unbuckling your seatbelt.

Unfortunately, the dirty secret of the automatic car wash industry is that their techniques cause swirls, scratches, and marring to a car’s paint. Instead of removing the dirt, automatic or “hands free” car washes can drive dirt and grit deeper into your car’s finish.

Recycled water.

In keeping with the “green” trends, most automatic car washes are either required or incentivized to reclaim and reuse their water. If this reclaimed water isn’t filtered correctly, then contaminated, dirty water from all the cars before you is being blasted onto your paint. Kind of like hopping into 2nd hand bathwater.

Acid, anyone?

What appears to be harmless lather sprayed onto your car, is actually a combination of harsh chemicals. These chemicals not only dissolve the dirt, but the acid component (yes- acid) will strip off the protective coating of wax or sealant on your car.

The helpful rotating brush that scrub-a-dubs isn’t cleaned between washes so any contamination on the brush gets vigorously applied, causing swirls and scratches in your paint.

Big Blast of Water

The final touch, a blast of high-pressured water, can drive any remaining dirt and contaminants into your car’s paint, which is the opposite of what you actually want. Another common issue with spraying high pressured water at your car is that it finds its way into cracks and crevices which can sometimes damage electrical components not made to withstand water.

Towel, please

The drying method at the end of the automatic car wash is just silly. Eliminating water from the surface, but not from the cracks and crevices. As you drive, water and chemicals will leak out of the cracks, leaving deposits that over time etch your paint. Towels aren’t much better. All it takes is one small pebble stuck to a towel and you’ve just bought yourself a new paint job.

Proper Car Wash Solutions

Wash your vehicle yourself, or take it to a professional detailer. DIY requires minimal investment in supplies (two buckets, a wash mitt, quality microfibre towels, a microfibre waffle weave drying towel or chamois, car shampoo) and a crash course on the two-bucket method (which you can read about right here).

If you don’t have the space, the time, or if you simply prefer to have a professional detailer care for your car – check to see if they’re insured and ask to see some of their previous work. Most detailers are happy to share their knowledge, so ask plenty of questions and if they can’t help you, find a knowledgeable detailer in your area who can.

Your vehicle is a large financial investment, which by nature will depreciate over time. Keeping it looking good throughout your ownership will make owning the vehicle more enjoyable and increase its resale value when it’s time to sell.

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