• May 31, 2013
Are any of these extra options at the car wash worth it... Are any of these extra options at the car wash worth it? (David Kiley, AOL Autos).
A trip to the neighborhood car wash also presents car owners with choices: the basic wash; the better wash with "a special paint sealer" or some-such thing; and finally the pristine treatment with "rust inhibitor". Which do you choose? Do these extra offerings have any validity? Let's look at it:

I built my own car wash menu based on typical offerings at the local car wash to illustrate what you are typically offered at such an establishment. But keep in mind that each place seems to have their own nomenclature for the stuff they are offering to spray on your car. At one place I visited, you have the "express wash with triple foam" deal for $6. For $9 you can have your wheels cleaned. And for "The Works," you'd pay $12, which includes everything in the $9 deal plus a "body shield" product along with a 5-day guarantee. Let's look at each area in detail.

The basic wash

This basic treatment usually involves just what it says, a wash (with "triple foam" may I add) and rinse. The car wash first pressure washes the exterior of dirt, grime, mud; salt, etc. Then, when the vehicle goes into the spray and wash tunnel, a "ph neutral" washing solution is sprayed onto the vehicle exterior that promises not to etch into the clear coat finish of the vehicle. Next, the whole car is wiped down with either non-abrasive brushes or cloth strips.

Sometimes a basic wash involves an "undercarriage wash" as well. This is a great idea because it will hopefully flush out the salt that has gotten into the undercarriage cracks and crevices over the long winter season. Now, as far as I'm concerned, this is all I need at a car wash. When I am offered more than this, I decline for reasons that follow.

Wheel cleaning

Usually, when one goes to the car wash, the place offers a step up from the basic wash that includes wheel cleaning. Car wheels get dirty as a result of super-heated semi-metallic brake dust that comes off the brake pads as they squeeze the brake rotors. This metallic dust impregnates the wheel's clear-coat finish permanently staining the wheel. No exterior car wash/water-solution will clean it.

There is a product on the market called Wheel Shield that repels 60% of all brake dust and offers protection from corrosive road clearing chemicals like liquid sodium, magnesium chloride and rock salt. But to clean the wheel after it's been contaminated with this nasty stuff? Nope. The only way to restore the finish to original condition is to have the wheel sand blasted, painted and clear coated again. Then, you can apply Wheel Shield on a regular basis.

This kind of trouble and expense is usually reserved for luxury cars, and not Ford Focuses and Toyota Corollas. The other option for some added protection and cosmetic good looks is Armor All. But again, this has to be worked onto the tire by hand.

Clear coat protector

In addition to wheel cleaning, consumers are also often offered "a clear coat protector." Clear coat protector products protect the clear & base color coat from the UV rays of the sun, moisture and oxidation; all elements that fade the paint. A sealer applied by rubbing it on the vehicle's finish will always give you better protection than a product that's sprayed on at a car wash.

Car wash waxes give a nice temporary shine, but don't provide much ongoing protection. How could they given the price point? A typical professional paint sealant application costs anywhere from $100 - $200 because it's labor intensive along with the cost of the actual product this versus $2 or $3 at the car wash. Call me a skeptic, but I'd rather save my money for a nice big Chunky chocolate bar .

If you want this treatment, either pay the right price at a detailing shop or buy the product and apply some elbow grease yourself on a clear, bright Saturday morning; or, make it the afternoon, and put the ballgame on the radio. By the way, a glass of lemonade or beer afterward is an almost mandatory reward.

Rust protection

Rust protection is a touchy subject, because so many companies have fallen by the wayside from fraud over the years. Presently, I know of only two companies that offer genuine rust protection, and they do not offer their services through the car wash network of the US.

In order for rust protection to be effective, someone has to open up body panels, door panels, get under the hood and into trunk areas, and finally inside the boxed areas of the vehicle frame or uni-body construction. True rust protection costs on average $100 - $250 per vehicle depending on whether it's a car, truck or SUV.

The extra few dollars the car wash wants is for spraying a solution on the vehicle's exterior that washes off in short order after a rainstorm doesn't accomplish anything. I'd save my money for another Chunky! or a fancy cup of coffee.

Finally... car wash heaven?

Finally, the ultimate in car wash menus--a 5-day guarantee! What? A Five-day guarantee? Guarantee of what? That you'll need all these services again in five days? That's usually what such a guarantee means. This alone is evidence that all you got was a $6 wash two times with a few extra chemicals thrown in to make you feel better.

