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Touchless Car Wash Good or Bad: Effects of Touchless Car Washes

on November 25, 2020

As your vehicle begins to collect dust, dirt, tree sap, bird droppings, and other contaminants, it becomes important to clean these contaminants sooner than later. 

While many drivers choose to wash their car simply to increase the shine and appearance, a clean and well maintained vehicle promotes longevity and allows it to maintain on the road longer. 

Many of us have heard the risks and warnings surrounding automated car washes, and unfortunately the rumors aren’t too far from the truth. 


Automated Car Washes 

Traditional automated car washes are known to use a series of brushes, wet mats, water, and air mixed with various soaps and waxes in attempt to clean your vehicle. With a focus on getting as many cars through as possible within a given time. Creating a “satisfactory for most” result, these machines are known to be quite rough on your vehicle. 

When we talk about brushes, we are referring to the larger spinning hard brushes that usually focus on the sides of your vehicle, and sometimes your wheels, while wet mats are those long strands of material hanging from above swinging back and forth. The sound of either of these devices on your vehicle becomes an instant reminder of the real risk associated with automatic car washes. 

As you begin to understand how to wash your vehicle, you understand the care and caution needed while washing to avoid scratches, dents, or other imperfections, and with the speed and force being used with automatic car washes, this care simply can’t happen. The hard bristle brushes intended to push the dirt away from your vehicle are quite harsh and forceful, and run the risk of scratching your paint, followed by large wet mats that smack back and forth across your vehicles. Nothing like smashing dirt and grim into your paint. 

There’s a bigger risk though. 

Since you go through these car washes one vehicle after another, anything that may have been on any vehicle that had gone before you, runs the potential to get on your vehicle. 

So let's just say earlier that day a vehicle was absolutely filthy when it went through, and now those wet mats have grease, or even worse, a sharp something stuck in them. Now these contaminants will be smashed into your vehicle over and over again. 

Now of course, there are advantages to automated car washes, with the only real advantage being time. Automated car washes are extremely quick relative to washing your car by hand, and to be honest, some car owners simply don’t mind that their vehicle is being scratched in the process. 

But you aren’t one of those people.


Touchless Automated Car Washes

With the brushes of an automated car was causing so many issues, the want for a better solution was soon to hit the market. Touchless automated car washes are focused around the same quick service, while avoiding the brushes and wet mats. 

Instead, these machines used a series of high water pressure and high air pressure in attempts to clean your vehicle. Of course, the idea of cutting corners always comes with some sort of downfall. 


The Good

As you could guess, the major good comes with the idea of getting away from those harsh brushes and wet mats. 

By utilizing water pressure, touchless car washes are more likely to utilize better soap qualities to assist with lifting dirt and grime more effectively. 

Many of the touchless washes have also begun utilizing heated water to help break down the wax finishes and contaminations found on your vehicle’s surface. By removing these soft waxes at the early stages of washing, you remove contaminants which may have found themselves stuck in the soft layer. Waxes are then added in the automotive specific soaps, and in many cases are added toward the end of the process. 

With modern car washes, many have begun focusing on water recycling and recirculation. This is done with large filtration systems, which collect water being used, and separate the dirt, grime, grease, oils, and any other contaminant, and re-uses the clean water. 

These are seen with most touchless systems due to the mass amounts of water being used, and can be seen as a positive attempt at environmental efforts, since they aren’t simply washing the chemicals and contaminants away as wastewater. 

The accessibility of water is without a doubt an advantage. The water pressure allows for water to find its way into every nook and cranny along your vehicle, from the corners of every trim piece to the underbody. These areas may be missed with a conventional brush or mat, since they are unable to get deep into small areas.

We can’t speak about any automated washing system without adding time spent into the list of good traits, since washing your vehicle by hand does tend to be quite time consuming.  


The Bad

While you are avoiding the rough brushes and heavy wet mats slapping against your car or truck, the high water pressure being used comes with its own risks. 

Anyone who has sat within a vehicle going through a touchless wash can speak about the insane pressure being applied to the vehicle, with some touchless systems using around 2200 psi of water pressure. In comparison, a properly flowing garden hose has between 40 and 60 psi of water pressure. 

These high pressures run the risk of actually embedding surface contaminations deeper into your painted surface, or even worse, pressing them deeper and down along the side of your vehicle creating scratches, and while scratch repair is doable, it is both an added expense and added time. 

Touchless car washes are also known for not quite cleaning the vehicle enough. While the idea of blowing all the dirt off of your vehicle sounds great, the reality is that sometimes a little more force is needed in the washing process. This becomes extremely obvious when you take a microfiber towel and wipe down a section of your vehicle to discover a large amount of fine dust has remained on your vehicle. 

When using a touchless system, the force does cause the water to end up everywhere, calling for caution when using different soaps. This has caused many automatic car washes to use an all purpose soap intended for your paint, glass, wheels, tires, and underbody. 

This means specialty soaps may not be used for specific areas, so it’s important to ensure all brake dust has been removed from your wheels to avoid damage, and specialty products such as glass cleaners and tire shine gel coatings will need to be added at another time. 


How To Get the Most Out of Touchless Car Washes 

While there simply is no comparison to hand washing your vehicle, you may find yourself with not quite enough hours in the day, and the automatic car wash has become the easiest route. 

To get the most out of a touchless car wash, it becomes important to take care of your paint, before you need the wash. This means at some point in time, having your vehicle coated with either wax or ceramic coatings, and taking advantage of spray on top coatings between washes. 

These coatings not only create a deeper shine, and more mirrored finish, but protect your paint front contamination and UV damage. 

Deep application coatings, such as wax, polish, or ceramics create a barrier layer between your paint, and the dirt. These coatings protect your vehicle from scratches and create a smoother surface. 

Once these deep application coatings are applied, spray applications create a soft top layer which can easily be washed away with each wash. These spray on coatings can also be applied to any painted surface to create a protective layer.

As an example, if you know you’ll be using a touchless automated car wash, you may choose to get your vehicle ceramic coated. Now that your vehicle is coated, you’re less likely to gain damage from a car wash. 

When your vehicle is washed and dried, take a few minutes to coat your vehicle in a spray ceramic coating, which helps remove any missed dirt and adds a new top coat protective layer. This means the next time you wash your car, you have another extra layer of protection on your vehicle, which can be reapplied to create a mirror finish. 

With the dirt and grime less likely to stick to the paint of your vehicle, less force will be needed to pull the contaminants off of your car for a better outcome, and less risk as your vehicle is washed. 


Summary

While there really is no comparison to hand washing your vehicle the right way, many  consumers find themselves sitting in the line for automatic car washes. 

If you were to choose the best of the two evils, a touchless system will be less likely to damage your vehicle than a traditional automatic car wash, with the options for paint-protective coatings adding another level of protection.

Are touchless washes good or bad? Well, they run the risk of damaging your vehicle, but a clean car is always better than a dirty one, especially with the acidity of many contaminants that may find their way onto your vehicle, so auto-wash away -- just not too much. 

Sources 

https://www.familyhandyman.com/article/will-a-car-wash-hurt-your-cars-finish/ 

https://drivedetailed.com/touchless-car-washes/ 

https://www.thedrive.com/cleaning-detailing/35348/what-is-ceramic-coating

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