Tunnel Car Washes: The More You Wash, the More You Scratch

Recently a black 2016 Chevy Silverado was brought to the shop that had just come from a brand new tunnel car wash down the street. The owner was irate, and rightfully so. The paint on his truck had long and deep impressions in the paint from bumper to bumper, and swirls along the doors and bed. The owner of the car wash was now on the hook to pay for the detail.

New truck, new car wash. So what’s the deal?

As car enthusiasts we care a great deal about how we wash and protect our investment. For many, automatic and tunnel car washes are the convenient and cost effective choice for keeping the exterior of our cars clean. Then, on some random Saturday in which we actually have free time, we tirelessly wax and buff using every product available to rid the car of those forsaken swirls.

Many tunnel car wash owners will tell you that they rinse their brushes and pads frequently, multiple times a day even. That’s great, but it’s not enough and it’s also why your car looks the way it does. Even the tiniest molecule of debri can, and will, scratch your paint. During peak hours there’s just no way a car wash will shut down the tunnel to rinse the brushes and pads.

Using fresh water every wash is bad for the environment, but great for your car. EPA laws require car washes to recycle their water, which leaves the door open for contaminants to sneak through. While recycling the water does filter much of the debri and dissolves other road contaminants, it doesn’t get everything. A Google search for water reclamation systems found most systems offer close to 95% efficiency. That 5% is where your car gets its swirls.

As a former employee at a large car wash I can tell you the worst part of it all is the towels. These microfibers are abused, dropped on the ground, and reused way more than they should be. In our shop today, a microfiber used for drying or buffing is used once before it ends up in the wash. After three or four washes it is decommissioned and sent to the interior cart for help on plastics, seats and other non painted surfaces. It costs more to do this, but it makes all the difference in the world.

Washing your car by hand will always be the best way to prevent swirls in your paint. Use two buckets, one for your soap, and one for rinsing your brush or sponge. Rinse often to keep contaminants and debri out of the soap. Use a squeegee before you dry and use clean, soft, microfibers to do the rest.

In closing, I recommend waxing your car every three months if you're going to be frequenting the car wash. Protect your paint first, so you don’t have to correct later. Call us at the shop if you have any auto detailing questions, we're happy to help.

P.S. The Silverado was corrected using a medium grit compound from Auto Magic. We used a foam pad at low speed and added a paint sealant by hand. We finished using a black wax and glaze that we put on simultaneously and remove with a finishing pad.


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816-524-3442

1000 SE Blue Pkwy. Lee's Summit, MO 64063