By on November 5, 2015

 

car wash. shutterstock user DedMityay

Seth writes:

Sajeev,

I’ve admired your columns from afar for years, as a non-commenting TTAC reader. I especially appreciate your tenacious appreciation, possession and maintenance of cars you love. My automotive life is not nearly as exciting or robust.

While I love my cars, with two small children, a wife and a full-time job, I only have time and money for two at a time (his and hers). I aim to keep them for at least 10 years each. So, I obsess over the scratches and dents knowing I’ll be stuck with them for that long. Ridiculously, I even worry about scratches from washing them.

Which brings me to my question: What’s the best automatic car wash to use to minimize paint damage?

I’ve heard it’s best to hand-wash cars, but I don’t have time for that. I’ve seen the repeated reuse of “non-abrasive” towels from multiple prior cars by staff at detailing centers that hand wash it for you. Numerous websites demonize both touchless high pressure water spray and traditional brush-type machines, saying how each leads to paint damage.

Can you please help put this obsession to rest?

Sajeev answers:

Great question!

My thoughts on the matter are similar to this pro-detailer’s blog: the brushless/touchless/laser car wash is the best choice for you. It’s certainly not ideal, as it won’t clean as deeply as the brushed models, but those machines store dirt from previous vehicles and I doubt most car washes clean the brushes regularly enough to please the likes of our Best and Brightest.

Touchless car wash places have two other likely problems. Water is recycled and can become super salty after a wintery week. It is filtered, but to what extent? Then we have high pressure water essentially sandblasting the car’s current grime into the paint. They can’t match a carefully trained, human touch and a clean garden hose. Provided you have the time, the ideal weather, and your part of the country isn’t rationing water!

So what’s the lowdown? Always keep a regular coat of polymer-based wax on the paint, stick with touchless car washes with high quality filtration practices (check your local or state regulations on this) and you’ll be fine for 10+ years. Not to mention your vehicle’s next owner will gladly pay you extra for your effort!

Editor’s Note: Sajeev mentions paint and other visible surfaces, but there’s a lot of bare metal under your car that is just looking for the first opportunity to rust.

If you live in an area where salt is used on the roads and either 1) the temperature fluctuates around the freezing point, or 2) you keep your vehicle in a garage, it’s just as important to spray the underside of your car during the mild days of winter.

When road salt is “frozen”, it won’t cause corrosion. However, when that salt-filled slush that’s been packed to the underside of your car does finally melt, that’s when salt-triggered corrosion can really take hold.

So, if you want to do yourself a favor (and a favor for your mechanic), do this: As soon as you run through the automatic wash, drive your car over to one of the self-service wand wash bays, drop a couple bucks in the meter and spray away all that semi-frozen salty slush from the underside of your car.

[Image: Shutterstock user DedMityay]

Send your queries to [email protected]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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83 Comments on “Piston Slap: Hands-on Questions for the Touchless Car Wash?...”


  • avatar
    energetik9

    Hand wash, hand wash, hand wash. I just refuse to use a drive through.

    Totally agree on rust prevention. Keep your car garaged, and on mild days, use a garden sprinkler under your car. Run for approx 10 minutes per corner. It will do far better than the 2 second undercarraige spray at the car wash.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I’m a fan of the cheap DIY-wand carwash bays over the more expensive drive-through units. As you mentioned with the at home alternative, you can really focus in on getting every nook and cranny on the underside of the vehicle.

      My rust prevention strategy includes a coat of Fluid Film before winter hits (wheelwells, backs of steel bumpers, fender lips, entire body underside and frame (including inside of frame), special focus on fuel and brake lines. I typically do this operation right as I swap over to winter wheels. The truck is already on 4 jackstands and wheel wells have excellent access with all of the wheels off. I cover the brake rotors/calipers with plastic bags, and go to town. Once I commit to driving the vehicle on salted/slushy roads, I will keep it outside and not inside of a warm garage. If the weather starts to warm up I will drive to a DIY carwash and spend a solid 5 minutes spraying off the underside, then park the truck in the garage.

