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How to Decide Which Car Wash is Best for Your Car: Touch Free, Friction or Self Service

Drive-thru or automatic car washes seem to be everywhere these days. According to Business Wire , in 2021, the US car wash market was valued at $14.59 billion. That estimate is expected to increase to $17.34 billion by 2027.

The key factor behind it is convenience, as many people don't want or have the time to spend hand washing their vehicles every week. There's a luxury in driving to an automatic car wash and watching an automated series of power washers and brushes scrub away. It can be a nice little break.

But not all automatic car washes are the same. Some are touch-free using water jets, while others prefer to use friction in the form of spinning brushes. Other systems use a hybrid combination of the two. In addition to self service car wash bays that provide power washer and brush. Each has pros and cons regarding your vehicle's paint, especially if it's treated with ceramic coating.

Pros and Cons of Touch-Free Automatic Car Washes

A touch-free car wash uses high-pressure water and detergents to clean a vehicle, which means no physical brushes. The advantage of using a touch free car wash is reducing the risk of micro scratches and swirl marks. Small amounts of dirt, sand, and other contaminants can act like sandpaper against the paint when a spinning brush meets a vehicle's surface.

But it also means it may not effectively remove heavy dirt, road grime, or bugs firmly stuck to a surface. Because of this, a touch free car wash may compensate by using heavily concentrated chemical cleaning agents. This type of automatic car wash is beneficial for vehicles with intricate designs, decals, or aftermarket modifications.

The downside of a touch free automatic car wash is the power washers may not be enough to remove stubborn containments like tree sap, dried bird droppings, or road tar. However, ceramic coating makes removing these pollutants much easier by preventing them from sticking to a surface using hydrophobic properties.

Pros and Cons of Friction Automatic Car Washes

A friction automatic car wash uses rotating brushes or cloth materials to physically scrub the vehicle's surface. It is ideal for effectively removing stubborn dirt and grime compared to touch-free options. However, those same brushes can accumulate dirt particles and potentially cause micro-scratches. The quality of brushes and maintenance practices can vary, impacting their potential to cause damage. Because of this, friction automatic car washes are not recommended for vehicles with sensitive paint or decals.

Similarly, tunnel car washes can offer a combination of touch-free and friction methods. They start with a pre-rinse, followed by rotating brushes or cloth materials for cleaning, and finish with a rinse. This method provides a balanced approach with efficient cleaning and reduced contact.

Pros and Cons Self Service Car Wash Bays

Self service car wash bays provide a convenient space and the tools to clean your vehicle. For a few coins, you can spray down a vehicle with a power washer. In addition to a large brush that funnels soapy suds through its bristles to scrub stubborn stains away. However, many will tell you to avoid using these brushes on your vehicle’s paintwork.

The brush bristles are harsh and can hold dirt or containments from previous washes. Most car wash bays don’t allow customers to clean excessively dirty vehicles. This is to help keep the bays and tools clean for the next vehicle. Yet, it’s not surprising to see someone using these car wash bays to rinse their watercrafts or scrub mud off a 4x4 truck. Using these brushes runs the risk of causing swirl marks and light scratches.

Can I Use an Automatic Car Wash If Its Been Ceramic Coated?

The short answer is no. It is not recommended to use automatic car washes if your vehicle has been treated with ceramic coating. Especially drive-thru friction car washes with spinning brushes. Because drive-thru car washes use a variety of chemicals that could degrade or interfere with the ceramic coating's hydrophobic performance.

Professionally installed ceramic coatings like XPEL’sFUSION PLUS create a hydrophobic shield. But unlike PPF, ceramic coating is not a film. So repeated exposure to aggressive detergents, chemicals and power washers will diminish its performance. Hand wash is the best recommended method to cleaning a vehicle with ceramic coating.

Vehicles treated with FUSION PLUS ceramic coating should use ceramic boost to help maintain the coating’s hydrophobic performance.

Safeguard Your Vehicle's Paintwork with XPEL

Automatic car washes offer a convenient way to keep your vehicle clean, but their impact on your paintwork varies depending on the type of wash. Consider your vehicle's needs, the level of cleaning required, and the car wash facility's reputation when deciding.

Ultimately, regardless of the type of automatic car wash you choose regular maintenance and protective measures like applying paint protection film (PPF) and ceramic coating can further safeguard your vehicle's paintwork from potential damage.

XPEL offers an extensive line of protective films and ceramic coating formulated to enhance your peace of mind with a spotless finish. Use the vInstaller Locator Tool to find the nearest XPEL dealer and get a free quote today!