Automatic vs. Hand Wash. What & Why?

 Simons' Shine Shop

Today, you’re either going to the $7 Wash N’ Go or you’re dishing out $15 – $20 for a hand wash (if you’re not doing it yourself). To many people, the choice of where and how to get your car cleaned lies upon three options: location, time, and affordability. In retrospect, rather than asking “How long is this gonna take?” or “How close is the car wash to my house?” shouldn’t we be asking “Why?” “What’s the difference?” “Why the price range?” “What am I exactly getting here that I’m not getting there?”

So what’s really the difference?

Let’s take a look at your typical fully automated car wash (lets say it’s $7 for outside only):

First thing you do is get power washed/sprayed down to remove large debris. Once this is done, your car (either by you or the attendant) is aligned with the conveyer to move your car along. Here’s where you may hit a snag. Cars with wider wheel widths or a low profile will sometimes have problems with these systems. If your wheels/tires are wider than the average car, it might by a good idea to double check with the shop to determine if you’ll be OK. If you over-look this and become a victim, I wouldn’t bother asking the car wash to chip in for the scrapes on your rims or on your undercarriage.

Another quality of Automatic car washes are the spinning brushes and the dangling cloth pieces that do most of the washing. These may be quick, efficient, and fun for the kids to look at, but if you’ve got a car that you want safe from swirl-marks and contaminants then this is the wrong road for you. Most people don’t realize that these brushes & cloth pieces have touched hundreds if not thousands of other cars, collecting dirt and debris along the way. If you think your car was dirty before you brought it in, can you imagine how dirty the cloths cleaning your car are?

Lastly, how about attention to detail? Lets say its mid January in Chicago and your car is covered in salt and dirt from countless days of driving… it’s time for a wash. In an Automatic wash, for example, you can’t really expect that your wheel wells will be rid of the salt and dirt. It’s simply their business to receive cars and push them out as fast as possible, at your expense.

Now lets examine a typical hand wash (roughly $14 for exterior only):

You pull your car in, choose the exterior service, and from there the car is in the crew’s hands. At first you may be glued to the viewing window to make sure they’re OK with moving your car (trust me they’ve done this before). Not only is your car not whisked in line with the rest, usually your car is washed by an individual crew who’s job is to simply wash your car, finish, and move on.

If you are one who likes to stare out the window at your car, you’ll have noticed that most hand car washes use microfiber towels and quality wash mitts for cleaning your vehicle. Some shops even use freshly washed mitts & towels per car, limiting the transfer of contaminants and debris (these tend to be the most reputable). Freshly washed or not, when used over automated brushing technology, wash mitts safely assist in yielding more thorough cleaning results.

Hand car washes allow for a little more TLC. Even though they cost a little extra and take 5-10 minutes longer, the results can usually be seen. For example, hand washes tend  to use higher quality products, from wax down to car wash soap that usually leave your car cleaner for longer. Also, that little extra time allows for more thorough cleaning of chrome pieces, your car’s wheels, and hard to reach crevices that automatic techniques cannot access.

The bottom line?

No car owner should simply jump the gun on choosing a car wash facility. Weigh your options, dictate what’s going to fit better for you. Price, time, and location are always important, but you should always ask yourself what fits your needs the best. If you care about your car’s paintwork and extending the life of your investment, then you’ll probably be happier with a hand car wash that will spend a little more time with your vehicle. If time is of the essence and your car is simply a tool to get you from A to B, then an Automatic wash will suit your needs adequately and get your car in and out as soon as possible. Determining what’s right for you will leave you with a better car wash experience and a justifiably happier car.

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