Washing your car regularly is a great way to protect your trip. Not only does it keep everything looking good, it can also help prevent rust and paint damage by removing harmful contaminants.
However, not all car washes are created equal. And some washing methods can even do more harm than good. To help you separate fact from fiction, we’ve compiled some popular car wash tips—both good and bad—along with the facts to back them up.
So whether you’ve just brought home a new vehicle or are trying to keep your old car shining like new, here are some facts you should know about car washes.
Myth or fact? No-touch car washes are better for your paintwork.
It depends on. A “no-touch”; car wash is one that uses chemicals and high-pressure water to clean your car – unlike an automatic car wash that uses rotating brushes or soft cloths. In theory, both are capable of getting the job done. But the truth is in the details. If your car is really dirty, a touchless car wash may not have the power to get it completely clean. However, a car wash with worn brushes or dirty rags can damage your vehicle – leaving small scratches in the paint while transferring dirt from other vehicles.
Before you decide on a wash, Consumer Reports recommends taking a look at the brushes in an automatic car wash to see if they look dirty or worn. This may be an indication of a poorly maintained facility. If you stick with a contactless wash, they recommend switching it up every now and then with a soft cloth or hand wash to get your ride completely clean.
Myth or fact? An underbody wash can prevent rust.
Fact. Opting for an underbody wash means that the underbody of your vehicle will be flushed down with a high pressure sprayer of water. The point of this wash is to remove any mud, salt or sand that may be packed into the hard to reach areas of your vehicle. Trapped moisture and corrosive materials like road salt can cause your vehicle to rust, so it’s a good idea to opt for an underbody wash – especially if you’re driving through snow in the winter. You do not need to select this option every time. But the experts at Consumer Reports recommend an underbody wash at least once a season.
Myth or fact? Washing your car by hand is better than an automatic wash.
Fact. If you want the ultimate showroom shine, it’s hard to beat hand washing and detailing your car. That’s because a hand wash allows you to go over every square inch of your vehicle, ensuring it’s completely clean. And you can spend extra time cleaning stubborn dirt and grime that might be missed in an automatic wash. The only downside is that hand washing your car takes more time and effort than running it through an automatic car wash.
There is a caveat to this fact: using poor technique or the wrong materials can always do more harm than good. Want to hand wash your car like a pro? Check out our blog post on how to clean and detail your car at home.
Myth or fact? You should always buy the most expensive laundry.
Myth. Basic. Express. Deluxe. Super. Neither. Go to your local car wash and you’ll find a range of washing options – all at different price points. Conventional thinking would have you believe that the most expensive option is always the best. But is it true?
According to Consumer Reports, the more expensive car wash options—like spray-on wax and wheel cleaner—may add a little extra shine, but they don’t really do much to protect your car. So if you want a glossier finish, you can always get a premium wash. Just know that it probably won’t make your car cleaner.
Myth or fact? Dish soap is safe to use on your car.
Myth. A common car wash myth is that using dish soap works just as well as car wash soap. But retail experts agree that dish soap is best left in the kitchen. That’s because the harsh chemicals in detergents don’t just remove dirt—they’ll also strip your car’s paint of its protective wax coating. Car wash soaps, on the other hand, are specially formulated to remove dirt without removing wax and sealants from the paint surface.
Myth or fact? You should only dry your car with a clean microfiber cloth.
Fact. It’s true. The best way to dry your car is with a clean microfiber cloth or shammy. Using anything else (such as a beach towel, beach towel or an old t-shirt) can lead to scratches and swirls in the paint’s protective clear coat. It’s also a better option than air drying, which can leave water spots on your car caused by minerals and other contaminants in the water.
Myth or fact? You only need to wax your car once a year.
Myth. This myth came to prominence as a marketing ploy by car wax companies. But the truth is, there is no right answer to how often you should wax your car.
According to JD Power, how often you should wax your vehicle depends more on the environment your car is exposed to. If you keep your car in a climate controlled garage, your wax coating will last longer than a car parked on the street. Harsh winter weather and year-round direct sunlight can also wear down your paint’s protective coating faster than more temperate conditions.
Considering these factors, the right interval for you may be a few times a year or once a season. And here’s a tip: Feel the surface of the car’s paint with your finger. If it doesn’t feel smooth, it’s probably time for a wax.
Myth or fact? Waxing and polishing are the same thing.
Myth. Although some may use the terms interchangeably, there is actually a big difference between waxing and polishing. Car wax is formulated to improve and protect your paintwork. Think of it as a thin coating applied on top of the paint. Polishing, on the other hand, is the process of removing minor surface imperfections from your paint. During this process, a retailer will use an abrasive to remove things like scratches, swirl marks, and oxidation. When the paint surface is corrected, wax is applied on top.
Myth or fact? Paste wax is better than liquid wax.
It depends on. Traditional paste waxes apply a thick, protective coating on top of your vehicle’s finish. This type of wax usually takes longer to apply than liquid waxes because it needs to be buffed in with an applicator pad. Liquid waxes, on the other hand, are applied by spraying them onto your vehicle and wiping them off. They take less time to apply and are generally easier to use for the average car owner.
It used to be true that paste waxes provided more protection. But advances in technology and synthetic waxes in recent decades have made the old adage less true. Of course, your results may vary depending on the type and brand of wax you choose. Whatever wax you decide on, make sure you only apply it to a clean car. Not washing your vehicle before waxing can result in scratches and swirl marks.
Get the ultimate protection
A good car wash can make your ride shine like new. But nothing protects your vehicle like car insurance from Erie Insurance.
At ERIE, we understand the pride you take in your car. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to help you protect it—with the coverage you need at a price you can afford. To learn more about auto insurance from ERIE, contact us today.
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