Have a new car? How about a not-so-new one? These days a new car, truck, or SUV costs a fortune the likes of what many folks paid for a whole house not too many years ago. Good used cars aren’t far behind. Set aside that it is not a bad idea to keep your car looking new; maybe how your car looks is important to you – maybe not. So, besides appearance, are there reasons that you should strive to keep it clean? The short answer is a resounding, “Yes!” A clean car is essential to keeping it on the road for the long haul. A clean car allows you to prevent oxidation and premature deterioration and preserves its value. So, let’s look at why it is important to wash your car on a regular basis.
“The better to see you with, my dear.”
While you do not need eyes like Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf to see your car, you do need to be able to actually see your car if you want to keep it in tip top shape. Keeping it clean means not only having a nice car, but also being able to notice when something is not so nice.
When your car is clean, you can more easily spot dents and dings in body panels, scratches in the paint finish, and loose trim pieces. A glance under the hood at a clean engine compartment can reveal any loose wires or corrosion on the battery terminals that can lead to a dead battery. While you are there you can check your oil and your air filter, or look for leaks.
The cleaner you maintain your vehicle, the more opportunities you have to identify when something is wrong. It’s kind of like keeping the car stereo up loud all the time. One day you turn it off to find that your brakes and suspension grinding and rattling all over the road. Turn down the music every once in a while and you will be able to pay attention to what your car is trying to tell you with the sounds it is making. Keep it well-washed and you will be able to see when something is wrong with the outside.
Protect the paint finish that protects your car
That shiny red paint on your new sports car is there for more than just turning heads. And the glossy black finish on your sedan is intended for more than making a bold and powerful statement. The paint is actually a protective coating on the body panels.
Most of the construction of your car is metal. Sure, there are plenty of plastic parts, but the majority is metal – steel and/or aluminum. Bare metal, when left exposed to the elements, will corrode. Especially steel. The paint keeps that from happening.
Now, there is a lot of misinformation out there about paint finishes. You can read comments like: the paint on older cars was better than on new cars; the clear coat is separate from the “paint”; or how about, your black car actually has a white base-coat underneath and that is why the scratches look white. Ugh!
Let’s set some things straight. All of the coatings applied to the metal or plastic panels on your car can be considered “paint”. That includes the primer, the color coat (base-coat), and the clear coat. The primer helps the color coat to stick and prevents corrosion. The base-coat adds the color of your choice for aesthetics, and the clear coat (a see-through plastic resin) makes it shiny, protects the base-coat from the sun’s UV rays, and provides abrasion resistance. That is, in a nutshell, the paint on your vehicle.
Decades ago, few if any cars had a clear coat, so the paint faded more quickly and scratched more easily. The paint finishes of today’s vehicles are far more durable than in the past, last for (potentially) decades, and can be repaired of minor imperfections that would have required repainting in days gone by. And when the “paint” on a dark-colored car gets scratched, the scratch appears white because the clear coat is what got scratched.
What does any of this have to do with washing your car? Dirt and debris left on the surface of the paint will not only hide damage that occurs, but it can create damage. Dirt is essentially ground up rock. It scratches. And scratches dull the finish. More than that, dirt attracts more dirt and sticks to the paint, trapping moisture that can eventually find its way into and through scratches and cause more damage.
When metal becomes exposed to the elements through scratches, stone chips, or other breaks in the paint it will corrode, and corrosion (AKA rust) will destroy the metal. Keeping your car clean not only helps to prevent the buildup of dirt and debris, it also helps give you an early warning of damage that can lead to corrosion. Particularly important is making sure salt and sludge is washed off regularly in the winter. Salt accelerates the corrosion when allowed to remain on your car.
So, maybe appearance really does matter. If your car appears clean, it will likely last longer. Besides, when you take care of your car by keeping it clean, you will probably pay attention to other routine maintenance items as well. Just like a building with a broken window seems to attract more broken windows, a dirty car seems to attract more problems. If your car is clean, not only will you have more respect for it, others will respect it more too. Who would think to trace their finger on a shiny and spiffy paint job with the words, “please don’t wash me.”?
Keeping your car clean not only communicates to those around you, it also elevates its value. Your car will retain better resale value if it is kept clean and free from damage. Dull paint, scratches, dirt, and corrosion, on the other hand, will all decrease the value of your vehicle and cost you money when you sell or trade it in.
How often should you wash your car?
Experts suggest washing your car at least bi-weekly year round to maintain it in good condition. In addition to keeping it clean, keep it covered with a coat of wax. The clear coat is an extremely hard, protective coating, but is not infallible. Over time, the clearcoat can dull slightly and lose its ability to shed water (and mud). A wax coating on top of the clear coat serves to better protect the paint by allowing water to bead up and run off of body panels, and it keeps contaminants from sticking to the surface.
Some people wonder if it is bad to wash your car too often. No, it is not. But washing it improperly is bad. And if you are not careful when you wash your car in your driveway, you can cause more harm than good. Your best bet is to have your car professionally cleaned by hand or a reputable and state-of-the-art automatic car wash.
However you choose to keep your car clean, make sure you do it frequently. If you find minor paint damage, consider professional detailing for paint correction.