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If you’re like most people, your vehicle is one of the first big investments you make. Proper maintenance is key to prolonging the enjoyment and value of this investment. Other than frequent visual inspections, you should complete routine cleanings as part of your regular car maintenance.

How often should you wash your vehicle?

With today’s improved paint compositions, modern vehicle finishes are more durable than ever. But cars do get dirty. They’re subject to chemical reactions from everyday substances like road grime, tar, bird droppings, and even salt if you live in a climate with ice and snow.

Tar and dirt can make their way into your vehicle’s finish and cause it to lose its luster. Bird droppings and salt can chemically react with your car’s finish, eating away the clear coat to expose the more vulnerable paint underneath. Salt and mud can wreak havoc on your undercarriage, leading to rust and decay on the frame of the vehicle.

How often you should wash your vehicle depends on how often it gets dirty. Consumer Reports recommends that you should wash it whenever it looks dirty at a minimum. Regular washings could save your finish and prolong the value of your investment.

How to choose a car wash

One of the easiest ways to find a good car wash is by reading reviews online. Once you’ve found a few convenient locations, you can visit each one to do a more thorough inspection. Check the building and grounds’ conditions. If the exterior is poorly maintained, it’s not likely the inside will be any better.

If possible, go in and ask for a tour. Dirty brushes or poorly maintained equipment are sure signs to look elsewhere. Once you’ve picked the best location, you’ll need to know which car-wash extras are worth the price.

Undercarriage wash

An undercarriage wash will direct a high-pressure spray of cleaners at the grimy underbelly of your car. This doesn’t need to happen weekly, but it’s a good idea to add it to your wash after an encounter with excessive mud. If you live in a place that treats winter roads with salt and other chemicals, an undercarriage wash is worth it as winter turns to spring.

Wheel cleaner

Wheel cleaner is a specially formulated soap designed to remove brake dust and road grime from steel, aluminum, and chrome. Like the undercarriage wash, you don’t need to include it every time you wash your car. However, it’s worth it if you notice your wheels need some extra attention.

Spray-on wax

Many people choose the spray-on wax option thinking it’ll help preserve their vehicle’s finish. No doubt car wax commercials have reinforced this thinking. However, spray-on wax applied during a car wash isn’t as durable as hand-applied or more expensive spray-on waxes.

Automatic car wash wax is simply designed to protect your car’s finish during the drying phase of the wash in order to prevent water spots and streaks. No one wants water spots on their freshly washed vehicle, but simply drying any residual water with a towel will save you money.