Bottom line

By all means, get a weekly basic wash and help a local business. I'd even recommend buying the coupon book that can save you money as you go back again and again. But I should also say that I know a few people who lovingly wash their own cars, and wouldn't set foot or tire near an automatic car wash. And they believe all those tender hand washes best preserves the paint in their "baby" over the years.

However, we don't all have that kind of time, or interest. As for these extras offered by the neighborhood car wash? Skip them, and put the money in the piggy bank. Do, however, spend the appropriate amount of money to have a few of these things, like wheel cleaning and clear-coat protection, and rust-proofing (if you are inclined), done at a proper detailing or body shop using the proper products and application methods.


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  • 339 Comments
      budr43
      • 3 Years Ago
      I built over 13 car washes over the years. Everything printed in this article is accurate. People are dominated by their emotions, not their brains. An automated system can never produce the product that the old soap and water bucket applied by hand is able to do. Get of your duffs and help your body benefit from some exercise.
        ridgevillecw
        • 3 Years Ago
        @budr43
        Dont know what kind of washes you built or how your operated them but this article was was not accurate. I agree with you. Some one with the time and abillity to wash their own car will do a better job no contest. However having someone apply chemical to your rims and brushing it before entering an automatic carwash will result in a better outcome and will make it easier to properly clean them if and when you have time to do them yourself or have the car detailed.
        vlady1000
        • 3 Years Ago
        @budr43
        I agree. Get off your butt and wash and detail the car. Maybe you will respect the car more ad take better car of it then too. I never go to any auto wash. Also pull all your body panel drain plugs out (read your manual) to make sure there is no trapped water in the panels (rust from the inside out)
      • 3 Years Ago
      The posts here are amazing, as I said before, I was GM of large carwash and any "owner" who took who washed it himself, owned a business that wasnt professionally managed. And the kid that worked for 7 yrs at a wash and says triple foam is soap, worked for a thief, or really didnt know about anything except washing towels, because it is a foaming clear coat conditioner, aka wax conditioner. This is problem with industry, like many other service oriented business', poor public preception. Find a quality, well run carwash, tip, make friends with people working there, and everyone you know will think you spend hours detailing it yourself.
      • 3 Years Ago
      PUT ARMOR ALL ON YOUR TIRES??? Not in a million years. Get some on your tire tread and you can't stop that puppy in 500 yards from 20 mph. About the same as smearing the tread with vasaline and driving in the rain.
        jw4kfh
        • 3 Years Ago
        You are so silly, the abrasion of the road removes ANY over spray. THINK MAN before you post!
        • 3 Years Ago
        lmao what are you talking about, i use tire shine all the time and i have used many different tire shine's and i even spray half od my tire tread and never ever have a problem stopping or slipping or anything. Also i like to drive fast and still nothing. Over use the tire shine if you like nothing bad will come out of it.
      the charnins
      • 3 Years Ago
      you should have also said do not leave valuables in the car when having it washed.
      jjbwnyc
      • 3 Years Ago
      please dont go for the undercarriage wash it will spray out the lubricant in the ball joints and then you get to have new ones installed for $250 thats always fun!
        jesuaphn
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jjbwnyc
        Ball joints wear out due to weight, and movement not because of undercarriage water.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jjbwnyc
        new ball joints are sealed and serviceabile ones have grease fittings so if you have to put balljoints in they were probily wore out in the frist place so dont blame a car wash for your neglect how do i know this is i have been a mechanic for 20 years
      dragondancer1814
      • 3 Years Ago
      No, thanks, I'll just wash our cars myself and save some bucks! Those so-called "touch-free" car washes are BS anyway. We tried that method once-just once. Those stupid jets do absolutely NOTHING to get the dried-on bugs off the front of the car, and they never get all the dirt! A garden hose, a bucket of water with car soap, and a good soft sponge do the job just fine, and it gets you out of the house and away from the electronic toys we can do without anyway!
      • 3 Years Ago
      hand car wash all the way !!!
      dwgcmc
      • 3 Years Ago
      I am an auto detailer and always say: If you care about your car's appearance, never take it to an automated carwash. Touch free does not get all the dirt of, or, if the chemicals are strong enough, will strip any wax you have on the car, thus leaving it unprotected. If there are brushes, it will scratch up the paint, no matter how much they tell you otherwise. Even the most careful methods can cause minor scratching, so high volume only increases the odds exponentially. Countless people learn the hard way when they pay hundreds of dollars to have a car polished to perfection, only to have the dealership do a courtesy wash, and return a swirled mess. If you want your car to look its best, learn to wash your car properly yourself or pay a professional to do it. Questions? Email me: dwgcmc@aol.com
