Skip to main content

When you buy a car from a dealership, part of the sales protocol is to get the car “detailed” before handing you the keys to it. In case you’re a stickler about keeping your car’s paint as shiny and new as possible, here is why you should probably say “no” to the dealership washing the car that you just bought.

You get what you pay for at the dealership car wash, even if it’s “free”

If you buy a new or used car, the dealership will never charge you for washing it. In fact, most dealers will even offer to wash your car when you get an oil change done. However, you should always refuse it. Formula Auto Care mentions that you get what you pay for, even if the car wash is free. The reason is that the cleaning equipment at most dealerships is usually not properly maintained and can cause more damage to the car’s paint than you would think.

Two workers aim pressure washers at an Audi to clean off the paint finish
Workers at Divisadero Touchless Car Wash use high-pressure hoses to rinse off a car | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The car detailers are not really detailers

In addition to potentially shoddy car-washing equipment, the detailers that are hired to wash your new pride and joy are typically not actually trained detailers. In fact, many of them have “several days to a month” of experience when it comes to washing cars, which means that they most likely haven’t had enough education and experience when it comes to learning the nuances of washing a car properly.

Aside from their being untrained “professionals,” the equipment that they use is typically dirty and not in line with what an actual detail shop may use. For example, they may use dirty towels to dry the car most of the time. The wash buckets that they use don’t have “grit guards” to prevent dirt and grime from making their way onto the sponge and then onto your car.

A man washes his vehicle at a self-service car wash| Dmitry Serebryakov\TASS via Getty Images

What can you do to prevent the dealership from washing your car?

If you’re buying a car from a dealership, you can simply tell the salesperson not to have it washed before handing you the keys. Believe it or not, they actually won’t mind your request considering it takes one long step out of the sales process, thus making their job easier, and it will also make the entire process much faster, which is to your own benefit.

If you’re getting your car worked on by the service center at the dealership, then place a sign that says “Do Not Wash” on your windshield. The service center will gladly adhere to this instruction, and the dealership can be held liable if they end up washing the car and doing some damage to it.

Workers detail a car
Workers apply soap to a Cadillac at a car wash | Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

How Do You Trade in a Car That’s Not Paid Off?

Lastly, if you end up not getting the car washed at the dealership, take it to a professional detailer instead or detail it yourself. It can cost around $100 to $200 for a professional detailer to clean the car, but if you do it yourself, you could save a lot of money. Even if you had to purchase the cleaning supplies, you might only spend around $30 to $50 for everything for a proper do-it-yourself detail job. Ultimately, the extra financial cost, as well as the time spent, can inevitably keep your car looking much newer for a longer period of time.  

What is the best way to wash a new car?

After purchasing a new car and bringing it home, it’s a good idea to detail it yourself. We recommend using products from reputable companies like Chemical Guys, but any product brand you like will do. Once you acquire all of the products you need, — like a couple of buckets, microfiber towels, car wash soap, and a wash mitt — using the two-bucket method to wash the car is your best bet. Afterward, apply a good coat of wax to keep the car protected.