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Myths and Facts About Car Washes


Washing your car regularly is a great way to protect your ride. Not only does it keep everything looking good, but it can also help prevent rust and paint damage by removing harmful contaminants.

However, not all car washes are created equal. And some wash methods may even do more harm than good. To help you separate truth from fiction, we’ve compiled some popular car wash tips – both good and bad – along with the facts to back them up.

So, whether you just brought home a new vehicle or are trying to keep your old car shining like new, here are some facts you should know about car washes.

Myth or fact? Touchless car washes are better for your paint.

It depends. A “touchless” car wash is one that uses chemicals and high-pressure water to clean your car – as opposed to an automatic car wash that uses rotating brushes or soft cloths. In theory, both are capable of getting the job done. But the truth lies in the details. If your car is really dirty, a touchless car wash may not have the power to get it completely clean. However, a car wash with worn brushes or dirty cloths can damage your vehicle – leaving small scratches in the paint while transferring dirt from other vehicles.

Before committing to a wash, Consumer Reports recommends taking a look at the brushes in an automatic car wash to see if they look dirty or worn. This can be an indication of a poorly maintained facility. If you stick with a touchless wash, they recommend switching it up every once and a while with a soft-cloth or hand wash to get your ride completely clean.

Myth or fact? An undercarriage wash can prevent rust.

Fact. Selecting an undercarriage wash means the underbody of your vehicle will get hosed down with a high-pressure spray of water. The point of this wash is to remove mud, salt or sand that may get packed into the hard-to-reach areas of your vehicle. Trapped moisture and corrosive materials like road salt can cause your vehicle to rust, so it’s a good idea to opt for an undercarriage wash – especially if you drive through snow in the winter. You don’t need to select this option every time. But the experts at Consumer Reports recommend an undercarriage wash at least once a season.

Myth or fact? Hand washing your car is better than an automatic wash.

Fact. If you want the ultimate showroom shine, it’s hard to beat hand washing and detailing your car. That’s because a hand wash allows you to go over every square inch of your vehicle, ensuring it’s completely clean. And you can spend extra time cleaning stubborn dirt and grime that may be missed in an automatic wash. The only downside is that hand washing your car takes more time and effort than driving through an automatic car wash.

There is one caveat to this fact: Using poor technique or the wrong materials can always do more harm than good. Want to hand wash your car like a pro? Check out our blog post on how to clean and detail your car at home.

Myth or fact? You should always buy the most expensive wash.

Myth. Basic. Express. Deluxe. Super. The works. Head to your local car wash and you’ll find an array of wash options – all at varying price points. Conventional thinking would lead you to believe that the most expensive option is always the best. But is that true?

According to Consumer Reports, the more expensive car wash options – like spray-on wax and wheel cleaners – may add some extra shine, but they don’t really do much to protect your car. So, if you want a shinier finish, you can always spring for a premium wash. Just know that it likely won’t make your car any cleaner.

Myth or fact? Dish soap is safe to use on your car.

Myth. A common car wash myth is that using dish detergent works just as well as car wash soap. However, detailing experts agree that dish soap is best left in the kitchen. That’s because the harsh chemicals in dish detergent will not just remove dirt – they’ll also strip your car’s paint of its protective wax coating. Car wash soaps, on the other hand, are specifically formulated to remove dirt without removing wax and sealants from the paint surface.

Myth or fact? You should only dry your car with a clean microfiber cloth.

Fact. It’s true. The best way to dry your car is with a clean microfiber cloth or shammy. Using anything else (like a bath towel, beach towel or an old t-shirt) can lead to scratches and swirls in your paint’s protective clear coat. It’s also a better alternative than air-drying, which can leave water spots on your car caused by minerals and other contaminants in the water.

Myth or fact? You only need to wax your car once a year.

Myth. This myth came to prominence as a marketing ploy by car wax companies. But the truth is, there’s no real answer to how often you should wax your car.

According to J.D. Power, how often you should wax your vehicle depends more on the environment your car is exposed to. If you store your car in a climate-controlled garage, your wax coating will last longer than a car that’s street-parked. Harsh winter weather and direct, year-round sunlight can also wear down your paint’s protective coating faster than more temperate conditions.

Considering these factors, the right interval for you may be a few times a year or once a season. And here’s a hint: Feel the surface of the car’s paint with your finger. If it doesn’t feel smooth, it’s probably time for a wax.

Myth or fact? Waxing and polishing are the same thing.

MythAlthough some may use the terms interchangeably, there’s actually a big difference between waxing and polishing. Car wax is formulated to enhance and protect your paint surface. Think of it as a thin coating that gets applied on top of the paint. Polishing, on the other hand, is the process of removing minor surface imperfections from your paint. During this process, a detailer will use an abrasive compound to remove things like scratches, swirl marks and oxidation. Once the paint surface is corrected, wax is applied on top.

Myth or fact? Paste wax is better than liquid wax.

It depends. Traditional paste waxes apply a thick, protective coating on top of your vehicle’s finish. This type of wax typically takes longer to apply than liquid waxes because it needs to be buffed in using an applicator pad. Liquid waxes, by contrast, are applied by spraying them on your vehicle and wiping them off. They take less time to apply and are generally easier to use for the average car owner.

It used to be true that paste waxes offered more protection. But advances in technology and synthetic waxes over the past few decades have made that old adage less true. Of course, your results may vary based on the type and brand of wax you choose. Whatever wax you decide on, be sure you only apply it to a clean car. Not washing your vehicle before you wax can result in scratches and swirl marks.

Get the Ultimate Protection

A good car wash can make your ride shine like new. But nothing protects your vehicle like an auto policy from Erie Insurance.

At ERIE, we understand the pride you take in your car. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to help you protect it – with the coverage you need at a price you can afford. To learn more about auto insurance from ERIE, contact us today.

ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.

The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of July 2022 and may be changed at any time. 

Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 

The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia or New York.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 

Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.

Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.

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