Tips, Tricks & Trends

You Shouldn’t Take Your Tesla Through a Soft-Touch Car Wash

In the winter, it seems like it’s so much easier to make a quick run through the car wash rather than stand outside in the cold with two buckets and a hose. While this is a great option for many people, it isn’t always the best thing for your car. In fact, going through a car wash with giant rollers can seriously damage your paint, but if you drive an electric car like a Tesla, there might be more reasons to avoid the car wash than just cosmetics.

‘Don’t wash’ signs

Since Teslas have grown in popularity, more and more car washes are taking steps to warn unsuspecting owners of potentially harmful situations, and newer, more updated car washes that feature touch-free washing are fully capable of cleaning electric cars, including Teslas. But, if you often travel to older, soft-touch car washes that haven’t seen an update since the first of the century, you may have seen signs that warn drivers not to bring their Tesla or other electric vehicles through the soft-touch car wash. While most car washes also have signs stating that they aren’t responsible for any potential damage, it is odd to see so many go as far as to shoo potential customers away.

Car wash extras
Car in carwash | Jarino47/Getty Images

Tesla vehicles in the car wash

It isn’t just Tesla cars — many electric and hybrid cars warn against bringing your vehicle into the soft-touch car wash. Some reasons are more simple, like how car washes spread around dirt and grime in a rather haphazard way, potentially damaging important sensors and cameras that help the car to operate normally. Some manufacturers, like Hyundai, state in their user manual that soft-touch car washes can misalign sensors, effectively rendering safety features like forward collision warning useless. Tesla forums also claim there can be potential water damage to the charging port if the door is not closed and sealed properly, and many owners have shared their concerns, though it is unclear whether this has posed a substantial problem.

“If washing in an automatic car wash, use touchless car washes only.”

Tesla Model 3 Owners Manual

Some car washes require the car to be put into neutral and left unattended as it is moved through the system. This can be troublesome for vehicles like Teslas, which have safety features that prevent the car from staying in neutral for more than a few minutes at a time unless put into transport mode, as described by some owners in the Tesla Forums — you know, so it doesn’t roll away on you. Some electric cars even come with instructions in the user manual to help drivers get into neutral in case they want to go through one of these driver-less car washes.

A red A 2015 Tesla Model parked on a dirt road in front of mountains in California S P85D
A 2015 Tesla Model S P85D | Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times

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Avoid the car wash anyway

Really, unless you are going to a completely touch-free car wash, you shouldn’t be taking your car there anyway. While those giant spinning microfiber rolls may look like the quickest and laziest way to get minor dirt and grime off of your car, they can really do a lot of damage to your paint. Plus, we all know that Teslas aren’t the cheapest car on the market, so why subject a beautiful and modest paint job to potential scratches and guaranteed swirls? Not only does Tesla warn against using soft-touch car washes in their user manuals, they usually aren’t a good idea anyway.

Tesla Model 3 cars on display in China
Tesla Model 3 electric cars on display | Ding Ting/Xinhua via Getty

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While there is a decent chance you can get away with a quick run through an automatic car wash if you really need to, most people would agree that it’s not worth risking your Tesla over. Touchless car washes might not seem quite as effective, but they are much less hazardous to your car’s paint and other features.