Do automatic car washes damage your paint?

Published: 29 April 2021

► Are automatic car washes good for your car? 
► Why they may not be
► And what you can do moving forward

The Best Car Cleaning Products

We’ve all been caught at the crossroads between convenience and quality when it comes to washing a car, and while taking your car through an automatic car wash may seem innocuous every now and then, you’re not only doing your car a disservice in terms of cleanliness, you’re also damaging its finish. 

But what kind of damage can be unknowingly inflicted upon a car’s paint by going through an automatic car wash? 

According to Damon Lawrence who runs automotive detailing business Auto Attention, car washes are a major cause of paintwork getting damaged. ‘
‘Automatic car washes, as much as they are convenient, are abrading your paintwork because the brushes used aren’t properly maintained,’ Damon says. 

‘These machines are essentially like slapping your car with a dirty mop, causing hundreds of deep micro scratches called swirl marks. Over time, this damage builds and eventually results in your paint becoming dull and the scratches become easily noticeable. 

‘Repairing the swirl marks is done through a process called paint correction. This process cuts down the peaks of your paintwork to level out any swirl marks seen on the surface. This process can only be done so many times due to a car’s clear coat being a certain thickness, depending on your manufacturer. The cost of this process varies but on average costs over £1000.’

And if you try to skirt the issue by using a touch-free automatic car wash, chances are you’re still doing damage. 

‘Unfortunately as perfect as the idea sounds, not only do touch-free washes use aggressive acids to cut down the grime which can eat away paint, the high pressure hose simply won’t clean it 100%.’

So what’s the alternative for time-poor car owners who still want clean cars?

Applying a ceramic coating is a great way for your car to stay clean in the first place. The hydrophobic properties will make it harder for dirt and grime to stick to the car’s paintwork, while also encapsulating and rinsing off dirt when it rains. 

But, if you want to take the best care of your car’s paint, ‘it is always best to do it yourself and use the two bucket wash method, making sure to use clean microfibre materials when touching the car.’