Can Drive Thru Car Wash Damage My Car?

Yes, some drive-thru carwashes do have the potential to damage your vehicle’s exterior.

No one can deny that drive-thru carwashes have a certain appeal. They are often attached to gas stations, making them highly convenient. Completing two errands in one stop essentially kills two birds with one stone. However, there are several reasons why the most convenient option may not be the best one in the long term for the maintenance of your vehicle’s exterior.

Here are a few factors to keep in mind before you get in line at the drive-thru:

What type of soap and brushes does the carwash use?

Brushes are inherently abrasive, so every vehicle owner should be concerned about drive-thru carwash brushes damaging their car, truck or SUV’s paint coat as they scrub off dirt, grime and other materials.

The type of soap used may contain harsh chemicals that could corrode your paint coat over time if overused. Car washes that advertise the use of gentle foams are ideal if you absolutely must use a drive-thru, as they provide a soft barrier between your car and the brushes used and also ensure a better final polish once your vehicle dries.

Does the drive-thru appear to be doing a rush job?

If the soap applied to your vehicle does not have time to settle in before the scrubbing begins, you run the risk of the dirt or grime on the surface merely being dragged across the exterior rather than actually removed.

There’s a difference between speed and efficiency, so this is something to keep in mind. Additionally, the soaps or foams used in carwashes are formulated to be a lubricant that helps break apart the bond between the dirt and your paint coat. They need time to break that bond before they are rinsed off.

What’s the deal with “touchless carwashes”?

Touchless carwashes use a combination of soap and highly pressurized water to clean your vehicle. There are no brushes, soft or otherwise, that touch the exterior of your vehicle. This carwash option was made to eliminate the possibility of scratches or scrapes caused by the brushes commonly found in automatic carwashes.

Often, because of the no-brush approach, this car washes leave your vehicle dirtier. Touchless carwashes use abrasive soaps to compensate for the lack of brushes or bristles involved in the cleaning process, which could prove hazardous for your vehicle’s exterior.

Does the carwash have a long line of people in front of you?

This argument might seem a little counterintuitive, because if a carwash is busy that means it’s good and high-quality, right? That’s not necessarily the case here.

If you see a long line of cars or trucks covered with mud and dirt in front of you, you may want to consider coming back at a time when the carwash is less busy.

Depending on how the carwash resets between vehicles and the quality of the brushes used, you could be spreading the dirt and grime of the cars ahead of you on your vehicle. Soft brushes are more delicate on a vehicle’s exterior, but they can also trap dirt and other particles in the fibers, which could be transferred onto you paint job when it’s your turn to drive through.

What are the best options to keep my car clean and detailed?

Part of maintaining your vehicle’s exterior is doing the simple things, like washing your car when it looks dirty. Just make sure you are vetting car washes by reading user reviews and even by going to the carwashes themselves and observing the practices of the staff as well as the equipment they use.

Observe cars before and after they come out of the car wash. If hand drying is offered at the end, are staff replacing rags or cloths between cars?

If you decide to wash your car yourself, be aware of the soaps and cloths you use and read the instructions for proper use of your chosen products. Be careful and do your research before you take action—and whatever you do, do not use dish soap on your car.

We understand that it’s not realistic to get your car detailed every single month, but it is worth getting your car detailed two to four times a year to take care of what other car washes (whether it be drive-thru or hand wash) miss. Semi-frequent detailing helps maintain your vehicle’s interior and exterior in the long run.

We Are Here to Help

At RPM Automotive we offer a variety of detail, maintenance and restoration services. Whether it is paint correction or vehicle wraps, our highly qualified team is available to give your vehicle the attention it deserves.
Call 602.776.8888 to get in touch with us today.