Automatic car washes came about as a form of automation over fifty years ago. Today, you can spot an automatic car wash at large gas stations and possibly every busy main road on your commute, but they are DESTROYING your clear coat finish!
Understand that in years past cars were painted with thick enamel paints and did not have a clear coat finish. American iron cars also were not sealed as well as they are today and roadways may not have been as clean and so rusting was a bigger issue than damage to the finish, creating a demand for initially an assembly line approach and then a full automatic system for washing vehicles at high volume.
Today cars are painted and then finished with a clear coat layer that adds protection and forms a sealant barrier that also makes the metallic paint pop if properly cared for. Yet, we seem to have grandfathered in automatic car washes as an acceptable solution for caring for the exterior surfaces of our modern vehicles.
You might continue to take your vehicle through automatic car washes because it is quick and convenient and while it may be illegal to text and drive in Florida, you can certainly find a way for a mobile device to distract you the short amount of time that an automatic car wash takes to pull your vehicle through the wash tunnel. Realize what is exactly going on with these mechanical automatic car washes. When the car is still sort of wet from the automatic car wash it may seem like a good enough job, but many of the detergents used in high volume car washes may actually dry out your paint and even if you are lucky enough to not have your car physically dented or trim ripped off and slapped down the entire length of your vehicle there is still damage occurring!
The majority of these automatic car wash systems, even if the equipment is newer are abrasive by nature. The brushes that slap every surface of your vehicle are filled with grit and dirt from the cars ahead of you, turning those brushes into a weapon to scratch and mar your vehicle’s clear coat finish. Some car washes may have newer brushes and have staff to do a better job of “rinsing” these brushes between cars, but some don’t and if you think about it from a business perspective of owning a high volume automatic car wash, it is all about volume and speed and so quality is not a primary concern. The other enemy in these automatic car washes are the detergents being used. Even though they may be very foamy and full of fun colors, they’re usually the least expensive possible, overly aggressive, powdery salt based and overall improper for use on an painted automotive clear coat finish.
Below is an image of before and after a paint correction service. All of the micro marring and damage you see in the before side is a collection of millions of little micro scratches in the clear coat. These scratches leave the surface of the clear coat open and exposed to accelerated UV damage, bird-dropping etching and overall expedited clear coat failure.
To repair this damage caused by an automatic car wash often takes more time and may actually end up costing more than any accrued savings from opting for the automatic washes over a proper hand wash as a Paint Correction service has to be performed. Paint correction is where an automotive detailing technician has to actually level, or polish through the clear coat to get to the bottom of each of those scratches. This leaves your clear coat thinner than it was before (which is why we recommend installing a Paint Coating after having a Paint Correction performed).
A professional paint correction service followed by a ceramic coating is often times very expensive and while it may be more profitable as an auto detailing service to perform nothing, but paint corrections and ceramic coatings, the best bet for you is to avoid this damage in the first place by regularly hand washing your vehicle.
Any question and concerns? Please contact Gabriel Wiedenhöver at (850)728-8323 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to serving you!