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Talk to me about automatic car washes

I have several options for automatic car washes and I am trying to decide what is the appropriate choice for my situation. First, I don't need to wash my car that often as I have another car which I drive during inclement weather. For this second vehicle I have a monthly membership which permits me unlimited washes. It's quick and, most importantly, doesn't have any wheel "tracks" with which to guide a vehicle through the wash. Very pleased with it except it is not brushless. The owners manual says to avoid such car washes and brush car washes have never been a preference of mine. Still I haven't noticed any issue with it on my other vehicles.

Given the infrequent need to wash my Model 3 I don't mind using an alternative which is touchless. However most have a track which guides the wheel through the wash. Unfortunately this resulted in a gouge on one of my X5-M wheels as the wheel was too wide to fit in the track causing it to ride over the track. When I reached the end of the track the wheel slipped off and the track gouged the wheel. Given the lack of tire protection on the M3 wheels I would like to avoid such a situation. The only option I can see is to hand wash at one of the car wash bays. But that's not ideal for a number of reasons.

What are others doing to wash their cars?
 
Some people here will tell you to always hand wash your car, but plenty of people (including me) use automatic car washes without incident.
When you say automatic do you mean brushless? Or ones that use brushes? I have been washing my other cars with the brush car wash and nothing bad has happened. However wanted to get the feedback of others before doing so. Hand wash, as in getting out a hose and bucket, isn't going to happen. I don't mind "hand wash" at a spray car wash but would prefer something I can just drive through because they those tend to offer under carriage wash along with drying.
 

joebruin77

Active Member
Dec 23, 2018
1,246
1,165
Encino, CA
The problem with automatic car washes that make contact with the paint is that they can and do induce scratches and swirls. If you don't mind this, then yes an automatic car wash can't be beat for speed and convenience. Personally, I would not want to trade a quick wash for permanent scratches in my clear coat. But I realize not everyone shares these concerns.

Touchless car washes don't induce scratches and swirls but they often do not clean as thoroughly and they often use high pH soaps that can strip waxes and sealants.

As long as the car is only lightly to moderately dirty, I personally think the best option is to do a rinseless car wash yourself using something like Optimum No Rinse or Mckees 37 N-914 Rinseless Wash. Use a spray bottle to pretreat the dirtiest areas and then do a rinseless wash. I can wash my P3D in about 20 minutes using about 3-4 gallons of water.
 
I understand the impracticality of the big buckets and sweat method. But my Model 3 is black, and my wife's black Honda was massacred by the spinning brush machines. We had to do a paint correction on it.

The Optimum Rinseless method (ONR+W) is much easier than old style buckets and leaves a great shine. I quickly rinse the surface dirt off with a hose, then use a gallon of distilled water with 256:1 ONR+W in a garden type sprayer and swipe with microfiber towels, then wipe dry with waffle weave towels and just a spritz of OptiSeal. This last point is very important. It leaves as good a shine as a carnauba waxing, more durable, far less work and very economical. The set of 2 bottles (ONR=W and Optiseal) lasted me 2 years. It's worth looking into. It's pretty fast and painless. It's an easy 20 minute job.

Granted, it's not as easy as standing around while an automatic rotary brushing machine does a lottery spin on the paint, but incomparably safer. And the OptiSeal is amazing. You'll love the gloss.

I found an old machine at a place a couple of miles away that is truly touchless. It just sprays. I skip the not so convincing blow drying. Those machines are not easy to find, but worth looking for. Where the spray wasn't perfect on some areas, like the buggy front, I keep a quart spray bottle of more concentrated 64:1 ONR+W solution in the trunk to wipe those down. Then I wipe the car dry using the waffle-weave drying towels with a spritz of Optimum OptiSeal. Works fine and the touchless machine handles the first pass for a lot less total manual labor, you're just doing the drying. This is probably what you want.

If the car is periodically done with both ONR+W and OptiSeal, it keeps the paint shiny and dirt-repellent. You can then use just the touchless spraying machine alone in between "treatments", wipe dry with waffle-weaves and be done.
 
Last edited:

afadeev

Member
Feb 28, 2019
945
1,174
NYC
I have several options for automatic car washes and I am trying to decide what is the appropriate choice for my situation. First, I don't need to wash my car that often as I have another car which I drive during inclement weather. For this second vehicle I have a monthly membership which permits me unlimited washes. It's quick and, most importantly, doesn't have any wheel "tracks" with which to guide a vehicle through the wash. Very pleased with it except it is not brushless. The owners manual says to avoid such car washes and brush car washes have never been a preference of mine. Still I haven't noticed any issue with it on my other vehicles.

I don't have a set routine.
When in a hurry, or if weather is crap (e.g.: in the winter), I take it to an automated car wash. Brushless is easier on the paint, but not as effective as traditional car washes. If the car is super dirty, I make an effort to go to a brushless car wash first.

When the weather is good, and I am in the mood to wash my other cars, I throw TM3 into the mix, and it gets a proper thorough hand-wash and wax treatment. TM3 is my winter beater, so this doesn't happen too often.

All three approaches work. Each one has its own limitations.

