Do automatic car washes damage your paint?

Cheap and easy they may be, but automatic car washes will leave their mark over time

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We’ve all done it. You’re busy on the weekend, but an Ibis has just laid waste to your paintwork with yesterday’s breakfast. Most importantly, you have to get the bird dirt off.

Sometimes an automatic car wash feels like the only answer and, hey, once in a while it can’t hurt too badly, right?

Conventional logic says every now and again, an auto wash won’t be too bad – but according to Damon Lawrence, owner of automotive detailing business Auto Attention, automatic washes are a major cause of damaged paintwork.

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What’s wrong with automatic car washes?

"Automatic car washes, as much as they are convenient, are abrading your paintwork because the brushes used aren't properly maintained," Damon says.

"These machines are essentially like slapping your car with a dirty mop, causing hundreds of deep micro scratches called ‘swirl marks’. Over time, this damage builds and eventually results in your paint becoming dull and the scratches become easily noticeable.

"Repairing the swirl marks is done through a process called paint correction. This process cuts down the peaks of your paintwork to level out any swirl marks seen on the surface. This process can only be done so many times due to a car's clear coat being a certain thickness, depending on your manufacturer.

"The cost of this process varies but on average costs over $1000."

And if you think you’re slick navigating the issue by using a touch-free automatic car wash, chances are you're still doing damage.

"Unfortunately as perfect as the idea sounds, not only do touch-free washes use aggressive acids to cut down the grime – which can eat away paint – the high pressure hose simply won't clean it 100 per cent."

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How do I clean my car quickly, easily and cheaply?

What’s the alternative for time-poor owners? Well, as the old saying goes: cheap, fast, or good. Pick two.

The best protection comes in the form of high quality wax or, even better, a semi-permanent ‘ceramic coating’.

Applying a ceramic coating is a great way for your car to stay clean in the first place. The hydrophobic coating keeps dirt and grime from sticking to a car's paintwork. Ceramic coatings also give you a ‘free wash’ when it rains.

Ceramic coatings can be applied at home, but it’s better to correct your paint first for best results. Again, DIY is possible though it takes at least a weekend to do properly, therefore seeking out a professional will suit most people’s schedules better.

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If you want to take the best care of your car's paint, "it is always best to do it yourself and use the two bucket wash method, making sure to use clean microfibre materials when touching the car."

Tom Fraser


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