      Sounds totally over the top but rust is truly just about the only thing that can cause an old 4Runner problems.

      The much newer Civic gets none of the above, to me it is simply a conveyance to get to and from work efficiently, not worth trying to ‘preserve’ it to the same degree, and newer Hondas are quite resilient to rust anyhow.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Hmm so Mr. Rust guy,

        Given we live in similar climate, do you think I should put a cover on my new DeVille for the winter times when it snows? Likely I will drive it on the nicer days. I hate parking any car outside, but only one garage space – plenty of driveway room.

        Has been thoroughly Zeibarted when new, do I need more KROWN or Fluid Film or something each year?

        Or should I be worried more about the undersides of my M, which gets parked in semi-warm (maybe 48F) garage during winter?

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          You need Krown, preferably on both but especially on the one parked outside for extended periods.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            How will I EVER know it’s you without your hazard pic!?

            After you get Krown, does your car drip sludge and stuff for a week or something?

            PS. I’m going to the RX * 3 + GTUs’s viewing where Chris T will be on Sunday. It’s five mins from my house.

          • 0 avatar

            I’d argue the vehicle in the garage needs more rust prevention than the one parked outside. If a vehicle is going from warm to cold to warm environments every day, there’s a higher chance of rust versus the car that just stays outside in the cold all the time.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Corey

            Well after four years I think I needed a change, just get used to Cillian Murphy’s staring. To answer your question, yes it drips a little but was probably fine after 2 days. You’re going where?

            @mark

            I won’t disagree, from what I recall rust occurs the most during the thaw period from cold to warm. If I was Corey I would have been garaging the Cadillac and not the M though. Why? I would been keeping the Caddy longer than my M in the long run and the M prob has heated seats and remote start whereas I believe the Cadillac does not.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks for the input both of you.

            @28 Just figured it was you, couldn’t tell it was him, lol. Chris is going to see the RX from the article on Sunday, along with the guys other 3 he owns. And I’ll be attending.

            I can’t force myself to put something outside in the elements that’s worth 9X more than the old Caddy, and have it prematurely age.

            No heated seats, I don’t believe that was an option until the K-body. No remote start on either actually. I have not checked to see if it has the engine block heater option, because I dunno where the cord is under hood.

            Likely on days with snow I will just use the M for the AWD anyway.

            You think a cover will make much difference overall?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Oh the 89 Rx-7? I saw the headline but didn’t read the piece. My aunt had an 88 with t-tops growing up, I’m not that into them.

            I still push for Krown on both of them, my GP’s rear wheelwells rusted the 2nd and 3rd year I owned it, got it done in the 4th and didn’t need a repair this summer. Going again on the 23rd. Covers help but its still a PITA bc you have to clean off the feet of snow to lift up the cover to run the car. I used to cover the Audi, I can remember clearing two feet of snow off of it for what seemed like several times that winter and I had to pull the cover up just to run it (as opposed to just clean off the door to get in). Annoying.

            “I can’t force myself to put something outside in the elements that’s worth 9X more than the old Caddy”

            Which can be replaced more easily than the Deville. I would get a remote start for the M personally, I have it on the GP and its soooo nice (esp if its the snow beater anyway).

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I will find somewhere that does Krown, and have them done before the snow starts. Should have a few weeks still, at least.

            With the cover issue – if it has snow on it, it’ll sit til the snow melts, then I’ll drive it again! We don’t always get a lot of snow in Cincinnati, usually <10 times per winter really.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            https://www.krown.com/locations/

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Ah thanks.

            I can drive Caddy to work in the warm months, then it’ll be in a dark garage for the hottest/sunny part of the day.

            EDIT: Why is the nearest shop 1.5hrs away!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The girl at Line-X/Krown shop in Erie told me startup costs were $200K, but in 2014 to Dec they had sprayed 1,000 cars at 130-150 USD depending on config. So high startup costs but rich reward in a few years.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Wow, this thread makes me glad I live where it rarely snows and when it does no salt is used. So much effort!