YMMV,
a
 
I think it's the black cars that are most at risk with rotary brush car washes. They really show the swirls and scratches. But they are also very elegant, and really boast a shine. Can't have everything. It stands to reason that whatever the car in front of yours leaves on the brushes is a factor in the paint damage lottery. Don't get behind an F-150 truck caked in desert grit. :eek:
 
I used to baby my new cars when I first got them all the time. That quickly goes out the window after 6-12 months once you start getting dings from car doors opening on you in parking lots and small rock chips from the road. Hey to each his own but I'm done with babying my cars, being super careful to the point I opt to drive my wife's inferior cars on errands to keep mine pristine. I don't care about swirlies anymore and just go for automatic car washes with brushes now. No way I'm hand washing or getting out to "finish the job" touchless washes fail to do in the winter months.
 
When you say automatic do you mean brushless? Or ones that use brushes? I have been washing my other cars with the brush car wash and nothing bad has happened. However wanted to get the feedback of others before doing so. Hand wash, as in getting out a hose and bucket, isn't going to happen. I don't mind "hand wash" at a spray car wash but would prefer something I can just drive through because they those tend to offer under carriage wash along with drying.
I use a brushless car wash whenever possible. The one I use the most is one of those automated units where the car sits still and the washer/dryer mechanism moves around it.
 
Wow! A lot of great feedback from everyone!

I appreciate the feedback about hand washing but that's not going to happen. I used to do that in the past and discovered that the interval between doing so was increasing over time. I may occasionally do a hand wash if circumstances warrant but I am looking for something that's day to day.

I definitely prefer touchless car washes and would use them all else being equal. I do not plan to drive my M3 in snowy weather conditions (that's what my Outback is for) so heavy dirt / debris accumulation should not be an issue. Touchless is fine for the daily driving dirt and rain.

The problem is that all of the touchless car washes I am familiar with have a track to guide the wheels properly into the car wash. It is this track that I am concerned about. One gouged the wheel of my X5 and I was not happy about it. I didn't have a problem with the Volt but the Volt didn't have the wheels exposed like the M3 does.

The benefit to the brush car wash (it's The Dutch Car Wash if anyone is familiar with them) is that it is a conveyer "belt" system. You drive your car onto the belt and it moves the vehicle through the wash. No chance of wheel damage. If I could find a touchless wash that was configured like this it would be ideal. Or a touchless wash which doesn't have a wheel guide which could possibly damage the wheels.

I do have to say that I had a membership to The Dutch Car Wash for both my Volt (which was black) and my X5-M (which was Monaco Blue) and I didn't experience any noticeable damage to the paint. There were visible scratches on the Volt when looking at it closely in bright light but they were present prior to my joining the wash club. Most likely from the drying I did when I was hand washing it (by hand washing I mean going to the car wash and using one of those bays with the wand where you wash it yourself).

It's nice to see some people have using brush based car washes and reporting no issues. Lots to think about.
 
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My BMW X3 goes thru one once a week. I'd never on my Spider or Tesla. Everything I've read says not to...unless they are touch-less and touch-less = USELESS
The owners manual says to avoid them but I do not see any reason why Tesla would be any different than other vehicles. Someone mentioned camera alignment which seems reasonable but appeared to be more speculation there is an issue. It's nice to see some have taken their Tesla's through a non touchless wash and everything has been fine.
 
The owners manual says to avoid them but I do not see any reason why Tesla would be any different than other vehicles. Someone mentioned camera alignment which seems reasonable but appeared to be more speculation there is an issue. It's nice to see some have taken their Tesla's through a non touchless wash and everything has been fine.

I see at least 20...

Tesla's Autopilot system currently uses eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and forward radar to read lane lines and detect nearby cars.
May 26, 2021
 
Wow! A lot of great feedback from everyone!

I appreciate the feedback about hand washing but that's not going to happen. I used to do that in the past and discovered that the interval between doing so was increasing over time. I may occasionally do a hand wash if circumstances warrant but I am looking for something that's day to day.

I definitely prefer touchless car washes and would use them all else being equal. I do not plan to drive my M3 in snowy weather conditions (that's what my Outback is for) so heavy dirt / debris accumulation should not be an issue. Touchless is fine for the daily driving dirt and rain.

The problem is that all of the touchless car washes I am familiar with have a track to guide the wheels properly into the car wash. It is this track that I am concerned about. One gouged the wheel of my X5 and I was not happy about it. I didn't have a problem with the Volt but the Volt didn't have the wheels exposed like the M3 does.

The benefit to the brush car wash (it's The Dutch Car Wash if anyone is familiar with them) is that it is a conveyer "belt" system. You drive your car onto the belt and it moves the vehicle through the wash. No chance of wheel damage. If I could find a touchless wash that was configured like this it would be ideal. Or a touchless wash which doesn't have a wheel guide which could possibly damage the wheels.

I do have to say that I had a membership to The Dutch Car Wash for both my Volt (which was black) and my X5-M (which was Monaco Blue) and I didn't experience any noticeable damage to the paint. There were visible scratches on the Volt when looking at it closely in bright light but they were present prior to my joining the wash club. Most likely from the drying I did when I was hand washing it (by hand washing I mean going to the car wash and using one of those bays with the wand where you wash it yourself).

It's nice to see some people have using brush based car washes and reporting no issues. Lots to think about.

There's no such thing as a brush car wash that doesn't damage your paint.
 
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