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When I was young, I was told to always use hand car washes (or better, to do it myself) rather than machine car washes. The reason given was that machine car washes destroy the paint.

As a consequence of this, my car often goes for over 6 months between washes, simply because dropping everything and driving out of my way to a hand car wash isn't exactly the highest priority in my schedule.

In my case, is getting a machine car wash every week going to cause significant damage to my paint?

6

I used to manage a machine wash and I can tell you that the good ones do not hurt your paint at all.

If they did, they probably wouldn't be as popular and prominent as they are, eh?

A reputable machine/tunnel wash is inspected every half hour to an hour for debris, the brushes are washed down several times a day, and the tunnel/bay is thoroughly cleaned of dirt, grime, and debris each morning and night.

With that being said: Never use a self-service wash bay, as people will use the body brush on their wheels and tires, and you then in turn get their brake dust and road nast rubbing all over your paint, leaving scratches and gashes in the paint.

Hope that helps!

  • I've used self-service washes before but prior to using the brush on the paintwork, I blast it with a high pressure jet from the lance. – Steve Matthews May 7 at 8:13
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They could for a number of reason.

If the car is very dirty, for example, some heavier dirt is likely to be on the paint; if its not removed properly before (with a water stream for example), when the dirt gets "brushed" the brushes will move the dirt around possibly creating small scratches all around.

On an old car (or any car with a weak paintjob) the brushing could be too strong and infact ruin the paintjob by creating small scratches or removing small parts of the paintjob in dangerous spots (corners for example).

Also, it can happen that if the previous car was very dirty, some of the dirt remains on the brushes, and again it can lead to dirt being brushed around and scratching the paintjob. Sure, we are talking about very small scratches eventually but every run they become more noticeable, especially under sunlight.

i'd say that type of wash is okay if the car is not so dirty and you know a reliable washer. In your case, if your car gets reasonably dirty (not wasted but dirty enough to have a wash) over a week you should be able to use machine car washes. Examine the paintjob closely afterwards and if you start noticing small scratches then stop immediately.

Remember that scratches are far more noticeable on darker and metallic paint.

  • Do most machine washes run a rinse cycle (water stream) before the wash cycle? – Naftuli Kay Sep 2 '14 at 18:23
  • They do, but not necessarily strong enough/in the right spot to remove the bigger dirt. – Andrew P. Sep 3 '14 at 8:07
  • There are pre-wash soaking liquids available that can be sprayed on car shortly before entering the machine, these seem to make the first flush much more effective. – Imre Sep 5 '14 at 8:24
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Any abrasion to your vehicles paintwork will over time flatten its shine. It can be happen more quickly and made worse, as illustrated by 'Andrew P'.

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