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Shocking Issues From Washing Your Car

by | Mar 16, 2021

If your car is having problems you didn’t previously have before the wash, it is possible that these problems were caused by the wash itself. It is great that modern technology allows us to sit in our vehicles while a machine washes and scrubs away the dirt for us and even waxes the vehicle, however something many individuals don’t know is that it can be incredibly damaging for the car to go through these automated washing machines.

Damaging components vary from the chemical soaps and the brushes which can carry all sorts of outside contaminants like dirt and rocks that can scratch the heck out of your vehicle. Some people even report engine misfires, poor fuel efficiency and starting issues directly after a wash though this is rare and generally isn’t a symptom of the car wash but of other issues the car already had. 

Car Washes Can Be Damaging To Your Vehicle

Yes! Car washes are without a doubt damaging to your vehicle. With this being said, a lot of things are bad for your vehicle and a car wash likely isn’t going to severely damage the car, truck or SUV. However it does depend on what type of car wash you go to because many are worse than others. Even washing and waxing your car by hand can cause micro scratches on the vehicle when you are as cautious and careful as can be. Rubbing soap will help to lubricate and lift off the dirt, but you’re still grinding the dirt into the paint when you wash it.

Automated car washes are the worst way to go if you are trying to avoid damaging your vehicle. Below, we’ve listed common car issues associated with car washes and how you can mitigate them.

Car Problems Caused By Washing The Vehicle

Scratches

Scratches are the most common issues which are caused by car washes. They are caused by you hand washing a car no matter how careful you are, before you hop off this article, let me explain! When you hand wash your vehicle you are likely exposing it to micro scratches from the dirt being removed. When you press the sponge or towel to the vehicle to clean it, you are also rubbing the dirt and contaminant particles into the paint. Obviously it is worse for your car not to wash it and wax it at all so let me be clear in saying that washing and waxing the vehicle by hand or going to a professional detailer who does is YOUR BEST OPTION.

Now that we’ve discussed what the best way to wash and wax your car is, let’s get into the worst.. Automated car washing systems. The machines that spray fun foam all over your car and flash fun colors are going to be one of the worst things you can do to your paint. The big spinning brushes carry with the m all the dirt and sand picked up from the other vehicles that went through the car wash before you. Combine this with a high velocity spinning motion and you are asking for scratches.

The best way to prevent this damage is to stop using high powered car washes like this. They are cheap and convenient but when they damage your vehicle, you’ll know they aren’t worth it. You should especially avoid these machines if they are old, poorly maintained, or if you’re behind a particularly dirty vehicle. We know not all of you will avoid them all together so be choosey if you do decide you still want to use these machines.

Water Pressure

Another damaging factor of car washes is the high water pressure. You should never pressure wash your vehicle as it can be damaging to the paint. Typically the most severe damage comes when the car is already compromised in the paint department. A small chip can quickly become a larger issue if the area is pressure washed. Avoid high powered sprayers and automated car washes to avoid this damage.

Chemicals

Be very choosey about what types of soaps and products you allow to be applied to your car. Some soaps are full of harsh chemicals including various acids. They are produced by chemical companies and pulled off as a pink “soap” but they are dangerous for the environment, you, and your vehicle. Follow these guidelines when picking out a soap to use on your car.

The 7 Things To Look For When Buying A Car Shampoo

  1. Use a pH balanced soap! This is the most important factor when deciding on a wash that will do your paint justice. A balanced soap means that the solution is not acidic or basic and maintains a pH of 7, the same pH as water.  Generally cheap car wash cleansers contain harsh solvents that can actually strip away your car’s clear coat because they are not balanced. Soaps where pH are disregarded can also eat away at that clear coat by leaving behind a residue that is either basic or acidic. 
  2. Go with a heavy foaming formula. A soap that gets really sudsy is ideal for washing your car. Foam actually does a lot of the heavy lifting for you in the washing process. Foam is a great way to protect your car because it provides a thick lubricant between the coat of your car and the dirt you are moving around when you wash. You can also use a foam cannon to achieve even more suds! We’ll talk about this fun tool in our section on equipment that makes this job much easier. 
  3. Avoid 2 in 1 wax products. Washing and waxing are two conflicting ideas. A soap is intended to remove heavy oils and a wax intends to distribute them. Products that claim to wash and wax your vehicle at the same time are not doing a good job of either. These products are usually a sham. 
  4. Make sure you are using a reputable brand. Cheap car soaps are a tool that a lot of chemical companies use to distribute products made out of unwanted ingredients. Find a brand that you feel you can trust and that doesn’t leave unbalanced residue on your vehicle that can eat away at your paint.  
  5. Scent. Many car soaps have quite a strong smell to them. Companies may use artificial smells like cherry to mask the smell of some of the nasty chemicals they contain. Personally I prefer to use scentless cleaners that are free and clear of dyes.  Depending on your preferences and allergies you may wish to opt for a scentless car shampoo. 
  6. Eco-friendliness. Car soaps when they are rinsed off of your vehicle typically will run down your driveway or into the grass then into the gutter or the street. They are rarely filtered out of the water that does run into the gutter and will eventually end up in our rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. Because of this it is cringe worthy to knowingly buy products that are not naturally based and do not dissolve to an non harmful substance. We have to do our part to protect the planet and choosing a eco-friendly car wash is a simple way to reduce your footprint.
  7. Concentration. If you can find concentrated soaps that meets all other criteria we’ve listed above, it will save you A LOT of money to purchase one of these. Concentrated soaps mean that you have to mix less soap with water to achieve your desired sudsy levels. This means that gallon container of soap can last you years when washing one car weekly or bi weekly.

