Piston Slap: A Modest Proposal For a Shiny Ride

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap a modest proposal for a shiny ride

TTAC commentator raded writes:


I recently bought a new car for the first time. Up until 9 months ago, I had been driving a 1995 Buick Regal coupe that wore scratches and dents like badges of honor. After the transmission went out, I drove a hand-me-down 2002 Saturn L200 that had spent the majority of its life behind a motor home. In eight years of ownership, I took the Buick through an automatic car wash maybe three times and never washed it by hand (I live in Portland, Oregon. It rains almost nonstop October through May. That’s kind of like a car wash, right? Right??). Recently I took the Saturn through a car wash for the first time simply because I’m trying to sell it.

Now my fiancée and I have a pretty blue 2012 Mazda3 hatchback. For the first time in my life, I have a car that I want to keep looking good.

Trying to find an answer through Google hasn’t helped at all. There are groups that swear by every conceivable option. I’d love to hear that spending $5 at an automatic car wash every 3-4 weeks is all I need to do, but I’m not so sure, especially after reading about detailers regularly blaming automatic car washes for “swirling” that has occurred. And since it’s essentially an economy car, I’m also not willing to spend an hour hand washing it 3-4 times a week. Honestly I’d prefer to avoid hand washing altogether. I’m looking for a happy medium – something that will keep it looking clean without ruining the clear coat or turning it in to a huge time sink. What do you think?

Love the writeups.

Sajeev answers:

Yo, can you walk over to that Red Robin so I can HAZ CHEEZBURGER? Perhaps I shouldn’t write these Piston Slaps on an empty stomach. Hmm!

But seriously, you’d prefer to not hand wash? Everyone wishes we could have something for nothing…but that ain’t happening, son. Perhaps a touchless car wash in your area, and perhaps Yelp is your friend. Or not.

If an employee towel dries your ride after the car wash, will their towel add more fine scratches? Which turn into significant paint damage 5-10 years from now? Quite possible, if you really care.

There’s no right answer here: wash it yourself, lovingly wax it 1-2 times a year with a polymer-based Wax…and be grumpy that you have to do all the manual labor. Go to a touchless car wash place, let them wax it regularly, pay big money and wonder if they are too harsh in the long term.

So, tapping into my vast brilliance (giggling) when it comes to car care, here’s my suggestion: let the touchless guys in your area do the regular cleaning, but you do the big stuff 1-2 times a year. Wash, Wax and enjoy a shiny blue Mazda. And don’t forget the clay bar on occasion, too.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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  • CelticPete CelticPete on May 02, 2013

    What I do is I go to a pressure wash place and wash my car once a week - and wax it with quick wax. (I feel the pressure washers take off most of your paste wax so its not worth doing very often). I use a two bucket approach (So you rinse of your sponge in one bucket). And I use the pressure wash to fill the buckets and rinse the car. Handwashing is the only way to avoid the little scratches. They do however make this stuff called "Wash and Wax anywhere" which you can spray on and dust your car with. (I use two microfiber cloths) one to smooth out the stuff and the other to take it off. Done right you won't scratch it. I wouldn't use it on a seriously dirty car. My car is generally clean from the once a week wash. Another option would be to use a two bucket approach and a no rinse car wash. I don't even have a yard so I can't do that.. But there has been some improvement in the car wash world. Both the spray on stuff and the no rinse stuff actually seems to work. That being said if I had a mazda I would just use the drive through ones. I mean you want it to be clean but its a mazda no offense..dude.

  • Mnm4ever Mnm4ever on May 02, 2013

    Its quite funny reading the "detailing guys" comments. The OP asks for the easy way to keep a car looking good and they rattle off a list that I wouldn't even do and I am pretty OCD about my car, and that's their "easy list". "2 thin coats of wax, let each cure overnight... clay bar... etc?? Detailers are kind of like audiophiles, they are extremely critical of anything less than the BEST. I am all for hand washing when possible, but the fact is, most people do not have the time to do it properly. I live in Florida and the sun is so hot that water spots form before I even finished one side of the car. It is very hard to find shade where I can also wash. When I hand wash I do it in the evening. It still takes me 2 hrs to do a proper job, and that's not waxing, that's just washing. Normal people will not do what I do, let alone what a detail guy will do. For what it's worth, I take all my cars to the car wash a lot and I don't have a problem with swirl marks, and my car is black. Just keep it waxed and find a good reputable place. A lot of them are owned by real car guys who actually care and do a good job. For what the OP is trying to do, paying $10-12 every couple weeks for a Full Service will be fine. Wax it a couple times a year with some decent wax. I hate NuFinish it looks like some fake gloss coating, I like the carnuba based wax. Or just pay the $30 and have the car wash do it. The most important part for you isn't how you clean it as much as it is keeping it clean. If you let it get bad then getting it looking good again is hard. Just keep it clean and maintain it and the job is easy.

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