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Thread: Be careful at the car wash

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Be careful at the car wash


    Automatic/drive-through car washes are more popular than ever; they save time -- and in winter, save you from the ordeal of trying to keep your car clean in freezing weather. They can also be safer (for your car's finish) than washing your car yourself. Some do-it-yourselfers don't use enough water to safely remove dirt; or they wash the car in direct sunlight -- which can burn spots in the paint. Or they use the use the wrong type of soap -- such as dishwasher detergent, which removes protective wax and leaves a chalky residue. Or any one of several common mistakes than can end up doing more harm than good.

    Bottom line, regular car washes can help you maintain the cosmetic appearance of your vehicle. And that is very important not just for your ego, but for the car's resale value. All else being equal, a car with faded paint and a dingy overall look will sell for 10-20 percent less than an otherwise identical vehicle that just looks nicer. Regular washing of the vehicle's exterior will help keep your vehicle looking good by removing things like bird droppings, bug splatter and so on that can, over time, eat into the paint and leave permanent damage.

    The nominal cost (on average, a full service car wash runs around $10-15 depending on where you live) is a small investment to make relative to the future resale value of your car. You might spend a couple hundred bucks over a five year period on washes -- but recoup several times that amount at trade-in time.

    So how often should you have your vehicle washed? That depends on how quickly it gets dirty -- and how dirty it gets. Sometimes, once a month or so is sufficient -- especially if the car is lightly used and kept in a garage. But some cars will need a bath more often -- especially those that are parked outdoors or driven in areas with very long/severe winters, where corrosive road salt is in use for months on end, etc.

    However, there are some important things to keep in mind when it comes to automatic car washes:

    * Be sure it's "brushless" -- Some older car washes still use brushes, which can leave small scratches in a car's finish. On older cars with "single stage" paint jobs, light scratches could often be buffed out; but modern cars all use a "base/clear" system -- with a thin, translucent layer of clear coat on top of the underlying color coat to provide the shine. Once the thin clear coat is damaged, often the only way to restore the shine is to repaint the damaged area. So be certain the automatic car wash you visit uses felt or cloth -- not brushes. Even better are "touchless" car washes that use only high-pressure water jets and detergents to clean the car -- without physically touching it at all. There is virtually no chance of your vehicle suffering any cosmetic damage this way. (Some areas have "self-service" coin-operated hand washes, which are great for spraying away heavy dirt/build-up. You usually need to bring your own bucket, wash cloth/sponge and dry towels, though.)

    * Watch out for the after-wash wipe-down -- Most drive-through washes use a strong jet of heated air to squeegee off the water after the car goes through the wash. Many full-service car washes will then have you drive the car (or drive it for you, in some cases) away from the wash area to be hand-wiped by attendants. This is ok -- provided the attendants are using fresh, clean (and soft) towels to do so. If you see the attendants using obviously dirty old rags to wipe the car down, you should say "thanks - but no thanks." Dirt and other abrasives in the rags can scratch the finish as effectively as sandpaper. Simply driving away from the wash and letting airflow over the car dry any remaining water is the best guarantee of a no-damage experience. (Any lingering streaks can easily be cleaned up at home yourself using radily available spray cleaners designed for just this purpose. Honda Pro Spray Cleaner & Polish is excellent for this; it also provides UV protection and easily and safely cleans off bugs, tar and road grime, etc. without water.)

    * Hold off on the extras -- A "works" car wash can cost twice the cost of the basic wash; but you may not be getting twice the wash for your money. Under-carriage rust-proofing, for example, is of dubious value. Effective rust-proofing is applied to brand-new metal, in order to seal it from contact with external corrosives such as road salt. Additionally, most new cars are extensively rust-proofed at the factory, during the assembly process; further "treatment" is superfluous.

    On the other hand, if the wash offers an undercarriage bath, it may be worth the additional cost. Jets of water sprayed directly underneath the car can break loose accumulated crud that would difficult (and unpleasant) to try to remove yourself, using a garden hose. It's important that underbody drainage holes not be obstructed by build-up; accumulated moisture can accelerate rust or (in the case of the air conditioning system) lead to the formation of mold in the system.

    Do, however, think twice about spray-on wax. This typically adds at least $1 (sometimes a lot more) to the cost of the wash) and is no substitute for hand-applied polish/wax; your car isn't getting anything like the same level of UV protection, etc. from that stuff they apply at the wash. It may provide a short-term gloss enhancement, but that's about all it does. Ditto the cost of having an attendant spray Armor-All (or a similar protectant) on your tires to make them shiny; the cost for this extra can be equivalent to the cost of buying an entire bottle of the stuff on your own. If you like the convenience, fine. But it's as much a money-waster as paying $10 for a McDonald's cheeseburger.

    Wheel and tire cleaning is an exception; the heavy-duty cleaners used by the car wash do a great job of removing gunk/brake dust, etc., that can otherwise be a real chore to clean on your own, using over-the-counter cleaners, a hand brush and a hose. It's especially important to keep aluminum alloy wheels clean; brake dust can eventually permanently stain them -- if not regularly cleaned away.

    Finally:

    * Make sure your car's ok before you leave -- While many car washes will have a disclaimer posted that they are "not responsible for any damages that may occur" as a result of running your car through their wash, that doesn't mean you should automatically absolve them of any damage their equipment (or personnel) may have caused. If you notice something, ask to see the manager and point it out to him; whether "legally liable" or not, he may offer to fix the problem in the interest of customer relations. And even if he does not, you can still pursue the matter with a higher-up (such as the company headquarters, if the wash is a franchise, as many associated with big-name gas stations often are). If you have a cell phone with a camera, use it to take a photo of the damage in order to support your claim. And it ought to go without saying that you should never leave your purse or other valuables in the car if you use a wash where an attendant(s) will have access to the vehicle's interior.

