By now we would expect consensus to have been reached on the value proposition for car washing and how best to achieve it. However, it hasn’t. Consider these tidbits I stumbled on while doing research on automotive paint technology.
Director, auto paint OEM — best time to wash a car is when you see stuff on it.
Director, Consumer Reports — owners need only to keep their cars reasonably clean over time.
Professional detailer — car washes that seem really cheap may save you money but may hurt your car ($3 express wash, rollover).
Editor, detail blog — you don’t need an undercarriage wash every time a car is washed.
Chemical sales rep — caked on brake dust won’t damage rims but it will make cleaning them really difficult.
Paint OEM — spray-on wax has purely cosmetic benefits, but a modern car’s finish will last and look good even without frequent waxing.
Autoblog (6 million visitors a month) — extras like clear-coat protection aren’t worth even a few extra bucks, instead buy the cheapest wash.
I could go on.
If this represents “consensus” amongst pundits, one can only image what millions of motorists might think.
Perhaps the best way to reach consensus is to simply explain to people what will happen if they don’t clean, shine, and protect their vehicles.
Of course, for this to happen, the explanation must come from individual car wash operators and it will not be the same in each case.
To illustrate: I’ve lived almost an equal amount of time in Pennsylvania and Florida. As we know, each region has different climate and weather conditions that car wash and detail operators must contend with.
In the part of Florida where I live, you have to search for mud. There is no snow. So, there is no snowmelt or cinders or potholes. Temperatures do not reach much higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit or lower than about 45 degrees.
However, Florida does experience a high incidence of solar radiation (UV). UV can affect paint in two ways. UV-A radiation will dry out resins in paint, leading to microscopic-sized cracks. UV-B will cause the color of the paint to fade or discolor.
Paint OEMs try to combat these effects by formulating clear-coat paint from acrylic copolymers that are slow to absorb UV rays and provide durability (up to 10 years), whereas basecoat core colors are stable for about five years and the chromatic colors will change more rapidly.
Nevertheless, if a vehicle is not waxed at least occasionally and not garage-kept like many vehicles in Florida, it’s not uncommon to find signs of fading on the horizontal paint surfaces and headlight lens covers after only several years.
Florida also experiences flower and tree pollen. Like other organic material that gets on cars, pollen releases acid that can degrade the paint surface.
Pollen particles also have tiny prongs that cause it to cling to paint surfaces to form grime. Consequently, improper cleaning techniques can lead to microscopic-sized streaks and scratches in the paint.
Florida also has major and minor love-bug seasons. Even if a vehicle has a coat of wax, love bugs can leave a stain spot in a clear-coat finish in a matter of several days if not removed.
Florida also experiences an extended rainy season from June till October that consists of frequent thunderstorms and heightened tropical storm and hurricane activity. During this period, car-washing drops precipitously for extended periods.
According to paint experts, not washing a vehicle for extended periods provides the opportunity for accumulated grime to sweat or work its way into the paint film, reducing its gloss and making it look dull.
Conversely, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I had to contend with snow and ice; road cinders and rock salt; mud; periods of extreme cold; air pollution from factories, railroads, and power plants; and pot holes. The consequences of which I still see today during Florida’s tourist season which lasts from Thanksgiving till Easter.
During this period, many of the vehicles that come here from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, and other states can be seen with the battle scars that result from driving in places located above the Mason Dixon Line.
This includes stone chips, small dents and dings, water spots, and faded or dull paint. The latter of which remains an enigma. For example: “Your car wash brushes scratched my car or left swirl marks in the paint.”
Quite frankly, just about anything that comes into contact with paint can cause marks at the microscopic level that invariably accumulate over time reducing gloss and making the paint look dull.
For example, the graphic on page 58 illustrates the sequence of events that result in brushes creating marks in a paint surface as explained by BASF, a major manufacturer of OEM auto paint systems.
According to BASF, one out of four car buyers is prepared to switch car makes due to a particularly attractive finish. Since attractiveness plays a major role in people’s decisions, car wash and detail operators should benefit from explaining to consumers that washing and spray wax alone isn’t enough to protect their vehicles from all the stuff that gets on them.