We all know why it’s important to clean our cars regularly. Regularly cleaning your car inside and out makes it not only a more pleasant ride, but it protects your car’s paint work and will increase resale value over the life of your car. Yet many of us just don’t have the time or inclination to clean our cars carefully. Who wants to spend their Sunday morning washing a car anyway?
But going to a car wash is fraught with danger. I remember buying our very first new car in 2002—a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. Elvio was about to give it its first wash when I took it to a while-you-wait car wash—one of the chains where you can grab a coffee while they wash your car. This left the car covered in hundreds of tiny hairline scratches that took hours to buff out.
Hairline scratches and swirl marks have been on the increase over the last few years, largely due to washing cars at local car washes. Ultimately, finding a reputable car wash or car detailer who protects your car’s exterior, rather than ruining it, is becoming increasingly difficult, as the dodgy cheap outlets are pushing the good ones out of business.
Why does this happen? Many car washes use the same sponges and rags to clean multiple cars. This means dirt and debris from other cars gets left on the sponge and finds its way onto your car, leaving nasty swirl marks or hairline scratches. While they’re probably aware of good car wash practice, they often look for the cheapest way possible to remain competitive.
So what’s the solution? It’s important when cleaning your car to avoid car washes or be very diligent in finding a good one.
Car Wash Dos and Don’ts
CAR WASH DOS
- Ask around. A referral from someone who has had a good experience and a good result is a great start.
- At the car wash look out for dirty rags and sponges. Ask them if they’re changed with every vehicle or how often they’re replaced. If they won’t give you a reasonable answer, you can see dirty sponges and rags or the environment itself is dirty, drive straight out of there.
- Bring your own sponges. There’s nothing wrong with taking your new clean sponge to the car wash and requesting they use yours. If they’re not happy with this, leave.
- Go early or late in the day to avoid harsh direct sunlight. Cold or tepid water placed on hot metal is not good for your car’s paint work.
- Use a smaller, professional car detailer versus a large, production-line car wash. Car detailers will charge a little more, but they are much more likely to not only do a better job, but to use good washing practices, such as clean sponges and the two-bucket wash method.
CAR WASH DON’TS
- Go to charity car wash days. Sorry, but those kids could be using anything to wash your car.
- Use the drive throughs that use brushes or cloths. Some of the older-style car washes still use the spinning brushes, which are notorious for leaving scratches. The softer cloth variety is better, but still not good. If you must use a drive through, look out for a brushless water-only wash. This won’t give you a great result, but it is good for a quick, easy clean without the damage. Limit these to only once in a while, rather than relying on them for every wash.
- Pay extra for waxes and polishes (unless using a professional detailer). Most often these products are low quality and overpriced.
DIY Car Cleaning Dos and Don’ts
If I’ve convinced you of the importance of cleaning your car yourself, there are still some dos and don’ts to be aware of.
DIY CAR CLEANING DOS
- Clean your car on an overcast day or just after dawn/before sunset when the sun is less harsh.
- Wash bird poo off as soon as it happens. Bird poo contains acids that strip paint work. Use a hose and soft cloth as soon as you can.
- If you’re a weekend driver and have to park on a tree-lined street, then invest in a car cover to protect your car between cleaning.
- If you drop your sponge then rinse well—really, really well. If you’ve dropped it somewhere particularly dirty, then you’re probably up for a new sponge.
DIY CAR CLEANING DON’TS
- Pressure wash your engine. A dirty engine that works is better than a clean one that doesn’t. Pressure washing your engine forces streams of water into rubber seals and around sensitive electronic components. If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your engine, you can ask your mechanic to degrease it during your next car service. They will know the correct techniques and use the correct products.
- Use household cleaning products. These products are designed for a different purpose and can be too harsh on your car’s paint.
CAR CLEANING TIP
If you don’t have the time or inclination to clean your car yourself, here’s what some of our time-poor customers do…
Pay a family member, friend or neighbour to do it. Students or those looking for some extra cash are often happy for some extra pocket money. Just be sure they’re following the previous tips to get the best wash and supply them with good quality and clean products. Depending on where you park your car, you should be aiming for a wash every one to three months at a minimum. If you park under trees, then expect to wash your car more often.
CAR CLEANING TIP
Invest in going to a reputable detailer once a year for a wax and polish. This will protect your car over its life and pay you back in dividends when you sell your car. It’s also, of course, much nicer driving around in a shiny, clean car.
The Finish Line
Everyone wants a shiny, clean car, but many car washes are doing your car more damage than good, creating hairline scratches and swirls in your paint. Cheap car cleaning services are popping up everywhere, but are usually not a great option for your car. Whether you go to a car wash or do it yourself, it’s important to clean your car regularly. Follow my dos and don’ts to ensure you get the best result every time.