      RivrWlker
      • 3 Years Ago
      Thrift Store...let's talk in generalities: There are no Republicans who don't like guns. They're all locked in their houses with $20,000 security systems, guard dogs and an armory of weapons that would impress Al Quaida...who they're certain is going to attack any minute, stepping over the bodies of all the drug crazed burglars who failed in the first assault. There are no Republicans who don't eat meat, have a waist less than 38", or eat without a bib to keep from drooling on their ties. There are no Republicans who are gay, although there are some who are homosexuals, but they go to homosexual prostitutes, which isn't the same thing as adultery unless they're caught doing it and then they break down and admit everything publicly, weaping and begging forgiveness from God and their wife and promise to go into therapy and become straight. There are no Republicans who are down and out, just failures in business who recoup by going into chapter 11 to stave off accounts payable so accounts receivable can catch up. Simple bookkeeping procedures. There are no Republicans who tune into the wrong talk show host. That's as far as their thinking goes, though. From then on it's up to the talk show host to do their thinking for them. There are no Republicans who are non-believers. They all believe exactly the same thing, whatever their pastor tells them to believe, because they'll go to Hell for sure if they don't, or if they aren't sure they don't want to take the risk so they pretend to be sure in order to hedge their bet, crossing their fingers that God won't know they aren't sure, except it's worrisome, because God might know so they go to the Wednesday night service and pray like crazy as an extra added protection against Hell and say Amen as loudly as they can, hoping God will let them in Heaven when the time comes and at least in the mean time everyone else thinks they're sure. There are no Republicans that don't have health care insurance, because everyone knows that Republicans are the only people who believe in self-responsibility and will take a second job as a Walmart greeter or night janitor or migrant worker or hire on with the companies who clean the parking lot at night or just any kind of menial labor at all to be self-responsible and pay whatever the medical insurance companies want no matter what, because all Republicans know the medical insurance companies are doing their level best to take care of them as cheaply as possible since they're all capitalists intent on fair competition, since anything less will insure that they fail in business against their more compitent competitive competitors. The likelihood of a Republican forwarding this to his Republican friends for a good laugh is slim, that they'll have a good laugh over it themselves is slimmer and that they'll be affended by it the slimmest, since they either never read past the first line or haven't got the faintest idea what it meant.
        veasystreet
        • 3 Years Ago
        @RivrWlker
        There were 27 Democratic Senators that voted for NAFTA (out of 61 aye votes). The Demo's that voted for NAFTA in 1993 inclded Biden, Kennedy, Kerry and 24 others. That's some Democratioc nonsense.
        GRAMPZ
        • 3 Years Ago
        @RivrWlker
        YOU HAVE TOO MUCH TIME ON YOUR HANDS.. WELFARE??
        bleulorax
        • 3 Years Ago
        @RivrWlker
        RivrWlker - you're not a river walker, as you claim, but a bottom dweller. You're one of those really ugly creatures who lives on the ocean floor so others won't have to look at you and you sustain yourself on the crumbs and **** dropped by others. You are another blow hard, gas bag (who can't spell) frigging liberal douche bag who has all-or-nothing thinking and makes statements like "There are no Republicans that don't have health care insurance." What a stupid statement to make. All Republicans do NOT like guns, as you stated. In fact, your entire post is nothing but exaggerated lies. Go blow Obama you asswipe.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ummmm, I work at a Ford dealer, and the chemicals we use in our detailing department, made by Ardex, are purposely made to remove the brake dust from clear coated wheels. Having used this product myself, I know first hand that , yes, it does indeed work. I've only heard of someone having to have a rim sandblasted and re-clear coated from using an aftermarket "universal wheel cleaner". So instead of shoving Chunky candy down your throat, you should do a little more research before you open , or rather, type your perspective and not the actual truth. I hope the people who may actually read this go to their local new car dealer and prove it to themselves, and not listen to captain candy bar.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I only speak English, Spanish and French. What does "Ummmm" mean? What language?
      bleulorax
      • 3 Years Ago
      Where do they have car washes for $9? The car wash I go to charges $17.99 for the basic wash and they do a good job. I have my car washed twice weekly, but there are no ghetto prices where I live. You get what you pay for.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I found the best place to get my pick up and my wife's car washed to perfection and all it cost me is is a little soap. Very simple, I DO IT MYSELF !!!
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