At the Car Wash

Dear Tracy,

I received a pack of car wash coupons as a gift. An automatic car wash seems like a great idea, especially in the winter when I cannot wash the car myself at home. But it seems like I remember hearing that regularly going through an automatic car washes is not good for a car’s paint finish. Is this true? I was also wondering if when using an automatic car wash it is best to have the recommended extras performed.

Candace B.

Dear Candace,

Don’t be worried about taking your car through an automatic car wash. While the brushes used in the car washes of the past could be a problem, the newer “brushless” car wash systems are safe. It is very important to keep your vehicle clean because long term exposure to dirt and grit will have a negative impact on paint finish, giving it an old and dull appearance. Depending upon whether the car is kept in a garage at night, parked in a lot all day, or located for extended periods under bird inhabited trees, you should typically wash your car at least once a month.

The car wash recommended extras can quickly add up from the price of a basic wash, and may not always be necessary. For example, undercarriage rust-proofing may not be as beneficial as it sounds. Rust-proofing is effective when it is applied to brand-new metal, which seals it from contact with road corrosives like salt. Typically new cars receive a thorough rust-proofing at the factory during assembly. This treatment should be sufficient, with no further treatments required. The one extra that may be wise to indulge in a few times a year would be an underbody wash. It is important to keep that area of the vehicle clean of damaging debris, and it may not be as easy to do a thorough job with a home wash.

One final tip when going through a car wash is to come prepared for the last step – the towel dry. Although most automatic car washes have high power blowers for drying, the car may still come out wet. Bring a clean towel from home and dry it yourself before heading back on the road. Some car washes may do this step for you, but make sure they are using fresh towels on each car.