Car Washes and Car Safety

Are Car Washes Safe for Cars? And When Shouldn’t You Take a Car Through Your Local Wash?

Not all car washes are created equal or equally maintained, but assuming that a car wash is modern, well designed, and in good condition, is it safe for cars? Of course it is! New technology and modern practices have driven astonishing advancement in modern car wash engineering and design and modern automatic car washes are safer and more effective for vehicles than ever before. Let’s take a look at a few of the systems that car washes are designed with in order to protect customer vehicles from damage and then some of the main risks of damage and when you should avoid the wash.

Complaint: The water is reused and therefore filled with the grit of a thousand dirty cars.
Solution: RO and Reclaim Units
Car Wash Final Spot Free Rinse

It’s absolutely true that car washes are built to reuse and reclaim water throughout the wash process, which is why car washes are actually the most water-economical and environmentally friendly wash method by far (more on this in our next post, “Car Washes and Water Efficiency”). But reusing water doesn’t mean that it flows down the bottom of the bay, gets sucked back up, and shot onto the next car. All car washes have specialized tanks and systems that collect used water for purification before it is reused. This reuse uses two main methods: Reverse Osmosis and Separation. Separation is the less rigorous of the two, using density filtration systems or biological treatments to remove both light chemical agents, which are skimmed off the top or separated by chemical properties, and heavy dirt and sand, which falls to the bottom of the system as the water settles. The water comes back out clean, containing only trace elements of the cleaning compounds that car wash vehicles are getting sprayed down with anyway—so there’s really no difference. Reverse osmosis or RO, on the other hand, takes water and forces it through a nano-carbon filter, stripping away virtually all hardness, particles, and chemical impurities. The pores in these filters are actually smaller than sand grains, leaving the water far cleaner than anything that comes out of your hose at home. This is why RO water is used for the final rinse: there are no dissolved solids or hard particles in the water which therefore leaves no water spots, leaving the facility more efficient and actually safer for the average car than a hand wash with well or city water.

Complaint: Car washes use brushes filled with grit that tear cars up like sandpaper!
Solution: Microfiber and Foam Brushes
Tommy Brushes in Action

As we wrote in our previous posting on car washes and swirl marks, modern car washes use either a closed cell foam material or highly engineered cloth made from densely woven cotton or polyethylene microfibers. These materials are specifically designed to have a structure that can’t and doesn’t pick up grit or dirt.  Plus car wash brushes are continually primed with body soap and clean water, removing any debris and providing protective lubrication between the brushes and the body of the vehicle. These brushes spin at a carefully defined speed and pressure to take human effort and mistakes out of the equation—as anyone who’s scarred their paint by washing with the wrong rag can attest.

Complaint: The chemicals are too strong! They wreck wax and clear coats.
Solution: Proven and Reliable Products

Most automatic car wash products are produced by the same companies that make hand-wash products, and in fact they’re often the same exact formula and product name! Slipstream, Simoniz, Turtle Wax are all good examples. The real difference is in concentration. While home washers end up guessing at the exact ratio of water to detergent, automatic washes are programmed to specifically use the correct ratios to effectively clean while ensuring that clear coats and wax layers are unharmed. Automatic car washes also give customers the option to go through the entire wash process, from pre-wash, to body soap, polish, sealant, and hot wax, without significant expense of time and money.

Complaint: Cars get wheel damage from rollers, correlators, or channels
Solution: The Dual Belt Conveyor and Self-Loading Entrance Module
No-Roller Dual Wash Conveyor Belts

It’s our belief that if a driver can park in a garage they should be able to easily pull into a car wash tunnel without assistance, and our Tommy Transporter Dual Belt Conveyor makes it happen! Loading is easy and the most damaging components of old roller-style conveyors are removed. The car actually sits on a wide factory-style conveyor belt and is carried, on both sides, throughout the length of the wash. Pulling in is simple, dual wheels and nonstandard configurations can still participate, and any damage potential from accidental braking or shifting into park is limited. Meanwhile our proprietary car wash entrance module, complete with high-quality video screens for signalling and instruction, reduce the need for manual loading assistance so even first time visitors can pull in correctly without stress or difficulty.

The balance between protecting vehicles and providing effective cleaning power has always been tricky, no matter if you’re dealing with home-washing, detailing, volunteer car washing, or automatic car washing.  Even with the best equipment possible damage can occur in certain situations, particularly when customers ignore warnings before heading into the wash.

Here are our top recommendations to make sure you or your customers avoid problems in the car wash tunnel:
  1. Tighten down license plates and license plate holders
  2. Empty truck beds to keep debris out of the wash
  3. Lower retractable antennas
  4. Push truck or SUV side mirrors in
  5. Always remove all roof cargo or any attachable racks on the vehicle
  6. Close all windows tight and make sure that they are child locked if kids or pets are on board (Case in point)
  7. Don’t use an automatic car wash on vehicles with bad or compromised door or window seals
  8. Don’t take classic cars with original paint jobs. Antique paints are softer and thinner than modern products and require unique care from qualified historic car professionals
  9. No vehicles with matte paint
  10. No rear ladders, common on certain passenger vehicles
  11. No vehicles with excessive mud caking (like this– just hose them off at home first!)
  12. No vehicles with metal fatigue, wide areas of rust, or loose components (i.e., beaters).

Don’t forget to check back for our next post on car washes and water efficiency, and check out this video on the latest Totally Tommy Gas C-Store Waverly Site!

Tommy Car Wash Systems.

7 thoughts on “Car Washes and Car Safety

  • June 12, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Hi! I am driving a friend’s car this week and it is filthy so I want to whizz through a car wash because I am a lazy beast. BUT it has a spare wheel stuck on the back of it – will this matter?? Thanks for any advice!!!

    • June 12, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Jane,
      It depends on the wash and the equipment, but many cars with rear-mounted spare tires do go through car washes regularly. Ask at the cashier station and the workers will let you know!

  • May 1, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    Thank you for talking about how car wash places use the right ratio of cleaning solution to water to ensure your car gets cleaned properly without getting it damaged. It is important to remember that taking the time to do your homework can help you make the best decision on how to wash your vehicle. As I see it, reading online reviews can always spot the best companies that care about their customer satisfaction and pay attention to their washer machines.

  • December 28, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Great article and thanks for the tips on how to maintain a car wash.

  • August 25, 2016 at 1:12 am

    I never knew how car washes were so economical. the process of reusing their water really intrigues me. I normally just paid some neighbor kids to hand wash my car. I’m leaning more towards the automated car washes now.

  • October 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for the tips on how to maintain a car wash. My uncle actually works for a car wash company. He took me out on a job with him a few weeks ago, and we spent most of our time working with conveyer chains, brushing out the buildup on the inside. It was great fun. Thanks for the share!


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