As years turn into decades in this business I so love, I have compiled a list of questions frequently asked by customers, which I use to help train new employees. A customer in one of my self-service wash bays asked the most memorable question: “Sir, excuse me, will the pre-soak in the wash bay dry my pig’s skin out?” I had to explain to the customer that it wasn’t in the best interest of the pig to be washed in the self-service bay that day, or any day to be frank. I could probably write a book on the things I have seen and the questions I have been asked as a professional car washer, but for the sake of this article, I will stick to the FAQs:

Why should I wash my vehicle at your car wash?

Bobby Willis, the owner of Cool Wave Car Washes, has spent the last 20 years working with car wash owners and car wash equipment manufacturers around the country and has taken the best practices and processes he has learned and put them to work at Cool Wave. Attention to detail was given to every aspect at the wash, which uses the best of everything that is on the market, from car wash equipment to the vehicle-care products sold in the vending machines. The soaps and waxes used were developed exclusively for Cool Wave to ensure the highest quality wash results possible. Cool Wave has strict guidelines on equipment maintenance in order to keep everything working at its best for our customers.

Is it better for the environment to wash my vehicle at home or at your car wash?

When you wash your vehicle at home it can be damaging to the environment and you probably will use an excessive amount of water. The water, along with all of the soaps, cleaners, road grime, and oil all filter into the ground and run into the storm system. These waters then flow directly into our lakes, streams, and rivers. Parking lot charity washes are the same. They use an excessive amount of water and pollute the environment. Cool Wave Car Washes filter and treat the water used to wash your vehicle before it is pumped into the city’s sanitary sewer system. This is a large investment on our part, but it is the reason why we wash cars without polluting the environment.

When I wash my vehicle at home, why does the finish look dull?

The University of Texas completed a study that shows that a single home wash can leave scratches in your vehicle’s finish as deep as 1/10th of the paint’s total thickness. Hand washing, and the chemicals used not specifically designed to wash cars, like dish soap, can damage your finish. Uneven pressure from the hand washing can place up to 100 pounds of pressure on your vehicle, damaging your vehicle’s finish. Using improperly cleaned towels that contain dirt from other parts of your vehicle can scratch your finish. Also, the average garden hose doesn’t supply enough water or pressure with the detergent action to avoid damaging a vehicles finish.

What is oxidation?

Oxidation is the “damaging” and “drying out” of your vehicle’s paint caused by atmospheric conditions. You probably have noticed it more on red cars. When the pigment in the paint dries out, it starts to fade or have a dull look. For the most part, oxidation can only take place when the surface of your car’s finish has deteriorated from abuse or neglect to the point where the once impermeable surface has become permeable and then left unprotected. Deterioration is caused by neglect, washing with detergent washes (dish soap), the leaching and drying-out effect due to repeated exposure to inclement weather, baking in hot sun, natural wear and tear, and through the natural process of breaking down.

The best way to prevent oxidation is to:

• Always wash your vehicles at a professional car wash.

• Add a protective coating of wax or clear-coat protectant to your finish a minimum of three to four times a year. The most important thing you can do to prevent oxidation, besides washing, is to protect the paint you presently have with a protective coating. A good protective coating will act as a barrier film that will prevent moisture from coming into direct contact with your paint.

• Whenever possible, park under cover.

Should I wash my vehicle before or after it rains?

You should wash your vehicle when it is dirty, regardless of whether it is before or after rain. When it is dirty, your vehicle’s surface is holding all kinds of dirt particles, contaminants, and road grime. Mix this with water and you have cement. Whatever is water-soluble, mixes with other particles and new paint problems are born. Rain will not clean these particles off of your car.

Why do I need to wash my vehicle after it rains or snows?

This is a critical time to protect your vehicle’s finish. Pollutants such as sulfuric and nitric acids from automobile, truck, and factory exhausts become trapped in the raindrops or snow flakes that settle on your vehicle. The sun will evaporate the water and leave behind concentrated acid that can damage your vehicle’s finish.

What is “acid rain” and how does it hurt my vehicle?

When rain or snow falls it can capture environmental pollutantsfrom factory, automobile, and truck exhausts. The water has a low pH reading (acidic). The sun heats and evaporates the water but leaves behind concentrated acid spots that cannot be removed. Prevention is key. Keep a good coat of wax on your vehicle’s finish and wash it at a professional car wash after it rains or snows.

How often should I wash my vehicle?

Wash it when it’s dirty. There are fanatics who wash their vehicle every day. If you drive your vehicle everyday, we recommend you wash at least once a week. Washing your vehicle once a week will ensure that the surface is being cared for properly. If you go for many weeks without washing your vehicle, you may have allowed irreparable damage from acid rain, bird droppings, bugs, or salt to occur. For many people their car is the second largest investment they make, after their home. Doesn’t it make sense to protect it? It will also increase the value at trade-in time.

Will frequent washing ruin the finish of my vehicle?

Most vehicle manuals suggest frequent professional car washes because clear-coat treatments and wax protectants protect your vehicle from the damaging effects of weather or UV rays. Frequent washing is actually good for your vehicle.

What is the safest way to wash my vehicle?

Many studies show that the safest way to wash your vehicle is at a professional car wash.

Is it safer for my vehicle’s finish to hand wash it?

No. Hand washing can actually damage your vehicle’s paint. Hand washing and the use of many of the chemicals used not specifically designed to wash cars, like dish soap, can damage your finish. Uneven pressure from the hand washing can place up to 100 pounds of pressure on your vehicle damaging your vehicle’s finish. Using improperly cleaned towels that contain dirt from other parts of your vehicle can scratch your finish.

What can I do to remove bugs, tar, and tree sap?

Tree sap and bugs are your vehicle’s worst enemies. They assault your vehicle day and night and stick like glue. Both need to be removed gently and quickly or they may damage your paint. Some bugs will eat into your paint, and tree sap will harden like concrete and damage the paint. Tar and certain oils used on roads require extremely strong solvents to remove. Cool Wave does not use solvents in our wash process. We do however carry a bug and tar remover in our vending machines. All three contaminants can be removed using the bug and tar remover application pad with a little TLC and mild pressure.

When should I remove bug residue and bird droppings off of my vehicle?

As soon as possible! Bug residue and bird droppings contain acid that will eat into your vehicle’s finish if not removed in a timely fashion.

Do magnets damage my vehicle’s paint and finish?

With the proper care, car magnets will not harm your vehicle’s finish. Make sure to remove the magnet before washing your vehicle. Dry your vehicle before replacing the magnet. It is best to move the magnet around to different parts of your car every week.

Is it true that my new vehicle shouldn’t be washed for a certain period of time?

This is no longer true with today’s vehicle finishes. Your new vehicle’s finish needs tender care immediately. You can start washing your vehicle at a professional car wash immediately.

Why does my windshield smear when I run my wipers?

Deposits of road film that get trapped under the wipers cause the streaks that appear on your windshield. Once the vehicle has been washed and the glass is clean, the next time you use the wipers you are moving the residue on the blades across the clean glass causing streaking. A solution to this is to use a paper towel or cloth with white vinegar or window cleaner on it and run it across the wiper blades. Also, replace the wiper blades at the first sign of wear. Most manufacturers recommend installing new wiper blades every three to six months.

Will the wax from the car wash streak the outside of my windows?

No. Dirty wiper blades streak windshields.

I know I have you on the edge of your seat, and you want more, more, but we have reached the limit of our space allocation. To be continued…

Wash On!


Bobby Willis has been in the car wash business for over 20 years. He owns and operates Cool Wave Car Washes in Virginia. He can be reached at