Are Automatic Car Washes Safe for your Paint?



Automatic car washes were created for convenience, and there’s no question they get the job done quicker than a team of people with sponges and towels. There is some question about the effects that automatic car washes have on your car’s paint job.

When the first automated car washes came out, as you can imagine, they were a hit. Popularity with those particular about their paint soon waned. No one wants to find out they’ve been paying to send their car through a machine that dulls its finish and could possibly even scratch it.

This may have been true in the past, but can modern automatic washes really do this type of damage?

The Brushless Revolution

The quick answer is, no, at least not modern car washes. In the 80s, automatic car washes were built using huge spinning brushes that had to be composed of tough fiber so they would last through years of use.

The downside of this design was that they could cause considerable damage to your paint finish, dulling it and even scratching it over time. Older cars with single-stage paint could be repaired, but new cars with clear coats will need a respray to recover their shine.

Modern automated car washes do not use brushes. Instead, soft cloth that is much easier on cars with modern clear-coat paint is used to remove dirt. There are even some systems out there that are entirely touchless. These systems use only water pressure to do the cleaning.

Types of Car Washes

While the washing components have evolved, the classic tunnel design is still a favorite layout for automated car washes everywhere. Whether you’re visiting a standalone operation or a car wash that is adjacent to a gas station, expect the option for a brushless wash. While some washes have you drive the car through, others will use a moving platform to pass the car by the various washing equipment.

Pay attention to how the car is dried. Many venues use an overhead fan, which is ideal for avoiding contact from dirty rags. Occasionally you’ll see businesses that have people dry the car, and this is no problem — as long as they are using clean equipment — but it’s less consistent than having an automated system.

Why Not DIY?

You’ve probably been told the best way to get your car clean is to wash it yourself. This isn’t necessarily true. Automated washes have been developed over years to clean cars quickly and thoroughly, and they typically don’t miss spots. They are also designed not to damage your car’s paint, which you can do more easily than you think.

For example, using a single bucket can cause you to re-use dirty soap that can put the dirt you took off the car right back on. If you’re washing in a warm climate, allowing the car to begin drying can land you with nasty-looking water spots on your car that can be difficult to remove without professional help.

Automatic Could be the Safest Wash for Your Car

We’re not saying it’s impossible to do a good job cleaning your car by hand, but automatic washes reduce the risk of human error. Now that technology has evolved to where the cleaning components won’t damage your paint, automatic could be your safest bet for a quality car wash.

About The Author

Scott Huntington is a writer and car fanatic from Harrisburg, PA. Check out his site offthethrottle.com or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.