    END

  2. #2
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Here in Minnasocold, I'm lucky to have a heated garage.

    I get the 'standard wash' but pay the extra $1 or $2 to get the wheels detailed. I wax the wheels every spring and fall.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Quote Originally Posted by dBrong
    Here in Minnasocold, I'm lucky to have a heated garage.

    I get the 'standard wash' but pay the extra $1 or $2 to get the wheels detailed. I wax the wheels every spring and fall.
    I keep the machines I care about inside, avoid getting them wet - and keep the rest outside!

  4. #4
    DonTom
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Here in Minnasocold, I'm lucky to have a heated garage.

    What is used to heat the garage?

    -Don-

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom
    Here in Minnasocold, I'm lucky to have a heated garage.

    What is used to heat the garage?

    -Don-
    Probably it's got insulated doors/windows and is connectedto the main house... or has a separate furnace/wood stove (popular here).

  6. #6
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom
    Here in Minnasocold, I'm lucky to have a heated garage.

    What is used to heat the garage?

    -Don-
    I have two garages. The detached garage 28x28 is heated with a natural gas "unit heater" - the kind that hangs from the ceiling. The garage is well insulated, and has a steel insulated door. But at -5, as it was last night - there is a little condensation on the inside edges. I keep the garage at 50.

  7. #7
    mrblanche
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    I am tempted to run my clothes dryer vent into the garage, but that creates 2 problems: lint and condensation.

  8. #8
    DonTom
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    The detached garage 28x28 is heated with a natural gas "unit heater" - the kind that hangs from the ceiling. The garage is well insulated, and has a steel insulated door.

    Here near Reno Nevada, in December and January any distilled water left in the garage becomes ice. It's so cold. I don't work on cars here in those two months. But if I really need to, I can work on cars at my other home in SSF where it never gets too cold to get things done.

    But today, it got up to 60F so I changed the engine oil in three of my four cars that are left here. Still several more to go when we get back to the other home.

    I asked about the heater because I was wondering what my options are here to heat the garage, which I would only need for about two months of the year. Here, the garage is attached to the house.

    -Don-


  9. #9
    DonTom
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    My E-mail buddy in Ohio says:

    "ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) uses sodium chloride to treat the roads. Very corrosive, and I have heard that parking in a heated garage actually activates the chemical, and eventually causes rust to form."

    Any truth to this? And if so, how warm causes such problems?

    -Don-

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    "I asked about the heater because I was wondering what my options are here to heat the garage, which I would only need for about two months of the year. Here, the garage is attached to the house. "

    I think a space heater would be the best bet in your situation; anything more elaborate strikes me as a money-waster since you wouldn't be using it much. The shop units - the ones that look/sound kind of like a small jet engine - really crank out the BTUs!

    PS - Just got back... sick as a dog, too - from ingesting the noxious bacilli of the masses on the plane...

    We stayed at a place called el Capitl Canyon in SB... ever hear of it?

  11. #11
    DonTom
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    The shop units - the ones that look/sound kind of like a small jet engine - really crank out the BTUs!

    What do they run on? I don't know about such things being from the SF area where the temps don't change much from winter to summer.

    -Don-

  12. #12
    DonTom
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    We stayed at a place called el Capitl Canyon in SB... ever hear of it?

    Nope. We have not been in the SB area for years. We try to avoid southern CA whenever possible.

    -Don-

  13. #13
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom
    My E-mail buddy in Ohio says:

    "ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) uses sodium chloride to treat the roads. Very corrosive, and I have heard that parking in a heated garage actually activates the chemical, and eventually causes rust to form."

    Any truth to this? And if so, how warm causes such problems?

    -Don-
    I wouldn't use the word "activate", but heat would certainly speed up the rate of reaction.

    Chip H.

    Former owner: 2012 Honda Civic LX, 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL, 2000 Honda CR-V EX, 2003 MINI Cooper S, 1992 Honda Accord LX, 1999 Mercedes ML-320, 1995 VW Jetta GLX, 1991 Mercury Capri XR2, 1981 Mercury Zephyr, 1975 Chevrolet Impala

  14. #14
    mrblanche
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom
    "ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) uses sodium chloride to treat the roads. Very corrosive, and I have heard that parking in a heated garage actually activates the chemical, and eventually causes rust to form."

    Any truth to this? And if so, how warm causes such problems?

    -Don-
    OK, two questions here.

    1. Yes, Ohio and most other states use sodium chloride to melt ice. But they call it salt, as do you. There ARE other ice melters, and some are pretty nasty.

    http://www.peterschemical.com/declar...right-weapons/

    2. Rusting (iron oxidation), like most chemical reactions, takes place faster at higher temperatures.

  15. #15
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom
    The shop units - the ones that look/sound kind of like a small jet engine - really crank out the BTUs!

    What do they run on? I don't know about such things being from the SF area where the temps don't change much from winter to summer.

    -Don-
    You need a unit that runs on propane - like a gas grille. That way you can fire it up, let it run for 1/2 hr and you'll be good to work.

    Besides being cold 6 months of the year, my wife plays the violin. It really makes a difference that she can take her $75k instrument from the house to the car - that's warm.

    Besides - it's my play house. You just have to store the refreshments out of sight of the wife!

  16. #16
    DonTom
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    You need a unit that runs on propane - like a gas grille. That way you can fire it up, let it run for 1/2 hr and you'll be good to work.

    Thanks for the info. I will look into that before next December. Cold won't be much of a problem until then.

    We're now back in S SF, just got home from the other home, 250 miles away.

    -Don-

  17. #17
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    Re: Be careful at the car wash

    Don't forget you need GOOD ventilation. You will need a souce of outside air.

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