        All we have to worry about is rapid oxidization of paint from frequent mist/drizzle/sun cycles and, for cars parked outside, constant moss and lichen issues. Fortunately for me the Subaru sits in a carport and the Lexus is garaged so no such issues. (And if I buy an old Acura it will be garaged too, in a relative’s unused garage.)

        Edit: 28, you’re throwing off the color content of this comment section! I think I may have to color-wheel my Banana Jr. red to compensate.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      In an ideal world yea. Problem is most of us don’t have time or space to drag out a hose and do hand washes, especially those of us who live in big cities.

      And in the winter you can’t hand wash anyway if you live in a cold climate, unless you have a heated garage with good drainage and everything waterproofed.

      Wands or touchless drive throughs are the way to go. Been doing it for years with no I’ll effects.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Sounds spot on. I am quite happy to live in a part of the country where they use traction aids besides salt. (I say that with the first snowfall of the year currently outside my window.)

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    So sorry but the wand type washes are old school and in this part of the country do not exist. Not regulation just economics.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      Ah DC metro, where land is the the limited resource but money is the ultimate infinitely renewable, limitless resource.

      Where the local Chrysler/Chevy dealer is now Chrysler Acres*, elegant upscale townhomes selling for 1,000,000 each, The local Scracth-O-Matic car wash is $30, and the CamrCordIma rules, TownCars and 300’s exist soley for black car service of our elected betters, and Camaro;s, Mustang’s, and Jeep’s are bought ironically by insanely wealthy Chinese foreign students from George Washington University.

      Brave new world. Time to go Prius shopping.

      *Pike3400 Housing Development, formerly the only Chrysler/Chevy dealer inside the beltway in Virginia

      • 0 avatar
        manny_c44

        The worst part is that the flow of money is not just parasitically drained from the national trust, but indeed it is all ‘theoretical future tax dollars’. A loan taken on yours and your childrens’ names, to fund social engineering projects aimed at you of course! Get into your Leaf breeder!

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Just move to PGC, we keep it real, yo. Where you can still buy a 4-bedroom house for $300K or less, and have plenty of parking for your cars. And a hell of a lot less traffic to drive them in.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I lived in downtown DC and drove about 20 minutes into near PGC to find a wand carwash. Wasn’t even too ghetto.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I’m also a big fan of “Laserwash” brand touchless car washes. I never use the scrubby car washes, and find that of the touchless ones, Laserwash seems to do the best job by a gigantic margin. The $7 “Deluxe” wash seems to (incredibly) provide a coating of liquid wax that keeps my finish beading acceptably for months.

    It ain’t a hand wash, but it’s certainly the next best thing.

    Pro Tip: Never, EVER, let a charity car wash wash your car. If you are very lucky, you’ll merely have a a dirty car at the end. If you aren’t, you’ll have trenches carved in your paint after they use the same sponge and bucket that they just used to scrub the rear quarter-panel of some off-roader.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Home car washing is not worth the time, materials or effort. An automatic touchless car wash with an under-car spray that flushes away damaging winter road deicing salt will best keep your car clean, shiny and looking new. Bird droppings are acidic. Remove them promptly with water and automotive soap, rinse thoroughly. Household detergent will damage the finish.

    Manual washing, waxing and polishing creates visible permanent swirls in the clearcoat, as will a car wash that soaps the car with cloth strips, brushes or sponges. Rubbing Compound will remove the clearcoat layer.

    Wax makes water “bead” on the car’s surface but it’s an unnecessary property that does nothing to keep it new looking. If you like the beading effect have the car wash apply spray wax as part of the finishing process.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I’ve found the best soap to use is no soap. Just a rinse as normal, a bucket of clean/clear water and wash mitt. Then rinse and towel dry. The paint still shines like new, after 12 years of this.

      Even if there’s grease and fingerprints I’m leaving behind, they can’t hurt the paint, can they?.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I think it’s silly to not use a clearcoat safe automotive detergent when washing the car. In addition to helping lift off grease/bugs/brakedust/etc, the added lubricity of the soap will help prevent inadvertent swirl marks in the paint due to the wash mitt and small bits of dirt that get lodged in it.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          The lubricity of soap is overrated. If there’s enough rocks on the mitt to scratch it, soap wont stop it. I’ve yet to have a problem getting bugs, grease or brake dust off. If I leave behind grease film or a bug leg or two that’s not really visible at 30 ft or 30 mph for the next wash, so be it.

