Nearly two-thirds of Americans shower every day, some every other, maybe a few times a week. Some prefer baths. Few go completely without washing. Well, your car needs cleaning too. As a rule of thumb, you should consider washing your car at least once every other week, more frequently in sloppy conditions. At least that is true if you are interested in keeping it healthy and preserving the investment you make in your vehicle.
You see, dirt and other debris – not to mention caustic compounds like salt, calcium chloride, and acid rain – can harm your car’s body and paint finish, tarnish its looks, and shorten its life. Keep your car clean and you can expect it to look sharp and last for many miles.
To do that, more than seventy-five percent of drivers in the U.S. prefer professional car washes over hand washing at home. That amounts to more than two billion vehicles each year in North America alone. When you take your car to a full-service automatic car wash, you not only get the job done in about seven minutes or less (an excellent option when you are on the go), you also conserve water and protect your paint.
When you drive up to an automatic car wash, you are faced with a choice of services. Most businesses offer a tiered system, from a basic exterior wash to “the works”, complete with all sorts of car wash extras. Depending on the level you select and the amount of money you choose to spend, you can opt for special wheel and tire cleaners, paint sealant and wax, undercarriage wash, and more.
But are these “extras” worth the cost? Should you consider adding extra services to your car wash experience? Or are they a waste of money?
Made for show?
Surely you have noticed the sights and sounds and smells inside the automatic car wash tunnel: the neon lights flashing, the red and blue foam bubbles falling on your windshield, and the scent of grape or cherry wafting through your vents. But did you know that those effects – the lighting, the colors, and the smells – are there by design?
Car wash owners understand that, just as with any other customer service business, a first-rate user experience is essential. After all, restaurants, grocery stores, shopping malls, and websites all work tirelessly to provide the best experience possible for their customers. In fact, Forbes suggests that managing a better user experience is “critical to almost every business” and that it is important to “get it right so that a customer has a positive experience.” A car wash is no different.
So, all of those sensory attractions? They are there to give you a show. To improve your car wash experience. After all, who isn’t attracted to the theatre of spinning brushes and dancing cloth tentacles, the flashing signs highlighting triple foam shampoos, wheel cleaners, polymer clear coat sealants, and even the roaring air jets to dry off your car on your way out of the wash? The spectacle is a sight (and sound and smell) to behold on your five-, or six-, or seven-minute trip through the tunnel.
Each car wash chemical in turn plays its role on the stage, provided you paid for it in advance. A basic wash will get you a modest show; “the works” buys you a no-holes-barred production.
But just because those products provide you with a show, does that mean that they are of no value to your vehicle? Is there reason enough beyond the sensory stimulation for you to select extra services at the car wash?
The value of car wash extras
Yes, professional car wash products are designed to provide a positive experience. But so is foaming hand soap, and pizza, and your car. Automakers create vehicles to give you a comfortable ride (or a sporty one) and a safe trip. They include heated seats, navigation systems, audio and video equipment, backup cameras, and much, much more, all to heighten your driving experience. And they design those vehicles to look attractive with sleek styling, luxurious interiors, and shiny paint. You wouldn’t think to question whether the aesthetics of your automobile negated its usefulness. Your car can look great, drive great, and fulfill its function – to get you where you need to go – all at the same time.
The same goes with car wash extras. Yes, they look and smell nice. They also have a job to do.
For instance, foaming cleaners not only enhance the visual show, but they also offer higher lubricity or sliding ability so that contaminants can wash off easier. It also adheres longer so that it can dissolve debris better. Chemicals like foam cleaner are also carefully engineered to work properly with the recycled water in an automatic car wash.
Another “extra” product in a car wash is a wheel cleaner. This option is formulated to remove stubborn brake dust that clings to your wheels. Brake dust is the residue left behind as your brake pads wear away. Other soaps and degreasers are ineffective at removing brake dust. Wheel cleaner gets the job done.
Likewise with tire cleaner and dressing. If you like the look of jet black tires with a bit of shine, you will want to have them treated on your way through the wash. Dirt that becomes embedded in the rubber sidewalls of your tires is tricky to remove and requires its own chemical treatment.
Many drivers wonder if an underbody or undercarriage wash is necessary. Well, the underside of your car, truck, or SUV is just as prone to picking up contaminants as is the rest of your vehicle. But, unlike the upper body, it is rarely washed. It is more of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind area of your car. But it needs cleaning just as much as the rest. Especially in regions where mud, clay, sand, and salt are common.
What about foaming protectants, sealants, and waxes? How can they be of any value? It is no secret that the products added to the surface of your vehicle in an automatic car wash do not offer the level of protection as materials carefully applied by hand. But they are not intended to replace hand waxing. They are intended to supplement it.
By virtue of exposure to the elements, your paint (and glass) is subject to hard water spotting, acid rain, bird droppings, bug residue, and all sorts of other environmental contaminants. Polymer sealants and waxes not only make your car smooth and shiny, but they also allow water to bead up and runoff, carrying contaminants with it, and to keep those contaminants from sticking to the surface. But sealant and wax wear off eventually. When you choose services such as Rain-X Complete Surface Protectant and Armor All ® Extreme Shine Wax periodically, you are adding to the protection already in place. And if you do not wax your car regularly, those products offer far more protection than “nothing”. Plus, those end-of-the-line add-ons are low in pH to neutralize the high pH (alkaline) detergents and allow water to run off easier and dry better.
Some drivers complain that the “extras” are too expensive given their uses. Truthfully, it costs more to buy the right chemicals (and uses far more water) to clean your car yourself. Professional hand washing is an excellent option, but again, it costs more and takes more time. Full-scale detailing is the pinnacle of car washing, but the service is not needed every time you clean your car. Your best bet for routine washing is an automatic car wash and its extras. Better yet, consider a car wash membership or club with unlimited washes – the best bang for your buck.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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