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In 1951, the first fully automatic car wash system came to fruition in Seattle, WA. Opened by three brothers Archie, Dean, and Eldon Anderson- this revolutionized the way people washed their vehicles. Present day, fully automatic car wash systems have evolved with technology and the cool light show but does Automation make everything better? While it's convenient for machines to automate a lot of our daily tasks such as car washing, It's also one that can leave permanent damage.

So is visiting an automatic car wash a smart idea? To each their own but there are some pros and cons of using them to keep your car clean. Is it better to hand wash your vehicle at home or take it to a professional detailer every few months? These are the questions we'll answer in this blog post.

What is an Automatic Car Wash Facility?

One misconception in the auto detailing world is that all automatic car washes are identical. That’s simply not true. In fact, there are multiple types of automatic wash techniques and facilities, each offering a different way of accomplishing the same task – remove debris from your vehicle. There are basically two types of automatic car washes in North America – touchless and friction-based.

Touchless Car Wash

The touchless car wash is the most user-friendly and less likely to damage your vehicle. This system usually features an in-bay automated system, where the driver pulls into a wash bay, and the system rolls over their stationary vehicle to wash it. Some of these touchless car wash system connect the wheels to a series of gears and a conveyor system, that move the vehicle through the touchless process – sometimes including undercarriage wash.

Friction-Based Car Wash

The second type of automated car wash is the friction-based facility like that found at a gas station. This uses a series of industrial-strength spinning machines with a cloth-like material that is used to wash the surface. These materials are made for durability – and not for gentle application of force. As such, the potential for swirl marks, paint chips, and other damage to the vehicle’s paint surface is greater than the touchless or hand wash system.

There are hybrid automated car washing facilities that use a combination of both touchless and friction materials. The main difference with these systems is the detergents that are used to wash the vehicle. The hybrid will typically use a lower pH car soap than the touchless machines.

Since touchless machines depend on high-pressure water – the shampoo needs to be more alkaline-based, to loosen debris, dirt, and contaminants from the surface. Hybrids using the wash wheel or strips can ‘scrub’ the car clean with less aggressive soaps.

What is a Tunnel Car Wash?

The most popular automated car wash facility is one you’ll find at gas stations, or local car wash facilities. It’s called a tunnel car wash – simply because you’ll drive the vehicle through a tunnel (with the tires connected to a conveyor system). There are some commercial car wash locations that will send your car through the tunnel car wash, before completing the wash with hand drying or applying protectants.

The Pros and Cons of Using an Automatic Car Wash

If you’re thinking about using an automatic car wash to keep your vehicle clean – there are some pros and cons to consider. Let’s start by clarifying that we’re not recommending or non-recommending (is that even a word) the use of automated car washing facilities.

We always guide our clients to the trusty two-bucket hand washing method – but if you’re without ability to wash your car at home, the touchless automatic car wash is your best option.

Here are the Pros of Using Auto Car Wash

PRO: Much better cleaning than in years past. New technology is infused into today’s automatic car washing facilities. They wash a vehicle better and with thorough coverage than in years past.

PRO: Touchless systems reduce potential of paint damage. The high-pressure washing facilities are better than the friction-based systems. If you can’t hand wash your vehicle with high-quality microfiber media (like a wash mitt), then the touchless system is best.

PRO: Quick, Fast, and Efficient. Anytime you can get your car washed in a matter of minutes – that’s a plus.

Here are the Cons of Using Auto Car Wash

CON: Using the wrong one can damage your car. As vehicle paint protection experts, we tend to focus on damaging your clear coat. But automatic car washes can also damage other parts of your car. In fact, there are some that have been known to tear off antenna, sideview mirrors, and even front or rear bumpers.

CON: Harsh chemicals and car soaps. As we discussed above, some automatic car washing facilities use an industrial strength alkaline enhanced degreasing shampoo. These formulations are great for stripping wax, paint sealants, and even bird droppings, bug guts, and tree sap. But that aggressive soap leaves a mark on unprotected paint. In fact, overtime, it can start to eat away at the clear coat, leading to oxidation of the coat, corrosion, and eventually rust.

CON: Water Spots. Even the auto car washing facilities with super hair driers are prone to water spotting. Most facilities use city industrial water – which isn’t filtered and contains higher calcium deposits or other minerals. As water dries on the surface, those deposits will dry rapidly, and leave dried mineral deposits that are difficult to remove.

CON: Many automatic car washes service hundreds of cars per day removing dirt and road salt from one car to another resulting in the hydraulic scrubbers becoming abrasive to your vehicle's paintwork. Seeing your vehicle shiny is all that matters to many people but as we discussed above, this can leave swirl marks, micro scratches and over time wear the clear coat.

ILLUSIONZ MOBILE AUTO SPA | CAR WASH : Our washes are safe and reduce the chance of damage to your vehicle. A hand car wash is unlikely to wreck rear-view mirrors, antennas or other protruding parts. We pay attention to detail with our hand washes and remove dirt in nooks and crannies that automated washes cannot reach. Lastly we use soaps that provide for a gentler wash and contains water softeners to avoid any water spotting during the washing process. Schedule your appointment today!

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