          • 0 avatar
            IHateCars

            “The lubricity of soap is overrated.”

            Sorry, totally false statement. I suspect that your clearcoat (if there’s any left) has micro-marring all over it. You may not be able to see it, but I assure you that you’re slowing grinding off your clearcoat.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It still shines like new, with 12+ years of just water in the bucket. If you have to get out a microscope to see the scratches, they’re not really there as far as I’m concerned.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            No use in arguing, DenverMike is the same guy that literally almost never changes the oil in his vehicles :) What was it, 75k oil change intervals?

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Let’s not get crazy… Full synthetic will go 100,000! But I started questioning the use of car wash detergent when they wanted $2.95 for a 12 oz bottle back in ’92. And I’ve never looked back. I can only imagine what they want today.

            Worse case, I’ve saved enough for a paint job, let alone a good detailing/buffing.

    • 0 avatar
      PickupMan

      Going to disagree with you, Gardiner, PROPER hand washing does not create “visible permanent swirls….” as you describe.

      Do a google search for “two bucket car wash.” This method is very safe when done properly, and does not put a haze of visible swirls in paint.

      Those gauzy-looking visible swirls from improper washing are also not permanent. Any competent detailer can remove them with a very mild machine polish that removes a very minimal/insignificant amount of clearcoat.

      Michael Derleth
      http://www.GreatReflectionsDetailing.com

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      There are undoubtedly beneficial properties of wax that keep finishes new looking. Wax and sealants provide a layer of protection above your paint to protect it from damage. They also provide an appealing shine. Water beading isn’t the desired outcome; it’s a property that shows you still have a layer of wax on your car. Nothing more.

      Rubbing compound is for repairing already damaged finishes by removing paint. That’s the entire point. It’s not part of a typical car wash routine.

      Doing a simple two bucket wash with a chamois cloth takes about ten minutes and looks worlds better than 90% of car wash services,at a cost of less than 50 cents. Do it right, and there will be no swirls. Newer waxes have fewer swirl problems too. And it’s totally erroneous to say that swirls are “permanent,” unless you’re actually talking about surface scratches from using dirty equipment (which are also often removable with a little effort).

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        “Doing a simple two bucket wash with a chamois cloth takes about ten minutes”

        Do you work in the pit lane at NASCAR? It takes at least 25 to thoroughly soap it up. And overall at least an hour and a half if you’re doing wax.

        • 0 avatar
          Dingleberrypiez_Returns

          Try and time yourself, I bet it takes less time than you think. Obviously the car size matters, and how dirty it is already. 10 minutes might be optimistic, but it definitely takes me closer to ten than 25. If I’m extremely detailed on the wheels, it may take up to 20-25.

          Waxing can take an extra hour, I’ll give you that. But I only wax every 3-6 months. Plus, car wash places charge an arm and a leg for hand waxing. Also, there are many many new wax products that take less time. Lately I’ve been using a Meguiar’s wax/sealant that is applied to the ENTIRE car before buffing out… cuts the application time by at least a third, and looks great. I’m also hand buffing- with a powered buffer you can cut that time down further.

          If you feel that the convenience and saved time of having someone else wash your car outweighs the benefits of doing it yourself, I totally understand. But it’s wrong to say that wax does nothing; that hand washing has to damage paint; and that the materials are too much of an investment.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I can try and time it, I’m just never wearing a watch when I’m washing, and keep my phone well away inside the house.

            I wax every time I wash, with that Turtle Ice Wax. I’ve never used the paste wax on anything.

          • 0 avatar
            brenschluss

            Since I like to keep my car perfectly dirty on the outside, the only thing I know about hand-washing comes from those interminably boring AMMO videos. So I assumed it takes a day because you must use four different products for different areas of the car, plus wash, clay, seal, wax, polish, and a sacrificial slaughter.

