Although modern vehicle finishes are quite durable and resistant to environmental elements, the paint still needs to be washed on a regular basis to prevent buildup of elements that could permanently harm the finish of your vehicle. In addition, there are the obvious aesthetic benefits to having a clean vehicle.
Why wash my car?
Modern vehicles are operated in some pretty harsh environments and are subjected to a continual bombardment of potentially abrasive and corrosive elements. On the road, insects and bird droppings can land on the paint. In the winter, cold weather road maintenance bathes paint with a caustic salt solution, while summer may bring fresh hot tar that can stick to paint. Even while safely parked, dust, acid rain, pollen and bird droppings quickly adhere to the paint. Over time, these contaminants can chemically etch the surface, leaving permanent paint damage. Even plain old dirt eventually scratches the finish, while excessive road salt can lead to early corrosion. To prevent these types of damage, vehicles need to be washed with a good car wash soap and water.
Which car wash soap should I use?
Unlike most household soaps and detergents, which are designed to cut grease and oil, car wash soap is specially made to be gentle to your vehicle’s finish. Car wash soap will not remove wax and other protective finishes from the surface of the paint. Special additives in the soap (called surfactants) lift and hold dirt so they can be easily rinsed off the surface. Other additives help lubricate your wash sponge to protect the paint from scratching. Some car wash soaps use a type of water-soluble wax to protect the finish even after the car has been dried. Nearly all specialized car wash soaps are sold in concentrate form as a liquid or powder. Mixed with a large bucket of fresh water, a few capfuls will easily wash an entire vehicle.
How often should I wash my car?
There is no simple answer to this question, as every vehicle is operated in a different environment. As a rule, the vehicle should be washed when the paint starts looking dirty from two car lengths away, or immediately when contaminants such as bird droppings, winter salt, sap, or tar are on the paint. Most vehicles can go at least seven to 10 days between washings. A garaged vehicle will stay clean nearly twice as long. Contrary to popular belief, a rain shower does not constitute a car wash (in fact, rain can place more harmful chemicals on the paint than does the air!).
What about automatic car washes?
If you would rather take your vehicle somewhere to have it washed, do not despair, as there are many benefits to using an automatic car wash. In addition to the convenience, most commercial car washes will vacuum the inside of your car and even offer specialized detailing services such as waxing and polishing. Not to be overlooked, most commercial facilities filter and recycle their water, greatly benefiting the environment.