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Car Wash Machines: A Good Thing Or Not?

Going through the car wash used to be something of a treat when I was a child, especially as we lived in a small town and a mechanical car wash at a garage was something that only happened when we went into a larger town. It was just a little bit scary as well as fun – were those big mechanical arms going to go too far and crush the car?  Would those rubbery things going flubbida-flubbida-flubbida against the window going to break the glass?  Would the machine let us out again at the end?  But out we would come in the family Mitsubishi station wagon, all clean and gleaming again, without any of the dust from all the back roads, just like magic.  The added bonus was that I wasn’t going to be sent out to the driveway with a brush and a bucket of hot soapy water.

Today, I’m back there with the bucket of water (when I can’t persuade my teenagers to do the job), for two reasons, mostly. Firstly, if I’m going to spend a couple of bucks getting my car cleaned, I’d rather pay the kids to do it instead of the garage, as this will stop them (the kids, that is) pestering me for extra cash. Secondly, I have the sort of car that doesn’t like car washes: a Nissan Navara ute with an open deck at the back. Some types of car wash machine just don’t like these.


There’s no denying that a car wash machine is quick and convenient, and if you’ve just had a flock of seagulls crap on your car, it can be the quickest way of getting the muck off before it etches itself into the paint.

There is a strong school of thought that says that you shouldn’t take your car through a car wash machine at all, as they can ruin the finish. Those brushes and whiplike rubber things that went flubbida-flubbida-flubbida on the windscreen and the sides can scratch the paint and damage the finish. They have come up with new brushless washes these days that aren’t so harsh. However, the detergents used with a brushless wash are harsh chemically and can also do a bit of damage to your paintwork – to say nothing of what they do to the environment once they trickle off your car and into the wastewater system. And there’s always the risk of mirrors, antennae and body kit being knocked to Kingdom Come by the machines.

The other reason why car washes are shunned by many, especially the real automotive enthusiasts, is because washing a car by hand allows you lots of time to get up close and personal with the car. You notice if something in the exterior trim is coming awry or if something needs attention.  And you can get the satisfaction making your pride and joy look splendid and making sure the job’s done right.  There’s nothing like a personal touch…

There are still others who avoid car wash machines not because of the cost, nor because of what it might do to their car nor because of the environmental downsides of all that water and all that strong detergent. These are people with a touch of claustrophobia for whom going through a car wash is absolute terror.

In closing, for those of you who were wondering, the good folk down at the garage with the car wash machine have to calibrate it periodically to make sure that the water jets are pointing in the right direction and can wash things properly all the way down.  They do this by running a guinea pig car through, preferably a white one with lots of dirt on it, so they can see exactly where the dirt is and isn’t getting washed. I found this out because my brother has a lowered-suspension white Subaru that his local garage uses as the guinea pig, seeing as he gets his car grubby frequently and he starts out early in the morning when they want to calibrate the machine.  So he gets his washed for free, with the possibility that it won’t get done right.  Lucky for him!