            I prefer the air-buff method which involves simply hitting your car’s top speed as often as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “Household detergent will damage the finish.” Not directly true. What it will do is remove, very effectively and quickly, all wax and protectant. So if you are looking to polish the car and then apply new layer(s) of protectant, starting with a detergent wash can actually be a good thing.

      I use my own sponge and chamois at a wand wash. Works perfectly.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    One thing about touchless car washes is that the high pressure spray can push debris and salt past brake caliper seals.

    I’ve never seen any formal studies, but there seems to be a high anecdotal correlation between touchless car washes and seized calipers, especially if you have very open wheels that don’t protect the calipers.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      But the piston is on the inside face of the caliper, right? I could see the piston getting wet from water bouncing all over the wheel well (no different from driving through water), but not water getting “forced” past the piston boot; there’s just no path from the washer jet to the piston that doesn’t involve bouncing off a whole lot of things first.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Don’t forget the sliders, they are outside of the diameter of the rotors. Many high performance cars have calipers on both sides of the rotors, but I’ve seen this issue with inside calipers as well. I presume that high-pressure water bounces off-of the calipers or wheels toward the piston(s).

  • avatar
    mchan1

    Hand wash in the warmer months but car wash in the colder months.

    If you live in the cold weather regions like New England or the upper midwest, ALWAYS wash the Underside of your vehicle to minimize corrosion/rust.

    Take a look at the undersides of ‘northern’ cars to see the damage done by salt/brine solutions used during the winter months.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Not sure about the current status, but years ago, at least a couple of the luxury car makers (including specifically Mercedes) recommended against hand washing and touchless washes, instead recommending one particular style of brushed-wash (Hannah something or other?).

    Regardless, I hand wash, because it just seems the least intrusive.

  • avatar
    Fred

    No matter how you wash the car the most important thing is to use a lot of clean water. Also my retirement house in California is under drought restrictions and washing your car is forbidden, so you have to use a car wash where the water is recycled. Find a good one where they maintain the filters.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Can you like… wash it in secret in the back yard or something? Or at night.

    • 0 avatar

      Same here in Austin. I’m terrified to take my Alfa to the carwash, but I’m also scared to wash it at home.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Is washing your car completely forbidden, or just washing without a nozzle to stop the flow of water? I think that’s the case in my town in the Bay Area.

      Washing at home is always a pain in the Bay Area regardless of drought, since all the drains lead to the bay. You need to find a spot where the runoff doesnt reach the drain and the ground can absorb it instead.

      I use the rinseless wash soaps and a two bucket method. It works really well if the car isn’t completely filthy. I think it uses three gallons tops, and I only get around to it once a month. It is tough to clean the wheels without a hose though. If the car is a mess from driving through dirt parking lots or similar, I rinse that off at a car wash, which is also a good time to clean the wheels.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I’ve ran my GMC crew cab through the ole whip n scratch too many times to count over the 11+ years I’ve owned it. The whole truck still looks great. It’s black, so it shows all of the scratches in the sunlight. But none of them look like they came from the car wash but more from use. With a good buffing the truck would look like new.

    The paints on new cars are so tough & durable these days I’m not sure I’d ever worry about any type of car wash permanently hurting the finish.

    And to the OP, welcome to the world of kids. The GMC Sierra has a big chip in one of the doors where my oldest son picked up a rather large landscaping rock and chucked it at it while it was siting in the driveway. I put $1500 into the Tahoe at the body shop this fall to fix some small dents and scratches. That was home for less than 2 weeks before I noticed a dent and 3 gouges right down to ( the metal in the paint on the front drivers side fender. Of course no one has a clue how that happened!……LOL(I’m 99.9% certain it happened at home)

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      I’m pretty much in that camp.

      When I *bother* to wash my cars [maybe once a month on the new Volvo, once a year on the F250, to keep moss from growing on it – “is truck, is not show car”], it’s in a normal non-touchless car wash.

      Over the years, with other cars, I’ve seen sun and road cause far more damage than the car wash.

