Car enthusiasts know the quality of a cars paint job is the difference between a car looking brand new or being mistaken prematurely for a clunker. It’s kind of ironic how drivers who pamper their cars are careful to park in the nose-bleeds section of parking lots overlook some of the most blatant threats to their finish:
1. Using an automatic touch car wash
This is probably the most obvious one. While you may think you’re in the clear if you don’t notice a scratch on your car after using the gas station car wash, chances are you just added a fresh coat of swirl marks on your paint. In an automatic “touch” car wash, the brushes used to scrub your car are seldom cleaned. If the SUV that went in before you just got done driving across a sandy beach, you can bet there’s some grit left over in the brushes that will scrape your paint.
The only type of touch car wash you’d ever want to consider using is one that uses synthetic brushes that by nature are resistant to holding dirt and particles. Even with this type of wash, if the workers at the end dry your car by hand then the point is moot. You didn’t think that over priced $12 wash included a clean towel for you did you? Having your car dried with a dirty towel is as bad as using a non-synthetic touch car wash.
When in doubt, avoid the touch car washes. After all, touchless washes are the future and there’s no way your car can get scratched if nothing touches it right?
2. Using a self serve or touchless wash
Contrary to popular belief, using a self serve or touchless wash (basically the same thing, just ones automated) can still scratch your car. If your car is exceptionally dirty, the high pressure water can actually skid ice and other debris across your paint causing dreaded swirl marks. Even if your car goes in relatively clean it isn’t safe. Many of these car washes actually use recycled water which doesn’t effectively remove all contaminants What does this mean? To save a few bucks on the overpriced wash you bought, the car wash is sandblasting your car when you wash it. Touchless car washes also use higher concentrations of soap which can strip your cars wax off more quickly.
Adding insult to injury, touchless washes don’t even remove all the dirt off your car. The best these types of washes can do is remove big clumps of dirt (to be broken down and recycled against your car as projectiles later) and leave a hazy film on the paint.
If you must use a touchless/self-serve car wash, keep in mind that engine cleaner and regular wash water all go through the same wand. Make sure to always start the wash on high-pressure rinse and spray it against the wall for at least 20 seconds before aiming it at your vehicle. This will clear out the hose of any harsh chemicals left in the lines.
3. Letting ice slide off the car (or wiping it off recklessly)
This is something a lot of people wondered and a member of a car detailing forum actually did an experiment. Sure enough, ice and snow sliding across paint were enough to scratch the finish. Even if the ice itself isn’t abrasive enough to scratch the car, the sliding from when you slam on your brakes or the wind kicks up is enough to move the dirt underneath, leaving scratches on your paint. If you really care about your cars paint, you’ll want to carefully remove ice chunks and snow by hand or wait for them to melt while the car is still.
4. Leaving bird poop on your car
I’m convinced the popularity of branches for birds to sit on is directly proportionate to the MSRP of the car parked beneath it. Not only are they disgusting, bird droppings on your car contain acid which can actually damage the paint. The effect is worse under direct sunlight, but any exposure of bird poop to your car is bad news. Always wash these stains off as soon as possible.
5. Leaving road salt and slush on your car
Many people put off washing their car in the winter due to the “it’s just going to get dirty again” mentality. While this may be the case, you definitely don’t want that corrosive road slush sitting on your paint any longer than it has to. If touchless/self-serve car washes have one use it’s to de-slush your car after a blizzard.
6. Tailgating vehicles, especially semi trucks
You know those tiny pecking noises you hear on the freeway? Those are the pebbles and other rocks from the cars in front of you (bigger the tires bigger the hazard) hitting your windshield. You wanna know what’s worse? For every clink you hear, there’s probably three more you didn’t hear chipping away at your cars front hood and fender. Good luck getting insurance companies to cover these stone chips, when I tried to file a claim I was told each chip was considered a separate incident.
7. Parking near a freeway, railroad tracks or in a polluted area
While darker color cars are cursed with having more prominent swirl marks, lighter colored cars are plagued with a phenomenon called “rail dust”, or industrial fallout. What appears as tiny rust flecks on your brand new car are actually microscopic pieces of metal and other pollutants that landed on your cars paint from the rusty rail cars and brakes of cars on the freeway. They don’t show up right away, instead they take time to bloom into a tiny rust dot on your finish. If caught early enough these can be wiped off, though deeper stains will require clay barring or possibly even an acid wash to remove. Many people freak out and think the paint on their new car is defective when it’s actually rail dust. A telltale sign of rail dust (as opposed to actual rust) is when it appears on plastic parts of the car.
8. Braking too hard
No, not because someone rear ends you and demolishes your rear fender. For much of the reasons listed above, the harder you brake the more of your own “rail dust” you will create. Braking gently doesn’t just save you money when it comes time to get new pads and rotors, it can cut down on your detailing costs as well.
9. Not waxing the car at least twice a year
Ideally you should wax your car right before winter (to ensure maximum protection from road salt and the elements) and right at the beginning of spring. Wax on a car is no different than if you dip your finger in liquid candle wax. It hardens around your finger forming a shell. If you were to wiggle your finger around, the wax does not stay uniformly attached to your skin, it cracks and breaks. The same thing happens to your car with the protective coating degrading over time.
10. Letting people borrow your car
Think about it, is your wife/friend/girlfriend/son really going to strategically park in an “end space”, or walk an extra 500 feet to avoid anyone parking near the car? Are they going to carefully hold their coat back so that the zipper doesn’t graze against the door when they open it? Are they going to take the longer, paved route to avoid getting stone chips from the dirt road? Are they going to patiently stay a football field behind a semi truck to avoid getting rocks kicked at the paint?
No, they aren’t. Only you are that OCD and only you care that much about your car. Never lend your car to someone if you care about the paint. If you must do so, try not to think about it.
Oh no! You just listed all the possible ways to wash a car! If they all scratch it what am I supposed to do?
Hand wash it, of course. It isn’t that simple though, improperly hand washing a car can damage it worse than an automatic wash. The safest method involves a cheap and ingenious invention and some microfiber cloths. Watch the video below to see this process as well as a list of all the supplies used in the video.
The only safe way to wash a car
Materials used in the video: