6 Ways Carwashes Can Damage Your Car (Be Careful)

Every time you go to the carwash, are you unintentionally jeopardizing the condition and lifespan of your vehicle?

 In this article, we expose six surprising ways carwashes might inadvertently damage your cherished vehicle. 

From minor paint scratches to hidden mechanical risks, equip yourself with critical knowledge to safeguard your vehicle and drive away with the assurance you desire.

Noticeable Swirl Marks and Fine Scratches

Automatic car washes appear to be the ideal option for keeping our vehicles looking their best without investing too much time and effort in today’s fast-paced environment. 

However, you should be aware that your vehicle’s paintwork could get damaged during an automatic car wash.

While current automatic car washes are making advances in employing high-quality brushes and soft cloths to reduce the chance of inflicting damage, mishaps can still occur. 

It only takes a single error with a contaminated brush or cloth to cause obvious car wash scratches on your vehicle’s paint job. 

Due to the huge volume of cars that travel through an automatic car wash daily, dirt, grit, and pollutants from each vehicle can build on the brushes. 

When these contaminants get into touch with the surface of your car, they have the potential to produce scratches and imperfections that can be expensive to fix.

Given the presence of salt and grit on de-iced roads during the winter season, the likelihood of car wash scratches and chips increases. 

Many motorists use a car wash to remove road filth, but the question is, how many other drivers do the same? 

Swirl marks are another sort of car paint damage that is common at car washes. These marks look like fine, circular scratches on the clear coat of the vehicle and are more visible on darker-colored vehicles, such as black or deep blues. 

The revolving stiff bristle brushes used in some automatic car washes are potentially the source of these unattractive swirl markings. 

Furthermore, inappropriate drying procedures, such as using a rough or unclean towel, could worsen the condition. 

Exploring alternatives to automatic car washes is critical for individuals who value the aesthetic appeal and longevity of their vehicle’s paintwork. 

A hand car wash is one such option. Hand car washes provide a more personalized and reliable approach to cleaning your vehicle, reducing the chance of paint damage. However, ensure that a hose is used as sponges, and cloths can pick up grit, too.

Bent or Broken Windshield Wipers

While these car washes clean your vehicle with powerful water jets and fast-moving brushes, they can also dislodge or snap off your windscreen wipers. 

This possible damage is a major issue, particularly for individuals who have rain-sensing wipers.

Rain-sensing wipers are meant to operate automatically when moisture on the windscreen is detected. However, if kept in the ON setting, this feature can be troublesome in a drive-through car wash. 

As car wash water hits the windscreen, the sensors may activate the wipers, causing them to travel back and forth against the brushes. This can result in the wipers becoming bent or damaged.

To avoid any blunders, make sure your rain-sensing wipers have been switched OFF before entering the car wash. 

Furthermore, manually pulling the wiper arms away from the windscreen can provide additional protection and limit the danger of unintentional contact during the car wash process.

A hand vehicle wash may be a preferable alternative for individuals who prefer to lean on the side of caution. 

Hand vehicle wash attendants are more aware of sensitive elements such as windscreen wipers and can clean them manually without risk of damage. 

Please also read our article, How Do Car Washes Know What You Paid For? (Checked)

Clear Signs of Water Spots

Water spots are an undesirable blemish on a clean vehicle, and they’re not always preventable, especially when utilizing certain car wash methods.

These spots are especially common throughout the summer months and are sometimes caused by washing your car in direct sunshine. A combination of hot temperatures and quick-drying water droplets can leave visible markings and spots on the surface of your car.

To avoid watermarks, take preventative actions during the car wash procedure. Hand drying your vehicle with a clean, soft microfiber towel can help to prevent wet markings. 

While this method requires a little more effort, it ensures that your car’s paintwork stays in perfect condition.

Applying a high-quality wax coating to your car’s paintwork is an excellent preventive step too. The wax functions as a barrier, protecting your car from damaging elements such as watermarks and damage from the sun. 

A perfect wax application not only improves the sheen of your car’s finish but also repels water, making water stains more difficult to create.

