Whether the culprit is muddy, salty, with leaves, or bird droppings, you’ll probably need to wash your car somewhere along the line. As any car owner will tell you, this apparently simple task can be more complex than it might initially appear.
First of all, when you need to wash your car you’re presented with a number of options; clean it yourself, hire a professional, or use an automated service. Each of these solutions has its perks, but today we’ll discuss the latter. Although it’s the least labor-intensive option in your car-washing arsenal, there are a few things to bear in mind when using an automated car-wash at the gas station or elsewhere. We’ve gathered together our top six tips for how to get the most out of these clean machines.
Why use the Gas Station Facilities?
Not all of us have ready access to a hose and space to wash our vehicles – that’s where the automatic car wash comes in. Many gas stations are equipped with this kind of car wash, and they have a heap of benefits:
- Automatic cash washes clean your vehicle a lot faster than scrubbing by hand
- They are typically inexpensive – depending on the service you want, you could have your car cleaned for just a few dollars
- Using an automatic car wash is easy and convenient
- This type of car wash is designed to give your vehicle a very thorough clean
- Washing a car by hand can cause tiny scratches in the paintwork, which the careful design of an automated wash avoids
Although you might not expect it, going through a car wash rather than cleaning your vehicle by hand is good for the planet too. The automated washing process is tailor-made to use water as efficiently as possible, reusing a lot of water where possible. This means that far less water is wasted compared to a hand wash. This makes them a great option for drivers who live in a dry climate. Because of their clever drainage systems, using an automated car wash also reduces groundwater pollution.
With all of these benefits, it’s easy to see why choosing a gas station car wash is the right option for so many car owners.
Tip One – Location, Location, Location
Not all car washes are created equal – there are likely several within an easy driving distance of your home, and it’s important to choose the right one. Each individual will prioritize different factors when making this decision, but the factors themselves are pretty universal:
Using a far-off car wash isn’t ideal for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you will end up using more fuel to get there, and secondly, the longer the journey, the more time your car has to become dirty again! Choosing a car wash that is close to your home or workplace is usually a good starting point.
The quality of the wash will be another factor affecting your decision. If in doubt, look out for recognized brands, or see if you can find any online reviews – not all car washes are created equal!
Spending more might not necessarily mean a better finish. Bear in mind that some services will have loyalty schemes in place too. Shopping around your local options can help you to choose the price point that works for you, which brings us to tip number two.
Tip Two – Choose Optional Extras Wisely
At most car washes, the ‘works’ package can cost twice as much as a regular wash. Unfortunately, twice the price doesn’t always mean twice the quality! For instance, undercarriage rustproofing isn’t worth it for most modern vehicles, which are manufactured from metal that has already been treated for rust prior to leaving the factory. You can also save yourself a lot of money over the years by skipping the application of tire treatment sprays such as Armor All. Unlike undercarriage rustproofing, this treatment can be beneficial – helping to preserve your car against the elements – but it’s considerably more cost-effective to apply it yourself. Unlike giving your car a full wash by hand, this task is a quick one, so usually worth the effort.
On the other hand, some optional extras will give you a lot of bang for your buck. For instance, choosing the undercarriage bath option cleanses the underside of your vehicle of dirt and debris, and it’s a good service to take advantage of every three or four trips. Wheel and tire cleaning is another useful service that is often offered as an optional extra. Having your wheels cleaned professionally ensures that your braking system is free of dust and detritus that could affect your stopping-distance if left unchecked.
Tip Three – Ensure You and Your Car are Kept Safe
Provided your vehicle is in decent condition, and you follow some basic safety advice, using an automatic car wash is perfectly safe for both you and your vehicle. Below we list some top tips for making sure this is always the case:
- Keep your windows closed at all times. As obvious as it sounds, this can be easy to forget in the summer months – especially in cars without air conditioners, where your windows are the only option for lowering the temperature.
- Tuck in your side mirrors. This will remove the risk of any damage being done to them by powerful brushes and jets of water – just remember to fold them out again before you drive off!
- If you’re driving a pickup truck, double check there is nothing in your truck bed that could become damaged during the car washing process.
- Always check your brakes when you exit an automatic car wash. This ensures you will be driving away safely, and helps to dry them off.
- If your car wash offers a hand drying service, consider avoiding it, as re-used towels can transfer fine grains of dirt from one car to another, and risk leaving small scratches in your paintwork.
Tip Four – Time Your Trips Wisely
How often you need to wash your car really depends on where you drive it, and how often. However, most experts recommend washing it about once a week. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to incorporate a trip to the local car wash into your weekly routine – with just a little planning, this can be done very efficiently, saving time, effort and fuel.
If your chosen car wash is close to work, you could stop off on your way home one night a week. If it’s on the way to your local supermarket, you could incorporate the trip into your regular shopping expedition. Combining this task with another one that you perform regularly makes it easier to remember, and harder to skip – your car will thank you for it!
Tip Five – Follow the Instructions Carefully
Whether you’re a first-time user or a veteran to the gas station car wash, it can be easy to assume you know all there is to know. But technology changes quickly and can vary between companies.
Always be sure to read instructional signs thoroughly, and listen to advise from attendants. This will allow you to get the best possible results and avoid damage to your car. For instance, most car washes require automatic vehicles to be left in the park, and manual ones to be left in neutral – if you are unsure, though, it’s always best to ask! Whatever the wash, though, be sure to keep your feet off the pedals (and handbrake for manual transmissions).
Tip Six – Take advantage of other Gas Station Facilities
For any driver, safety should be the number one priority, and using a gas station car wash gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the other equipment on offer. Every few trips you could help keep your car in tip-top condition by:
- Using a tire tread gauge to check the tread isn’t worn down too far
- Checking that tires are filled at the correct pressure using the air compressor
- Checking your oil level and topping up if necessary – most good garages will be able to sell you more motor oil on the spot
- Check your brake fluid levels and top up if necessary
- Top up your washer bottles and check your windshield wipers to ensure visibility remains good
Bringing it All Together
To conclude, using a gas station car wash is not as simple as it might first appear, but there is plenty you can do to achieve the best results:
- Choose a good quality, near-by car wash and work it into your routine
- Be mindful of safety, following instructions and practical advice carefully
- Don’t be tricked into buying unnecessary optional extras, but recognize that some can definitely be worth the higher price
- Take advantage of other gas station facilities whilst you’re there, to improve your vehicle’s general safety
- How to Use an Automated Car Wash: 7 Simple Steps for First Time Customers, Drivingtests.org
- Tips for driving through a Car Wash, CNN
- 5 Automatic Car Wash Tips, Cars Direct
- Can automatic car washes damage your car? Autoblog