      Unless your car’s a pristine sports car or super-collectible that already has perfect paint … *let it go*.

      (This is especially true of us in the “drive it until it’s intolerably falling apart” camp.

      Car already ain’t gonna have any resale value. Paint ain’t gonna change that.)

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    whoops double post

  • avatar
    jfbramfeld

    I’ve been around long enough to have gotten rid of cars because the body is just too embarrassing, I’ve resorted to rust protection scams of the last century. I had body guys fix rusted panels on more than a few occasions.

    I have not had to do anything like that since my 1990 Towncar. That particular car was sold to my neighbor at 100,000 miles, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because 100,000 miles made me nervous. He took it to 250k. My replacement 1998 Towncar was sold to him for the same reason in 2005 at 140,000 miles. I garaged it at night when it was mine, but it received full sun all day, five days a week for seven years. Since 2005 it has been parked in the street. I have no idea how many miles that car has. The paint still looks great.
    I did all that without ever once hearing the word “Panther.”

    I have used a touchless system exactly once. It didn’t get the car remotely clean. If I had a Bentley, I probably wouldn’t use a spinning fabric cleaner, but with a Towncar, my Jaguar S-Type, my wife’s CR-V, I would rather have a clean car (well, clean several times a year) now than a car with perfect paint while someone else drives it 20 years from now.

    Nor do I use a car bra. I couldn’t afford the car bra protector or the car bra protector wax.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Interesting thread .

    When I lived Down East in the 1960’s the drive through automated car washes all had under carriage sprays to rinse off the accumulated salt and ice . is this a thing of the past ? .

    It was an important thing to do , wash the car (more often truck back then) on any remotely warm day in Winter to get that damn salt off .

    Here in Sunny So. Cal. , I use a local , getting very tired brushless car wash thing , it works well and even has an (extra co$t naturally) rotary brush thingie (technical term there) that manages to scrub the wheels and tires clean of brake dust without knocking the hubcaps off nor damaging the alloy or painted wheels .

    I prefer to gently hand wash using of course a hose bib and bucket of clean soapy water with a freshly washed car mitt but that’s rather painful as I’m disabled so I save my physical ability for the Mechanical repairs and let the magic machine do the washing these dayze .

    I just wish they’d fix whatever went amiss on the drying blower as no matter how slowly I drive through it , it no longer leaves the car drop less .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    I mostly hand wash because it removes the really solid dirt most touchless washer miss.
    However, I also agree that the #1 rule is to hand polish your car twice a year.
    My very fav is Klasse…a German product. Easy on and not to difficult to remove even is I allow to get to dry.
    You are directed to remove while still wet.
    I just cannot complete the work in and still get ‘er all off before I get to really dried parts.
    However…even my oldest cars still have looks like new.
    I never use washes with brushed….

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      There are a few car washes in around me in MN where they towel down your vehicle after it comes out of the automatic car wash. My black CC GMC Sierra PU is huge and a PITA to wash. For what they charge, even with a tip, it’s easier to just have it done and it usually looks as good or better than when I do it myself.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        do these great places operate in the horrible, engine heater required MN winters?
        If so…great God! what a nice option.
        The have these in some southern Cal. areas.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          ‘do these great places operate in the horrible, engine heater required MN winters?”

          Yes. During the winter is when I’ll use them. Especially when it’s really cold out. They towel them off inside a warm building.

          The change of seasons is why I’ll never leave MN. Oh and the 10,000 freshwater lakes!….LOL

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Do not recommended touchless car washes for older cars; especially ’80-’90s Fords and Mercedes with the PVC bumpers; I have watched them erode the paint on the front bumper away to the bare material. Other similar plastic and rubber parts may also be damaged, as well as clear coat that is already beginning to fail.

    Also the brush car washes do not recommend using them with older cars; the brushes can cause loss trim pieces and other parts to come off entirely; along with damage to plastic, rubber, and clear coat.

