After I finished an auto detail the other day for one of my clients, he mentioned to me that he would be maintaining it with regular automatic car washes.
To an auto detailer, automatic car washes are essentially the most vulgar language one can use. And there are many reasons why that is.
Let me address 4 reasons why you should never take your car to an automatic or touchless car wash.
4 Reasons Why You Should Never Take Your Car to the Car Wash
- Automatic Car Washes Scratch Your Vehicle & Cost You Thousands of Dollars in Value
The micro-scratches caused by car washes are costing you thousands of dollars in value or thousands of dollars in repairs on your vehicle.
Most automatic car washes use giant rotating microfiber machines to scrub your car. Microfiber is an excellent material for removing dirt. The problem is: “How many cars have gone through that same car wash before you bring your car through?”
Even if the car wash company cleans them occasionally throughout the day, which is a generous assumption, it still only takes one dirty car to get dirt on the machines that then rubs dirt onto the next car’s paint.
Some people think. “What’s the big deal? It’s just dirt?” But dirt is really just a structural collection of smashed rocks. 
No one who values their car, even a little bit, is going to take a rock and scrub it across the surface of their vehicle. Yet, that is exactly what is happening, on a much smaller scale, when you are going through an automatic car wash with dirty microfibers.
- Touchless Car Washes Cause Water Spotting on Your Car
There are some automatic car washes called touchless car washes. If you usually go to one of these, you may think you’re out of the woods.
Is a touchless car wash better for your car? Not necessarily. While you will not have to worry about micro scratches, which is a good thing, you still need to be aware of water spotting.
What Is Water Spotting?
Water spotting is an area of dried mineral deposits left on a surface after being allowed to air dry. 
The water we interact with in modern society often has minerals in it. In fact, it has to. Water must meet the Safe Water Drinking Act standards, which was passed by Congress in 1974 and is now regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
These added minerals include: calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and usually many more. And while there are many health benefits to them, they can very easily cause water spotting on our cards.
Why Does a Touchless Car Wash Cause Water Spotting?
While a touchless car wash does have fans at the end of the tunnel to blow your car dry, it cannot reach all the nooks and crannies of your vehicle, like your grill, door handles, gas cap, window seals, etc.
So what happens when you drive off with a few isolated water spots on your car after you had it washed? The minerals in the water sit on your vehicle, baking in the sun, and get etched into your clear coat.
Depending on the level of damage done, to remove these spots you will either have to use a dedicated water spot removal product, clay your vehicle, polish your vehicle, or compound your vehicle. And if all of these solutions don’t work, the paint is likely too far gone to remove the water spots. The only way to get rid of them at that point is to pay for body work.
So while in hindsight a few drops of water seems harmless, a touchless car wash could end up costing you thousands of dollars in repair.
- Touchless Car Washes Can Cause Compounded Damage
Sometimes, at touchless car washes in Fort Worth, they have a few guys at the end of the tunnel drying the rest of the car with towels. Their goal is to dry off any remaining water the fans left behind to prevent water spotting.
That’s great! However, there are still a couple of problems with this step in the process. In the fifteen seconds they are in contact with your car, they do not have time to check all of the areas we previously discussed that water can be hiding.
If they are, that’s wonderful. So we move on to the next problem: How often are they changing those drying towels?
We talked about the dirt from before, right? They need to be changing out those towels consistently or you run the risk of creating micro scratches.
- Car Washes Use Harsh Chemicals on Your Vehicle
So, let’s say you have found a touchless, automatic car wash with employees waiting at the end of the tunnel ready to towel dry whatever water spots were left after the dryer hit the car. And these towel dryers are using heavy-weighted microfiber towels they change out after every vehicle goes through.
Is it okay to take your vehicle to an automatic or touchless car wash regularly if all of these parameters have been met? Unfortunately, no. There’s one more problem and there’s no way to get around it.
Car washes use harsh chemicals that are bad for your vehicle.
What Kind of Chemicals Do Automatic Car Washes Use on Your Car?
It depends on all the different add-ons you may want for your particular car wash package, but odds are any plan you choose will either take between 1 to 7 minutes. If the entire wash process takes only a matter of minutes, do you think they are going to use a weak cleaner or a strong cleaner? Most likely, they will be using a super strong cleaner.
You are paying the car wash for a clean vehicle, but they have almost no time to make that happen, so they need chemicals that are going to blast away as much grime as possible.
Think back to your chemistry class for just a moment and recall the pH scale. The scale goes from 0 to 14 with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most alkaline.
One of the most common chemicals used in a lot of car washes is hydrofluoric acid.
Why Are These Chemicals Bad for Your Car?
Depending on the concentration level used, hydrofluoric acid has an acidic level of a low 2, approaching 1 on the pH scale. What does that mean?
As a reference, a level 1 is something like stomach acid and a level 2 is similar to lemon juice. So basically, something between stomach acid and lemon juice is what you are spraying on your car when you go through an automatic car wash.
You can read this report from the CDC that details how one employee at a car wash died from ingesting hydrofluoric acid, as well as how 48 others were exposed to serious burns.  Now, are these harsh chemicals going to cause massive amounts of damage to your car paint just one time through the car wash? No, but it’s a cumulative effect. Car washes hurt your paint over time.
If every time you wash your car you are hitting it with these intense acidic cleaners, over time it is going to dull your paint. Even if it is “cleaning” the surface, you will see over time the paint does not pop like it used to.
Some people think cars just fade with age, but that is not how it has to be. If you maintain your car properly, there is no reason why you still can’t have a great paint job over time.
We’ve all gone through the car wash with our car. It’s something we’re taught to do regularly growing up. And we understand the convenience and cost factor that goes into it, but the reality is car detailing is way better for your car than the car wash. That’s why I started Fort Worth Auto Detail!
Most of us growing up never knew about the problems caused by going through a car wash.
At Fort Worth Auto Detail, we implore you to take care of your vehicle the right way, which we hope we have successfully demonstrated is not at an automatic or touchless car wash.
If you would like to know more about proper washing techniques that you can do to minimize damage to your vehicle, please contact us and we would be happy to help!