As we leave cooler months in the rear view and head into sunnier and warmer months, some drivers may find themselves visiting local car washes more often. From quick, automated washes to full-blown hand detailing, myriad options are available for your vehicle to suit your needs and personal preferences. Often times, drivers can find the menus at their favorite car washes to be a bit overwhelming and may feel compelled to just buy the most expensive wash they can afford, trusting that features like Rust Protection or Carnuba Wax will help protect their vehicles. But really, how many of these features are worth your extra money and what do they really do? We break down some of the most popular car wash add-ons and let you know which ones you can probably skip.
BASIC WASH AND DRY
At their core, every car wash’s main purpose is to clean dirt, dust, road grime, and bird droppings from your vehicle’s exterior and little nooks and crannies. Not only does a car wash bring out your vehicle’s natural shine, but it helps protect your clear coat as well as remove corrosive materials that may lead to premature rust and aging. A good rule of thumb is that if your car looks dirty, it’s time for a trip through the wash. If you live in areas where you regularly drive through dirt and mud or cold areas where roads are salted on a regular basis, then you may need to run through the wash more often.
One important thing to note is that not all car washes are created equal. The way a car wash is maintained, as well as the age of its equipment, can greatly impact the quality of your wash. Worn out bristles with frayed ends can scratch clear coats while dirty cloth brushes may simply transfer dirt from one vehicle to the next. The maintenance and outward appearance of your local car wash is an important indicator of its quality, so do your research.
An undercarriage wash uses high-pressure nozzles to direct water at the underside of your vehicle, spraying water and cleaning solution up into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies—areas that are out of sight for most drivers, and therefore out of mind. While this add-on isn’t necessary every time you run through the wash, most experts recommend adding one on at least once per season. This helps knock loose harmful dirt, road grime, and salt that can corrode your vehicle’s metal frame, bodywork, and even brake lines. The quality of your car wash’s equipment also plays a part in the effectiveness of this add-on, with well-maintained nozzles doing a better job at directing high pressure water where it is needed.
This add-on, while largely a vanity feature that is purely cosmetic, can help reduce the appearance of metallic brake dust that, over time, becomes more stubborn to remove. Since this dust comes directly from your brake pads, it’s heated when it hits your wheel and can stain the clear coat of your hubcaps if left unattended for too long. It’s important to note that many products available can be applied yourself with a clean cloth and provide more protection at a cheaper cost.
Modern vehicles feature clear coats that are much sturdier and last longer than older vehicles. Built to last 10 years or more, today’s clear coats really only need a wash and dry to restore their luster. A spray-on wax at your local car wash will provide some cosmetic benefits, but the main benefit of this add-on feature is that it prevents water spots from forming while drying. A similar look can be achieved simply by drying your vehicle with a clean, soft cloth.
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. In terms of ultimate cleaning and protection for your vehicle, you can expect to pay $100-200 for a complete hand detail. Same goes for rust prevention. True rust prevention treatment runs $100-200 and requires getting underneath the hood and inside door panels to provide truly protective benefits. On the other hand a $2-3 addition for waxing or rust prevention will only last you a few days, at best. The important thing is that regular washing and drying will knock loose harmful dirt, road grime, and corrosive materials, extending the life of your vehicle and ultimately preserving its resale value.