    Best bet is either by hand, or the manual wand using low pressure settings only. If you keep it waxed; that should be all you need to keep it clean anyway.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Using a touchless car wash is like taking a shower without using a washcloth; your car will be cleanER but not CLEAN. Without some kind of contact by towel, sponge, or whatever the soapy strips the car wash uses there will be a thin residual film that remains.

    BTW in my area the largest drive thru car wash chain offer a $4 “ride through” option that cleans the car but does not include hand drying by the staff. Now that I can get a high quality car wash for $4 I’ll never hand wash my own car again.

  • avatar
    carve

    I’ll use a touchless car wash after a sleety ski trip just to get the bulk of the grime off, because a hand-wash mitt would just pick up too much dirt in that scenario, and it’s also too cold out. If that’s the case, the brushed car wash would be even worse. I just think of it as a pre-rinse though and hand-wash ASAP.

    Here’s how I hand wash

    1) Warm water and car wash soap in one bucket. Wash the wheels first. Put mitt in the laundry basket

    2) Another bucket and mitt. Wash the hood and trunk first as they’ll show swirls the most. Use very little pressure, and just go back and forth rather than in circles to make any micro-scratches unidirectional. Then just go top down…roof…beltline, waist, rockers. Every couple of panels throw the mitt on the hood and give it a high-pressure blast to clean it. Do the windows last as they’re the most scratch resistant. If the mitt ever touches the ground for any reason, throw it in the laundry and get a new one. Give the whole car a final rinse when done, trying to sheet off the water, to avoid water spots and to rinse off any new dust, especially on a windy day.

    3) I dry first with a California blade to remove the bulk of the water. I wipe the blade on a rag every swipe to make sure it hasn’t picked up anything that’ll scratch the paint. Then follow with a Cobra microfiber towel. Again, use minimal pressure and move unidirectionally.

    A brushed car wash is an option for a beater or a car you don’t mind polishing now and then.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Oh, and for my washing record – it’s hand washing with the wand at the nearby place, or hand washing in the driveway. I realized not long ago that the “Drag the stuff out and put it back.” adds in annoyance and 20 minutes of time, so I started going to the hand wash more often.

    Unless it’s one of the bi-annual details interior/leather/exterior I do in November and May, at which point it’s always driveway work.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I’m probably ill-equipped to comment on this, as I routinely take several hours to clean a car! Multiple buckets, multiple mitts, many, many, many towels…not to mention other things like Q-tips and such. I shy away from both touchless and the slap -n- scratch washes as I’ve seen enough damage to paint and finish to trust them. Besides, I kind of like the zen aspect of spending an entire afternoon cleaning a car! Tedious and time-consuming, to be sure…but it has paid off at time of sale, and personal satisfaction has to count for something, doesn’t it?

  • avatar
    shaker

    I do NOT use the undercarriage wash any longer at the touchless (choose the cheapest option to do that). You will force briny water into the most inaccessible parts of the undercarriage, and it will stay there for a long time, to be activated by humidity to cause corrosion of brake and fuel lines. I’ll manually spray the wheel wells a bit, at the “sir Squirts-a-Lot” to remove caked salt.
    Any properly designed car will minimize salt splash to these inaccessible areas in normal driving; if you must, spray it with a garden hose in the late spring which will give it plenty of time to dry out.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    A few years back I tried Dr Bronner’s Castile soap, the liquid stuff. It worked great and did an excellent job at removing break dust from the rims. It doesn’t seem to effect the clear coat or strip the wax.
    Plus, left my car smelling kind of minty for the rest of the day.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, the City of Austin seems to have permanently banned at-home car washing by making our Stage 2 drought water usage requirements permanent. The fine is $500.
    Worse, I have a leaky old Alfa Romeo that can’t tolerate high pressure carwashes, so my only option is to take it to a professional hand washing business and pay $150 to have it cleaned, or break the law.
    Ugh.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    I also like to hand wash, it is easier weather wise in the south. But after I was with soap and water buckets, I usually use a blower, like a leaf blower to get rid of most of water on surface before finally drying with couple plush microfiber cloths.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    Touch less car washes use harsh chemicals for the paint, especially when they offer a pre-soak cycle. Caked and baked on dirt and road film will not come off with high pressure and soap alone; 9 times out of 10 you need some sort of friction on there.

