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What Not to Do When Washing Your Car

BY: Nikki Ayers
The outside of an automatic car wash.

Summer is approaching, which means longer days, weekends out, and maybe even a road trip or two! When it comes to taking those summer drives, your vehicle deserves to look its best—and that means washing your car the right way. 

And while you have probably picked up a thing or two about car care from a family member, a friend or internet searches, there’s more to proper car washes than you may think. In fact, dealing with bird droppings, dust, dirt particles, grime and buildups of other gunk and goo you can find during the summer months or any time of the year can pose a much greater risk to your vehicle than it simply not looking its best. So while there’s a lot of information out there about washing a car inside and out, not every piece of advice or DIY car washing tip you come across will be helpful. 

That’s why it’s essential to know more about car washes and what you shouldn’t be doing when cleaning your vehicle can help ensure you’re taking care of it as best that you can.

Why Is Washing Your Car Important?

Not everyone is going to be well-versed when it comes to proper car maintenance, including car washes. In fact, some of the most common mistakes care owners can make is simply forgetting (or refusing) to wash their cars. So while you may think that the recent rainshower your area had was good enough, or you don’t drive as often as you once did, there are some long-term effects if you go too long without a car wash. 

For example, if you live somewhere where it snows, road salt can cause rust through a complex electrochemical process. Another example is for areas that frequently suffer from wildfires in warmer months, where ash and soot can cause corrosion to the car’s surface, including the car’s finish and paint job, and even fog up your headlights.

While these examples seem weather-dependent, it’s known that automotive purchases are one of the second biggest financial decisions for families in America right after buying a house. Cars can be a huge investment, and taking the time to learn proper care extends the car’s life and allows for a higher resale value when it comes time to get a new car. In addition, keeping a car clean, both inside and out, has positive outcomes for aesthetics, safety, and even your finances.

What Not To Do When Washing Your Car

Before we jump in, it’s important to note that it is not the end of the world if you’ve done some of these once or twice. However, with your newly acquired knowledge, you can make better decisions on when you wash your car, the types of cleaning products to wash your car with, and more to help keep your car looking (and running) newer for longer.

1. Don’t Take Your Car to the Car Wash

Taking your car to an automatic car wash can seem like a good idea, but chances are you don’t know what’s going on your car or if the person operating the wash even knows what they’re doing. So while this may seem counter-intuitive, unless you’re seeking out a well-rated and highly reputable detailing establishment to get your vehicle ready for a car show, it’s best to hand-wash your car yourself. But why? 

Well, drive-thru or other types of automatic car washes can use pressure washers that can end up chipping your car’s paint. Additionally, the pads on the machines are not swapped out as often as they should, meaning whatever was on the car in front of you is now on your car, despite the amount of suds your car may be covered in. When it comes to quarter washes, be careful, too, as the soaps and detergents used are generally not the best (though they are cheap). 

2. Never Use Household Cleaning Products

As a reminder, car cleaning is a science because of the chemical makeup of car paint, wax, clear coat, and polish. Due to this complex combination, everyday household cleaners, such as dish soap, surface cleaners, and bleach wipes, are too harsh and can strip the protective coatings off of your car. And if it doesn’t actively strip your vehicle’s coating, it can cause corrosion, making your car more susceptible to rust, chipping and scratches. 

Instead, specifically-made car wash soaps will have a delicately balanced pH to avoid any problems mentioned above. They are also made to create lots of bubbles, which create a lubricant between your cloth and the car to help prevent scratches.

On the subject of cloth, it’s ill-advised to use sponges, bath towels, old t-shirts, or the worst of them all, paper towels. These types of materials may be great for cleaning yourself or things around the home, but they are often too abrasive, which can cause even more scratching. Instead, use specially made microfiber towels, mitts, or chamois to wash and dry.

3. Do Not Use Just One Bucket

When washing your car, you will want one bucket for soapy water and one bucket for just clean water. For example, you’ll want to use the soapy bucket with your microfiber mitt, cloth and so on to wash your car before using the clean bucket of water to rinse off the suds, dirt and debris. Then, simply rinse the mitt/cloth (preferably with hose water to avoid contaminating the soapy or clean water buckets) and repeat for the rest of your vehicle’s exterior.

