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How often you wash your car could depend on where you live and where you drive. Dirt roads and salted streets might make it necessary to wash your vehicle more frequently than driving on dry ones. In general, you should aim at washing your car once a week – every other week at least – to adequately maintain the body and protect the paint.
Professional hand washing is the best bet to keep you car in tip top shape. But that service might not be available or convenient every week. A quality drive-through car wash can be a suitable alternative for those weeks (or locations) where professional hand washing is not feasible. Every so often, you might also consider professional auto detailing for more advanced care.
What types of vehicles can go through a car wash?
Most cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs up to 84 inches high and with 4 inches of ground clearance can go through an automatic car wash. Any factory-installed equipment in working order is guaranteed against damage by most car washes.
Yes. Your pickup truck is fine to go through the car wash if the bed is empty. It is worth noting, however, that some side mirrors are not compatible with some car washes, nor are dual-wheeled vehicles. Some modified trucks, or those with oversized tires, might not work either.
Yes. Just not with the top down! Make sure the top is properly latched.
If your vehicle dons a front license plate, make sure that it is supported by the manufacturer’s license plate frame. In states where front plates are required, manufacturers and dealers are also required to provide you with a license plate frame. Without that support, the spinning equipment in many automatic car washes will damage the plate. If you do not have a frame, simply remove the license plate before going through the car wash.
Aftermarket accessories, such as bug shields, may go through an automatic wash unharmed. But they are not guaranteed. Damage could occur, especially if the component was previously damaged or compromised by stress cracks around the mounting points or rock chips. A car wash will not damage a trailer hitch, but the hitch could prevent the wash equipment from working as effectively as it should around that area. Any hitch plug left in place could be damaged or come loose in the wash.
That depends on the type of antenna. Many vehicles today have no external antenna, but some (especially older) models do. When that is the case, a solid flexible antenna is fine for the wash. But hollow, telescoping antennas – whether powered or manual – are not. Make sure those are lowered before entering the car wash.
Your alloy wheels will be just fine in an automatic car wash – as long as the business does not use acids that can stain, or certain tire brushes that can scratch. Ask in advance if you are concerned about your wheels. Generally speaking though, aluminum rims are okay in a car wash.
It is always best to have a chipped windshield repaired or replaced as soon as possible. But a vehicle with a chipped or cracked windshield can go through an automatic car wash. Understand, however, that while it might be okay to drive through, changes in temperature can cause a chip or crack to expand. Your windshield might not look the same on the way out as when it went in.
Nearly all passenger vehicles today feature a two-stage paint finish. An opaque colored basecoat is topped off with a hard, transparent urethane or polyurethane. So, the outer layer of the paint finish is the clearcoat.
The most effective ways to care for your car’s clear coat is to keep it clean and coated. That translates to frequent (and proper) washes, and regular application of a polymer sealant or quality car wax, such as Carnauba. Washing, of course, removes the contaminants that could damage the clearcoat. A polymer sealant or wax creates a clear waterproof barrier that serves to filter out UV rays and shields the paint from contaminants. It also makes water bead up and run off so that contaminants rinse easier
Whether or not additional services at an automatic car wash are “worth it” might depend on who you ask. Check with the car wash and you will probably hear that, sure, the extras are worth it. Others might say that they are simply gimmicks. So, which is it?
If you want to have the brake dust – that black soot-like coating on your wheels – removed in the car wash, the wheel cleaning service will help by applying a chemical specially formulated to dissolve brake dust. It will not hurt if you skip the service, but your wheels might not come clean without it.
Likewise, an undercarriage wash might be your only option to give the bottom of your car a bath. But you might not need the service every time you drive through.
If you are looking for a quick and cheap way to wax your car, paying extra at the automatic car wash for the “wax” or “sealant” is not the way to go about it. The products that rain down on your ride are no substitute for quality polymer sealants and waxes. On the other hand, if you are simply seeking a temporary coating to augment the wax already in place, one that will last (maybe) until your next washing, feel free to opt for the spray sealant. Again, it will not hurt if you use it, and it will not hurt if you don’t.
What about just washing your car yourself in the driveway? Isn’t that an inexpensive option for cleaning your car? Wouldn’t it even be possible to amass all of the tools, equipment, and specialty products used by a professional detailer and do it yourself?
Sure. But inexpensive does not mean satisfactory, or thorough, or even safe for your car. Common do-it-yourself tactics like washing with dish soap, using too little water, working in direct sunlight, or other poor approaches can each cause more harm than good. So can trying to use a buffer or polisher without experience. The truth is, unless you have been properly trained, you can do damage to your paint. Same thing if you use the wrong products. And the right products (not to mention tools and equipment) can be quite costly. If you combine the lack of suitable materials with a lack of experience, the result can be far less than fulfilling.
This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Victory Car Wash and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Victory Car Wash makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.