Skip to main content

Bike racks are great towing accessories. They enable riders to transport bikes safely and efficiently by car, truck, or SUV without the need to dismantle the bicycle or use a trailer completely. However, is it safe to go through a car wash with a bike rack attached to your vehicle?

Automatic car washes have been in operation for years now. While handy, some car washes can damage vehicle equipment attached to the exterior of a vehicle. So, let’s look at the basic things you need to know about automatic car washes and bike racks to improve bike and car safety.

Different kinds of automatic car washes and how they work?

A BMW car driving on a highway with bike rack on top
A BMW car with bike rack | Peter Steffen/picture alliance via Getty Images

There are many kinds of automatic car washes. However, the most common one involves a conveyor. This type moves your car past different phases while large brushes and cleansers work and use water to rinse the vehicle. Finally, you will be left with a dried vehicle, often using blown air.

Another type is called a touchless car wash. This method depends on high-powered water jets and detergents to wash your vehicle. Unlike with traditional brushes (like those used at gas stations), touchless systems don’t use clothes or brushes to wash your car. According to The Biking Apex, this is a safer alternative if you go through the car wash with a bike rack.

In-between these two automated car wash types are the soft-touch car wash, and it uses high-pressure water, cloth strips, and soap to clean the car.

Different types of bike racks

Some of the available bike racks in the market include truck-mounted, roof-mounted, spare tire-mounted, and hitch-mounted. All of them are versatile and are perfect for long-distance travel.

According to How Stuff Works, truck-mounted racks are excellent for recreational cyclists and economical. For roof-mounted bike racks, you tie your bike on top of your car roof, as the name implies. Spare tire mounts are perfect for off-road vehicles with a spare tire behind them. Meanwhile, hitch-mounted bike racks are ideal for long-distance travel if your bike doesn’t fit into your car. It is a bit expensive but an excellent choice for frequent travelers.

Can an automatic car wash damage a bike rack?

Many bike rack manufacturers recommend that you should remove the bike rack from your vehicle before going through an automatic car wash. The car wash brush might tangle or snag onto the bike rack, which could damage your vehicle, rack, or another person’s car.

Here are some specific concerns:

  • Voiding manufacturer’s warranty
  • Parts of the car wash system could tangle or snag in the racks and pull it off your car
  • The rack could fall off and damage your vehicle, the car wash system, or even the vehicle behind you.
  • Rusting and damage to fittings.

Thus, if you want to use an automatic car wash without removing your bike rack, use a touchless car wash. According to The Outdoor Theory, the robust systems from touchless car wash use chemicals and water pressure instead of spinning brushes. The risk of damage will be minimal due to less physical contact with your bike rack.

Which kind of automatic car wash is best, friction or touchless?


Can You Go Through a Car Wash With a Tow Hitch?

When comparing friction and touchless car wash types, specific areas require the friction and pressure from soft clothes to access hard-to-reach areas and physically remove dirt. That additional touch can go a long way in your car wash experience. After weighing both options, friction car wash is best at eliminating debris, insects, and dried-on bugs from the car than touchless.

However, if you consider the environmental impact of an automated car wash, friction is not an eco-car wash, according to DetailXPerts. On the other hand, it usually uses less water than a touchless car wash.