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Does a modern carwash damage the paint?

I’m planning to wash our new car monthly, but I can’t do it myself in winter. There’s a $14 auto car wash in our area, or hand washes that start around $25 for just wash/dry, no wax. Problem is, I don’t even know if the hand washes follow the rule that the sponge/cloth should be rinsed in clean water frequently.

This is the auto wash option:

This is a hand wash option:

What would you do to balance cost and quality?

Modern touchless car washes don’t damage the paint. They also don’t clean off the dirt, but that’s the price you pay for not damaging the paint. :wink:

Seriously - take it into a touchless car wash and then look at the windshield. You’ll see the dirt on the outside of the wiper area is still there, and there will be spots all over your car that are both dirt, and water that didn’t get properly dried off.

The hand wash option - hard to say if they do it right or not. Every place is different. That said, for $25, my money’s on they don’t do it right.

Almost every town has a do-it-yourself car wash that’s inside a heated building. Find it and use that in the winter.

Wash your car in the drive and as stated above in a self serve was in the winter. I’ve never paid to wash a car, I just do it on my off days

Use either a soft touch was (take off your antenna - it just unscrews) or use the touchless ones. The soft touch will do a good job when the car is extra dirty but has a bit of risk of scratching. Check around the car after the wash for any damage while you re-install the antenna. Touchless when the car is not so dirty. Have it detailed once a year or so with a fresh wax job and you will be just fine. I have a 10 year old truck that is too tall to easily wash that was never garaged but washed this way. It got waxed once a year, maybe, and still looks great.

I do exactly what shadow recommended in the winter.

The ones that just spray water/soap and don’t actually contact the car’s surface won’t damage the paint. At least not from the cleaning pressure itself. But the water they spray, if it finds it’s way to any metal, even just a tiny speck from a missing paint chip, will eventually cause rust and damage the paint from below. So it would be a good idea to wax the car a couple times a year.

Some auto washes damage paint but it has a lot to do with how well it is maintained. If your car is black I would not do it. Black shows every flaw and after a winter of auto wash it might look like you scrubbed it with a handful of sand. ( :

The first thing to do is have good wax job applied.

This the first barrier between the finish of the body and the elements in winter.

There many types of car washes. Some are brush type (which you stay away from), some are touchless, (which doesn’t remove all the dirt), and rag type car washes, (this is suppose to imitate washing by hand but relies on changing the rags often)

Find a do-it-yourself car wash that takes coins and blast the vehicle clean.


I’ve even seen… often… car washes with the swishing (side to side) hanging “rags” mangle license plates. When you see a car with both ends of the front plate bent in, it probably happened at an automatic car wash.

I have been using a “soft cloth” car wash for years without any effect on the paint surface. Avoid those with the rotary brushes; they will leave scratches on your paint.

Hand washing is best when you can do so.

Ours is a touchless wash, and has done a pretty good job on our previous cars.

One question is the packages available: The “standard” includes wash and undercarriage, which are probably both essential here in the northeast, with our slush and road salt.

I know the higher end packages probably aren’t very good: they include things like wheel brite, poly sealant, white wall cleaner (our car won’t have whitewalls), and liquid glass.

The difference between the standard and premium package is only $4. So are the extras a matter of “might as well, even if they don’t do much” or “avoid them.”