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What are the Pros and Cons of Using an Automatic Car Wash?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Washing a car by hand allows a car owner to make sure every part of the car's body gets cleaned and properly dried, but the process can take a very long time, especially for larger vehicles. An automatic car wash allows a driver to clean his car quickly and easily, with little or no effort. It can also clean the undercarriage of a vehicle easily, while hand washing an undercarriage may be more difficult or impossible. The advantages of this type of car wash include time savings, a lack of physical effort, and a fairly thorough clean. The cons, however, include risk of damage to the car, spotty washing and drying, and an inability to pay close attention to trouble spots.

Many automatic car wash locations today feature brushless washing, in which no physical contact is made with the vehicle by brushes or cloths. While this may prevent scratches, it can sometimes leave patches of dirt or grime untouched, meaning the car does not get cleaned thoroughly. Car washes with large brushes are more thorough, though they can cause minor to moderate scratching and can even tear off a radio antenna. The driver or car wash attendant will need to remove the antenna before entering the car wash. Brushless spray heads can also spray underneath the car easily, cleaning dirt or mud from underneath the vehicle. This is an added benefit to any type of car wash, and it is an easy way to break up grit that has built up over the course of driving.

A freshly washed minivan.
A freshly washed minivan.

Since an automatic car wash can cause blemishes or scratches, some now feature a waxing option that will apply a coat of wax and buff the car to a shine. This is a quick and easy way to perform a tedious job, though the results of such a feature will vary. Some automatic vehicle wash facilities do an adequate job, while others are sub-par; for the best waxing results, it is worth doing the job by hand, especially on high-end cars.

An automatic car wash is quicker and easier than handwashing.
An automatic car wash is quicker and easier than handwashing.

Some automatic car wash facilities try to reduce or eliminate scratching and blotches by hand-drying the cars after they leave the wash itself, though the dryers must use microfiber cloths during this process. Some facilities use air dryers instead, and while this will eliminate the potential of scratching altogether, it may not be the most thorough method of drying and can sometimes leave residue that will dry and cause splotches.

Discussion Comments


Has anyone ever had a driver's side window cracked by an automatic car wash?


Has anyone seen an automatic car wash that uses a swinging pole attached to a siren that is supposed to warn the user that his vehicle is too tall for the car wash? I'm wondering if anyone else has shared my experience.

This car wash is right next to a busy 8 lane highway, and the warbling siren was identical to a police car, which I thought it was. long story short, the car wash was like a roach motel. By the time I realized the vehicle wasn't going to fit, I couldn't back out. Bad consequences. Anything like that happen to you?


I think as is with most things, you are going to get the best results the more effort and time you put into things that you care about.

So if you care about your car, it makes sense to wash it buy hand.

I know this method can take a couple/few hours, but if you care about the appearance of your car, it will probably be worth it to you.

Also, you can save money by washing your car at home. You can also typically save your car from getting damaged on the outside, from washing your car yourself.

If you are careful, you probably won't get soaked, and if you wear clothes and shoes that you don't mind getting wet in, it will probably be less frustrating too.

My Dad would always use the turtle wax stuff in the green container whenever he wanted to really shine up his car. This was inexpensive, and at least years ago, you could find this easily at most car/department stores.

I actually sometimes enjoyed helping my Dad wash and wax the car. I always thought it was so neat to put the turtle wax on, and then it seemed to dry pretty fast, and it seemed like I "magically" wiped off the wax by just buffing it off with an old towel or old tee shirt.

I also enjoyed helping my Dad, so I could spend time with my Dad. Even if we didn't talk, it was nice just to be together. I didn't look back on it much as a child, but now I look back at all those bonding times fondly.


I am kind of ashamed to admit I only clean the outside of my car like once a year. When I do, I usually go to one of the car wash places where everything is there for you to do it, but you do it yourself.

This may cost a little extra, but it saves time, and also saves the hassle of spending hours working on it at home and/or going through a fully automatic car wash that can damage your car.

I am actually kind of scared of going through a car wash, as I rarely have done it, and I don't know why, it just seems scary to me. I think it may be because I am sort of claustrophobic.

I am also scared to use a fully automatic car wash because I do not want to damage my car. It is not that I care about my car much, as it is just a material thing, but my car is kind of older and I don't want any chance of having to put more money into it, as since it is getting older it seems to need more repairs and maintenance.


I have had too much damage done to my car when using an automatic car wash. The damage was minor, but was still frustrating.

I know they have disclaimers posted on the premises saying they are not responsible for any damages, so knew what I was getting into.

My car really gets the best cleaning when I do this myself at home. Saturday is usually the perfect day to get out all my car wash supplies and really spend some time making it look nice.

I know this takes longer than even using a manual car wash, but don't feel like I am under any time pressure. My car is cleaner and I have also saved some money in the process.


I have almost always used automatic car washes to keep my car clean. The few times I tried to do this by hand, I got soaked and ran out of time before everything was rinsed.

I also feel the underside of the car gets cleaner if I do it this way too. I can see where someone who is really particular about their car would be wary of using some of these washes.

I stay away from places where the equipment looks old and I don't like using the brushes on my car anymore either.

When my kids were really little though, I had to do this when they weren't in the car with me. My daughter was really scared of going through one of these automatic car washes.


I almost always go to automated car washes because every time I wash my car myself I seem to get covered with soap and water.

Even when I am careful I can't seem to help it. Its like I'm cursed. Now I am happy to just let a machine do it and not have to worry about getting my clothes soaked.


I actually had a terrible experience in an automatic car wash once. One of the brushes was out of alignment and it ended up doing serious damage to the body of my car. It also broke out one of my back windows.

At the time I was terrified. I thought the whole car was going to collapse in on itself with me trapped inside. Luckily my car was the only thing that was damaged but I got quite a scare.

The gas station where the car wash was paid for all the damages to my car. Still, I have never been back to an automatic car wash since. I'm content to spend a little extra time doing it myself.


@letshearit - I went to one of those larger automatic car wash franchises that are attached to gas stations and I ended up getting my paint scratched on one of the brushes. I didn't notice it until awhile afterward, but I am positive that is what did it.

I think that if you are going to use car wash equipment you should go with the touchless car washes that are now available. I like the idea of just jets spraying down my car, as there is just too much that can go wrong with those giant automated brushes. As you've said, they can even eat pieces of your car if you aren't careful.


Has anyone ever had their car antenna break off in one of those automatic car wash systems?

We forgot to put ours down the last time we went through and it snapped our antenna right off. We were pretty mad, but had no recourse as there was a warning posted about just such a thing happening. I think that although automatic car wash equipment is really convenient you pay the price in damage to your car if you forget something like that.

I have decided to only use the automated car washes in the winter from now on, as I am just to lazy to go into the garage when it's cold out.

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    • A freshly washed minivan.
      By: jamalludin din
      A freshly washed minivan.
    • An automatic car wash is quicker and easier than handwashing.
      By: deusexlupus
      An automatic car wash is quicker and easier than handwashing.
    • Hand washing a vehicle allows for special attention to be paid to details, such as cleaning the tires.
      By: zuchero
      Hand washing a vehicle allows for special attention to be paid to details, such as cleaning the tires.
    • Automatic car washes can save the time and effort of cleaning by hand.
      By: Halfpoint
      Automatic car washes can save the time and effort of cleaning by hand.