To effectively rid your vehicle of water spots, consider using the following:

  • Grit-free cleaning mitts
  • Microfiber towels
  • A pH-balanced car wash soap

While water spots might be a nuisance after washing your vehicle, there are techniques to avoid and treat them. 

Excessive Water Pressure Can Damage Your Car

The use of high-pressure water jets during the cleaning process is a major concern with automated car washes. 

While these jets are great at eliminating dirt and grime, they can be too powerful for sensitive surfaces such as car paint and vinyl coverings. 

The intense floods of water can cause rips, scuffs, and chips in the paint, jeopardizing the exterior integrity of your vehicle.

Furthermore, vinyl coatings, which are commonly used for automobile wraps or decals, are vulnerable to damage from high-pressure water jets. The powerful water can cause the vinyl seams to crack, resulting in peeling and a less-than-perfect appearance.

Subjecting your vehicle to automated car washes that use high-pressure water jets regularly can dramatically shorten the lifespan of the outer coat of paint. 

Over time, the repeated bombardment of high-pressure water can wear down the protective layers of paint, leaving your car’s surface susceptible to environmental variables such as UV rays, rust, and grime.

Consider alternative car wash procedures if maintaining the quality and appearance of your car’s paintwork is a priority. 

Handwashing your vehicle with gentle microfiber mitts and low-pressure hoses results in a more regulated and less abrasive cleaning operation. It also allows you to examine your car’s surface more closely, discovering any potential problems before they worsen.

Touchless car washes that use high-pressure water but prevent direct contact with your vehicle can be a safer option for individuals who like the convenience of automated car washes. 

These systems eliminate debris without damaging the paint or vinyl by utilizing advanced technology and specialized cleaning solutions.

Damage to Rearview Mirrors

While automatic car washes are convenient, they pose some concerns, notably regarding the security of external components such as mirrors, antennae, and wipers.

Broken mirrors are a common problem that can occur during an automatic car wash. 

High-pressure water jets and swiftly moving brushes or cloths may damage these delicate parts. If a mirror is loose or improperly attached, the force of the car wash process might cause it to detach completely from the vehicle.

To avoid mirror damage, verify and double-check the tightness of all external elements before entering the automated car wash. 

Checking that your mirrors are securely fastened and folded in is an important precaution that can help prevent mishaps during the wash. By taking this simple step, you may lessen the chance of your mirrors being damaged by powerful water jets or brushes.

Hand vehicle washes, on the other hand, provide a more controlled and steady method of cleaning, reducing the danger of incidents such as damaged mirrors. 

Please also read our article about car wash demographics [2023].

Wheel Rim Damage

Another unintended consequence that some motorists may face after using a drive-through car wash is wheel damage. 

The damage might appear to be unsightly scratches, nicks, or even dents on the rims as a result of the wheels rubbing against the conveyor track. 

Aside from the visual concerns, regular visits to an automatic vehicle wash can cause wear and tear, which can eventually impair the alignment of your wheels.

When approaching the automatic car wash conveyor track, use extra caution, especially if your vehicle has low-profile tires or broader wheels. These wheels’ design makes them more vulnerable to damage during the car wash process.

If you choose to utilize an automatic car wash, make sure the wheels are properly positioned on the track to avoid coming into contact with the conveyor.

A touchless wash may be a better option for motorists who enjoy the speed and convenience of an automatic car wash but want to protect their wheels as much as possible. 

Furthermore, regular wheel care is essential for sustaining their appeal and functionality. Using a protective wheel wax or sealer can help protect them from dirt, brake dust, and road grime, making caring for them easier.

Final Thoughts

To summarise, it is critical to be aware of the potential risks involved with automated car washes and to take preventative actions to protect your vehicle. 

The presence of visible paint scratches, swirl marks, and damage produced by high-pressure water jets can have a significant impact on the appearance and lifespan of your vehicle. 

Explore alternatives such as hand car washes or touchless car washes that use gentler cleaning techniques to protect your vehicle from unneeded injury.

Don’t jeopardize the beauty and value of your prized possession – be alert, take precautions, and treat it with the respect it deserves. 


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