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Getting a car wash is a key part of vehicle maintenance. Regular washes help remove contamination that would otherwise harm your car’s paint. But if you truly care for your car, you should avoid the automatic car wash at all costs. And even using the touchless automatic car wash can cause problems that dull your vehicle’s finish.

1. Touchless car washes use harsh chemicals

It’s easy to see how the spinning brushes of a traditional automatic car wash can harm your car. But you should also avoid the touchless automatic car wash for a completely different reason. Because these washes can’t rely on physically removing the dirt from your car, they instead use harsh chemicals. But those chemicals, over time, can degrade your vehicle’s clear coat.

They often start with a high-pH (basic) solution to break down stuck-on contaminants. Then, a low-pH (acidic) solution acts as a solvent to further loosen and dissolve residue. A final rinse step then aims to leave you with a clean slate. However, such harsh chemicals can do a number on your clear coat. With older cars or those with soft paint (Corvette black in particular), such harsh solutions can degrade the clear coat over time. In addition, they often break down waxes and ceramic coatings, leaving your car less protected than when it arrived.

2. The rinse process is never complete

Avoid an automatic car wash like this one if you want to keep your car clean.
Inside a car in an automatic car wash | Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Because every car is different, the general spray-down rinse of an automatic car wash can never quite get everything clean. If sprinkler water is bad for your car paint, imagine what leftover cleaning solutions can do when baked in the hot sun on a summer afternoon. Because there are nooks and crannies for all of these solutions to hide in, they will often drip onto your paint after you’ve left the car wash.

Even the high-speed air dryer can’t completely remove the risk of these chemicals left behind on your car. The only way to keep your car truly clean and protected is to avoid the automatic car wash and opt for a hand wash or professional detail instead.

3. Avoid automatic car wash wax options

A blue 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4MATIC full-size luxury SUV model exiting a car wash
Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 4MATIC | MBUSA
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It may seem like a good idea to add the spray wax to your automatic car wash. Don’t. These waxes are good, in theory. But, the leftover cleaning chemicals often interfere with the spray wax and leave dull streaks on your car as you drive. Furthermore, too many applications of this wax can dull your car’s finish, as they are never properly dried or buffed to ensure a lasting shine.

Over time, you’ll have more buildup than shine, and you’ll have to pay a professional to buff away the excess wax and give your car a fresh, professional wax or coating to restore proper shine and protection.

Keep your car shining and avoid the automatic car wash

Look, I live in the north, I get it. You can’t always hand wash your car, especially in the winter months. And in those cases, an auto wash is better than letting salt eat away at your vehicle until spring. But as often as you can, avoid the automatic car wash and opt for a hand wash or professional detail. The gentler chemicals, tailored approach, and high-end finish will keep your car looking nicer for longer. And you won’t have to worry about paint damage from aggressive chemicals and incomplete rinses.