4. Don’t Jump Around to Different Parts of the Car

The best way to wash a vehicle is in sections, ideally starting with the top and working your way down. This will help ensure that the dirt, grime and gunk you’re removing won’t trickle down to already clean areas. Also, don’t just clean the areas you can physically see, as areas such as your wheel wells can be susceptible to buildups of brake dust, mud, dirt and other contaminants that can cause rust or other issues.

5. Don’t Wash Your Car in Direct Sunlight

When thinking of summer, washing your car in the hot sun seems like the perfect way to make it sparkle and cool yourself down. However, sun and water mean one thing: evaporation. Car soaps are not made to be used in contact with a hot car, and it says as such on the packaging. The water evaporating will leave a mineral residue (aka water spots) that can get tricky to remove.

In addition to not washing your car in the midday sun, don’t let it dry there either. Going back to using the proper tools, using a terry cloth to dry your car manually will also prevent swirl marks from where wind-swept pollen and dirt could settle while the car was drying. 

6. Do Not Wash Your Car in the Grass

You might think you’re being eco-friendly by washing the car and watering the lawn simultaneously, but it’s neither efficient for your car nor your lawn. Water and grass mean mud, and you wouldn’t want to kick up mud onto a freshly cleaned car accidentally. 

On top of that, the chemicals in your soaps could harm your lawn. So if you have children or pets who also spend time outside, you wouldn’t want them playing in a mixture of mud, chemicals and anything else you removed from the car’s surface. 

7. Don’t Skip Waxing & Polishing

Think of it this way, when it comes to cleaning a vehicle, waxing is like wrapping a present, and polishing is like putting a bow on it. Unfortunately, when it comes to waxing, it can be easy to over wax, so make sure to follow your car wax or polish product’s instructions thoroughly. 

Waxing also adds a protective layer to your clear coat, and forgetting this step can open your car up for scratches in the future. Finally, polishing smooths out the surfaces and gives your car that extra bit of shine as a reward for a thorough job well done.

8. Don’t Neglect the Windshield

Neglecting to wash the windshield properly is more than just an appearance issue; it can also be a safety hazard. Much like the body, washing and drying require the correct tools to ensure an effective wash. In addition, letting windshields air dry or using a dirty towel, cloth or mitt can create a cloudy, streaky window that makes it dangerous to drive at night. 

9. Don’t Forget the Interior

Lastly, forgetting to take proper care of your car’s interior can lead to depreciation, stains and smells. Every surface of your interior will also require its own cleaning protocol, whether for the leather, fabric, or plastic, so check your owner’s manual to learn more about the materials you can find in your vehicle, including your floor mats. 

Keep Your Vehicle Running like New with Endurance

Taking car maintenance into your own hands can help ensure it stays running for years to come. And while it may not seem like it, regular car washes are a vital part of any car’s maintenance schedule, regardless of the time of year, and knowing what not to do when washing your car is an essential part of being a responsible car owner. It’s also vital to protect your vehicle (and your wallet) from expensive auto repair bills, and Endurance can help.

With an Endurance auto protection plan, you can be certain you’re getting comprehensive breakdown protection for your vehicle’s most vital components. Some plans, such as the Advantage protection plan, can even combine breakdown protection and up to $3,500 toward some of your vehicle’s most important maintenance services. That means you can get oil and filter changes, alignment checks, tire rotations, engine diagnostic exams and even help on your car’s next state safety inspection to help keep it at its best. Each Advantage plan will also come with several special, one-time services like cooling system maintenance, a front or rear wiper blade set replacement, a battery replacement and more.

Additionally, as an Endurance customer, you’ll also get 24/7 roadside assistance and towing, trip interruption coverage, and even rental car reimbursements for free, regardless of your plan. And, for just $20 more, you can activate an entire year’s worth of Endurance Elite Benefits, including tire replacements or repairs, collision discounts and more. 

Cruise into summer with the confidence knowing Endurance has you covered by requesting a free, no-obligation quote today. Or, if you’d like to learn more about how an Endurance protection plan can help you and your vehicle, give a member of the award-winning Endurance customer care team a call directly at (800) 253-8203. You can also find other DIY car maintenance tips, expert auto advice, vehicle buying guides, extended warranty coverage comparisons, and more by visiting the Endurance blog.

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