    I prefer to wash myself at home but it’s not always practical. I use a local Mom and Pop wash shop that takes about 30 minutes as the car is pulled to the side and cleaned inside and out.

    One of my high school jobs was working at a touch less car wash. On a typical “warm” winter day we would do over 1000+ cars in 10 hours, but anything over 400 was doing pretty good. Each box of soap was 25 lbs mixed with 250 gallons of water, and they would wheel in 55 gallon drums of “pre soak” which was acidic to remove the initial layer of dirt and grime. What the customer did not know was that regardless if you paid for “wax” or not—you still got it. The “wax” was designed to help sheet water away during the drying process—-we had “no spot” rinse because the water was de-ionized. All SUV’s and windshields were manually scrubbed using a bubble brush before entering the wash bay; nothing more annoying when you have those “eyebrows” on the windshield after getting the car washed.

    We also had 6 “self service” bays that you could wash yourself. It was a royal PAIN to keep the lines from freezing in the winter, even with a weep system pumping hot water through there. The “bubble” brushes used hogs hair to help prevent scratches —until someone with a Bro-dozer came in and used it on all the mud…which pretty much ruined a $70 brush head. We typically used “bubble gum” smelling bubble brush soap, but sometimes cherry was on sale at the distributor.

    More washes sprouted in the area and pretty much put that place out of business. The owner barely keeps it staffed; down from 3-4 people a shift to 1 person a day, if that! The really bad part is that because of the business decline he started using cheaper chemicals so cars pretty much looked worse coming out the other side.

    The customers that came through that place sometimes made you wonder on how they ever received a license. From the guy who brought a pig (a live one too!) to give it a bath under high pressure, to the woman who referred the vacuum as a “suck machine”.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Touchless.. just wipe the glass inside & out with a chamois. And wipe the mirrors back up lens. No such thing as perfectly clean car. If you’re on-street parking no chance. Not even worth getting brand new.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    I’ve had good luck with the rinseless wash. Turtlewax product is sold at pep boys, but so far as I know, all the mail order brands are good. I use the “Garry Dean” method using el cheapo microfiber towels I get at Sam’s Club.

    Its convenient because you can wash the car at night in the garage, or even during inclement weather. You can even mix your hooch up in advance. Not terribly time consuming.

    I like it well enough that when the car is extra dirty I’ll go to the coin op and knock off the clumps and get the undercarriage with plain water, then do the rinseless at home.

    I have “Salt-Away” for the undercarriage, but if I lived in the salt-belt, I would get it Krowned.

    I’m in the habit of spray waxing. It doesn’t hurt and it only takes five minutes.

  • avatar
    JK43123

    I have had touchless/brushless car washes damage my vehicles. 20 years ago I said no more, only hand wash. ONLY.

    John

  • avatar
    Jasper2

    Can’t believe these comments. Who has time to make a career out of washing a car?………who gives a $hit…your time on earth is finite….go do something productive for yourself………..

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      I prefer to have a clean car. One Saturday morning a month or two isn’t being that counter productive. I HATE riding in cars that people can’t take the time to throw out trash or clean the windows—Lazy.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Do you know where you are? There are people in the world who love making a career out of car washing. Why do you say washing a car is not productive?

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Who said anything about making a career out of it? I think even the busiest people can find 45 minutes every 4-6 weeks, or an acceptable drive through wash, to ride around with some dignity.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I’m more worried about the wheels than the pain at any wash where the car is driven through. Especially so if you have wide wheels.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    A very informative thread here .

    Some one commented on Polymer based wax , I discovered it by accident 20 + years ago and am almost out of it . Granatize brand .

    What brands are available now affordably ? . like @ Pep Boys , Kragen etc. .

    I prefer a clean car but often wind up with it dusty after a short time .

    My Brother’s various vehicles are dirtier than anything you ever saw in a Junk Yard , this causes me grief , he makes fun of me washing his windows so I can at least see out =8-^ .

    -Nate


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