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Maintaining your car is part of responsible ownership. One task many drivers enjoy or loathe is washing their vehicles. Everyone has their preferred methods, either handwashing or using an automatic car wash. But some automated systems can damage vehicle equipment and accessories. For instance, if your vehicle has a tow hitch, you might wonder whether it impacts going through a car wash.

How automatic car washes work

There are several types of automatic systems. The most common involves a conveyor moving your vehicle through stages while large brushes and cleansers do the washing. Then water rinses the car. At the end of the conveyor, your car is dried, usually with blown air.

There is also a variant called a touchless car wash. This option relies on cleaning products shot at high speeds at your vehicle. Unlike traditional car washes with brushes (like the kind found at gas stations), touchless systems do not use brushes or cloth.

Somewhere in the middle of those two automated types is the soft-touch car wash. This variant uses high-pressure water, soap, and cloth strips to scrub the car. According to Family Handyman, this choice delivers the best wash among the automatic options. 

Will an automatic car wash damage a tow hitch?

A worker at a car wash dries a truck with a tow hitch in Long Beach, California, in July 2014
A truck with a tow hitch at a car wash | Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

Because tow hitches can cost hundreds of dollars and may be needed for everyday work or recreation, this is an important consideration when deciding on a way to clean your vehicle. The short answer to the question of whether an automated car wash will damage your trailer hitch is no.

Though the washing itself won’t damage your hitch, be sure to remove plug inserts for your hitch because any aggressive brushing might pull off or break the plug, Magic Car Wash explains. Another concern for tow hitches is that because they stick out, they could get in the way of the brush systems that travel around your vehicle to clean it. As a result, the rear of your car or around the hitch may not get cleaned properly.

Your best bet for a thorough cleaning is to remove the tow hitch before proceeding through the conveyor tunnel. At the very least, take out the plug insert if you have one so that it doesn’t get damaged or lost.

Which kind of automated system is better, friction or touchless?

Although a touchless car wash might be appealing, it doesn’t guarantee that your vehicle will get cleaned. Factors like how long it’s been since your car was last cleaned; what kind of dirt, pollen, or mud is on your car; and the paint quality can affect how much force will take to clean your vehicle. There’s even the dreaded task of cleaning raw eggs off a car. If your vehicle is really grimy, a touchless automatic car wash won’t do the best job.

Some contact or scrubbing is necessary for a thorough cleaning. Different methods use softer brushes or sponges to clean your car with a lower chance of damaging the paint, exterior features, or accessories. It’s also a good idea to learn more about the kind of cleansers that a car wash uses because some are more abrasive or not eco-friendly.


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