The days when Sunday afternoons were set aside for washing the car are long gone! Aside from a few die-hards who like nothing better than a few hours with the hose and chamois leather, most people now prefer to use a drive through car wash or similar to keep their vehicle's exterior in pristine condition.

Automatic car wash technology is now more advanced than ever before: once you know the best tips and tricks for getting the most from your auto car wash, there's no reason why you can't get as good a result (if not better), than a hand wash effort. Take a look at the reasons why automatic car washes are such a great choice, as well as the types of automated car wash available and some top tips for getting the most from them.

Why opt for an Automatic Car Wash?

Not only is an automatic car wash quicker and easier than washing your vehicle by hand, it can often do a better job.

Here are just some of the benefits of going down the automatic car wash route:

  • Automatic car washes don't skimp on rinsing! In laudable attempts to conserve precious water, hand washers don't always make sure every bit of soap is rinsed away. Soap doesn't mix well with wax or a top coat spray, leading to a poor appearance and even damage to the paintwork.
  • Automatic car washes use suitable cleaning products. It's in the interests of a successful auto car wash company to use high-grade products that are specifically designed for the job. If you don't have all the necessary products to hand before commencing a hand wash, it's tempting to complete the job with whatever you've got available. This almost certainly won't give the best result.
  • Regular automatic car cleaning protects your paintwork. Air-borne contaminants and pollutants don't just coat your car with grime, they can also react with the paintwork, potentially causing corrosion, pitting or discolouration.
  • A car with paintwork that's been carefully looked after through sustained, high-grade cleaning is likely to command a higher resale price.
  • A clean vehicle reflects well on you, which is always a plus.

Types of Automatic Car Wash

Depending on where you live in the country, you may have access to one or more of the following:

Automotive Rollover Car Wash

These use a number of differently sized, soft brushes to gently but thoroughly remove caked on dirt and grime. Some rollovers have a touchless element to them, where high-pressure water jets, rather than brushes, are used to perform some elements of the cleaning. During an automatic rollover wash, the car sits on a moving track that conveys it through the cleaning process. Depending on the company offering the rollover, there may also be the opportunity for a number of add-on cleaning elements, such as:

  • High-pressure pre-wash of tyres and undercarriage bath.
  • Post-clean wipe down and polish by hand.
  • Coating with a spray-on wax or protective top coat.

Touchless Car Wash

A touchless car wash is completed without the use of brushes. Following pre-washing (if required), the vehicle is sprayed with a chemical cleaning solution, then rinsed thoroughly using high-power water jets. Finally, the car is dried using hot air. Following the basic car wash process, the cleaning company may also offer similar extras to those supplied with the rollover wash: an undercarriage bath; hand polish; or spray coating, for example.

Self-serve Car Wash

Some areas offer self-serve. In a self-serve arrangement, customers wash their own cars but are given access to a high-pressure water jet to enable them to remove stubborn grime from wheels and bumpers, as well as thoroughly rinse the paintwork. Depending on the self-serve company, it may be possible for the customer to obtain some services, such as an undercarriage bath or final spray coating, from the cleaning company, for an additional cost.

Five Ways to Get More From Your Car Wash

  1. Pick your time of day. Few things degrade paintwork faster than UV light! When your car is being washed, protective wax and spray coatings are removed, along with the grime. This temporarily leaves your paintwork vulnerable to the sun's rays. For this reason, we recommend taking your car to be cleaned earlier in the day, preferably when it's overcast. This timing keeps UV exposure to a minimum when the vehicle is at its most vulnerable.
  2. Do the final dry and polish yourself. We recommend that you take your own, clean polishing materials and turn down the offer of a post-air-dried manual polish. Unless the cloths or leathers used are scrupulously clean, there is a risk they contain particles of grit or similar. Doing the final polish yourself won't take long, and you know your paintwork won't be inadvertently scratched through the use of dirty polishing clothes.
  3. Extras that you don't want. Almost all car washes offer customers a number of different options for additional services or cleaning processes. Of the various options available, there are some that just don't offer particularly good value: spray-on wax or some other protective coating, for example, is unlikely to provide the intense UV protection your vehicle needs. Similarly, anti-corrosion sprays applied to the underside of the car aren't usually good value, as most modern cars have undercarriages that are pre-coated with a long-lasting anti-corrosion agent.
  4. Extras that you do want. Of all the extras available, if there is an undercarriage bath on offer, then we recommend that you take advantage of it! Cleaning accumulated grot off the bottom of your car is never particularly fun. Unfortunately, a build-up of grime can block the drainage holes that prevent the build-up of moisture inside the vehicle. Over time, this can lead to the creation of a damp environment inside the undercarriage, potentially facilitating the growth of mould and increasing the possibility of rust.
  5. Check your brakes and paintwork before leaving the car wash. Whilst it's unlikely that your paintwork will suffer any damage as a result of a wash, careless handling or a harsh brush could leave a mark. Giving your car a thorough inspection before leaving the facility allows any flaws in the cleaning process (as well as any resultant harm to your vehicle) to be identified, and hopefully rectified. Whilst it's unlikely that water will have got into the brakes, it's always worth giving them a quick test before moving off at speed.
  6. Do your own waxing! Whilst most cleaning products used on cars in the process of an automatic wash are as good as (frequently better than) those you might use at home, the spray-on wax that's a common car wash option is nowhere near as good as the wax that you can apply by hand. A good-quality wax not only gives your car an unmatched shine, it also acts as a powerful UV block, and protects your paint from pollution and scratches. Hand waxing your vehicle provides the perfect finishing touch to an automatic car wash visit.

Used correctly, an automatic, or drive-through car wash, can save you time and money, as well as giving superior results in comparison with a hand wash. Follow our tips on your next visit to the car wash and see the benefits!

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Jordan Ballard

Jordan Ballard

Automotive Content Editor

Jordan is a car finance and automotive industry specialist at Only Cars. With over 20 years of experience with frontline and management roles in sales, finance and other areas, Jordan has an incredible understanding of the automotive industry. As Automotive Content Editor, Jordan loves sharing his passion for cars with the Only Cars audience.