Mildew (More Like Mild-EWWW!)

One of the risks you take whenever your vehicle is exposed to water is that there may be a leak somewhere. When you get water inside the vehicle that isn’t cleaned appropriately, you get mildew. Getting into a vehicle that has mildew is something that people notice right away, the smell is pungent. Unfortunately once the mildew sets in it can be too late to fix, so be sure that your car is fully waterproofed and all windows and sunroofs are closed prior to washing.

If you are unable to avoid water seeping into the vehicle, the best option is to let the car dry out with doors and windows open. You don’t want to trap the water or it can lead to mildew. You don’t need sun, any covered spot will do for air drying a vehicle. Just be sure that you aren’t allowing bugs or rain to enter the vehicle.

Water Spots

Water spots are the unsightly marks left behind when hard water evaporates. If you don’t wash your car with soft water or distilled water you run the risk of having water stains left behind when the car dries. A good way to avoid this happening is to manually dry the car off using microfiber towels or any sort of soft fabric towel that you have available.

Be sure that your car is completely dry after a wash, and be sure the detailer that you allow to work on your car uses proper drying mechanisms as well.

Tips For Avoiding Damage Through A Car Wash

You won’t be able to prevent all damage involved with keeping a car clean, however you can mitigate the effects by following these tips.

Avoid Car Washes That Use Abrasive Brushes

Automated car washes don’t come in one size fits all shapes and sizes. Though generally speaking these car washes are a bad move, there are some that are better than others. Some automated car washes use cloth brushes and others use abrasive brushes that can be incredibly damaging for the car.

Not only do all these brushes risk scratching your car’s paint by picking up debris and other junk off of other vehicles and exfoliating yours with unwanted contaminants, some car washes use brushes that are bad news all on their own. Be sure to avoid car washes that use nylons and plastic brushes as they are more likely to scratch your car.

Again, car washes that use cloth brushes are a much better option though they can still damage your vehicle as well by picking up dirt from other vehicles. The dirtier the brush, the more likely that your car will sustain scratches. Be sure that you investigate the cleanliness of a car wash BEFORE you send your car through the wash. If it looks dirty, find a different location or go to a hand washing detailer.

You can opt for a brushless car wash, though these high-pressure washing systems can have other consequences that result in damaged paint. Some use extreme water pressure and others use chemicals to remove the dirt. You should try to avoid these washes or use them infrequently.

Avoid Car Washes Where There Is A Dirty Car Ahead Of You

This goes along with seeing how clean a car wash is. If the car in front of you is covered in mud and other debris, it is going to coat the interior of the car wash in those dirt particles. They will be on the brushes still when your vehicle enters the car wash. It takes 5-10 cycles to get dirt out of a car wash if it comes out at all (the particles caught in the brushes can last months).

If you see a vehicle in front of you that is heavily soiled with salt, mud, leaves or sticks, you should find a different car wash to use. If you are the car that is heavily covered in junk, rinse your car off before you enter into a car wash. It is the proper thing to do for the sake of the car wash owner and any cars that will go through the wash after you.

Wipe Down The Car With Care

Automated car washes use super hot air to quickly dry a vehicle. This is not only safe for your car but it is incredibly effective and is limited in damage caused. There is usually some form of moisture left on your vehicle after these wash and dry services and some car wash companies will have an employee who will wipe the car down after it is off the assembly wash process.

Use this same method when working with a detailer or cleaning your vehicle at home. Always be sure to use a clean microfiber towel when wiping down the car.

Show The Undercarriage Extra Love

If you live in a northern state, you should take extra care in cleaning out the undercarriage of the vehicle. You don’t need to rust proof the car but ensuring the undercarriage is clean of all contaminants is a good idea.

Inspect The Car Before And After The Wash

Many car washes will tell you before you enter that they aren’t responsible for any damage to the cars that may be sustained during the wash. This doesn’t hold any water legally. If your car is damaged, be sure to file a complaint and press them legally to pay for the damages to the car. Especially if the damage is significant.

You’ll have a tough time arguing about micro scratches, but dents and dings can also occur during the washing process and you can ask for money in return for these damages. They are usually because the machine has been improperly maintained.

You’ll want to take a video of the car before and after and thoroughly check over the vehicle for any new damage before you leave the car wash property. If you do leave, you’ll be hard pressed to prove that the damage was a result of the car wash and not another incident that happened on your way home.

If you experience damage, say something! Talk to the manager on duty and identify what damage exactly you think occurred during the wash process. Some managers may offer to make it right, others will argue about it or give you a number to call.

Does Insurance Cover Car Wash Damage?

No in most cases insurance will not cover damages sustained by a car wash. The first step in doing this is identifying if the damage was caused by the car wash to begin with. If you can’t identify the cause of the damage with certainty then the fault will lie with the owner of the vehicle.

In many of these cases an outside claims expert is used to determine how the damage was caused and determines fault. It is incredibly helpful to have proof of the damage both before and after it occurs so take a video of the car before you go in and after you leave.

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We hope this article has answered all of your questions regarding new car smell, and that you feel more prepared to take control of the scent of your vehicle both now and in the future. Consider protecting your vehicle with an extended warranty plan from Protect My Car. In addition to warranties, Protect My Car also offers insurance and maintenance plans and can negotiate the best prices on repairs with mechanics.

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