For all of you lucky readers who caught the first article in this series, this is a continuation of a list I have compiled through the years of questions frequently asked by customers, which I use to help train new employees. If you missed the last article, stop right here! Go back to the November issue of Auto Laundry News and catch up. For everybody else, here is Part II:

What is the “clear-coat finish” on my vehicle?

Clear coat is the topcoat of a paint that contains no pigmentation or color. In a typical automotive paint surface, there is a primer coat, which is what is sprayed on the metal or plastic body surface, a base coat, which contains the color, and a clear coat. A clear coat’s purpose is to provide depth and gloss to the finish and to protect the base coat from the elements, including the harmful UV (ultra-violet) rays of the sun. Clear coats became popular in the early 1990s and currently over 90 percent of new cars feature a clear coat as the top (exposed) surface. Clear coats require special care. Because they are clear, scratches and swirls tend to become more prominent since the clear characteristic causes such defects to be magnified. For this reason, avoiding scratches and swirls is critical if you want your clear-coated surface to look good.

What is the layer of film that covers my vehicle between washings?

What you are referring to are black particles that come from areas of heavy traffic. They are gritty, abrasive substances coming off tires as they wear. Also, chemicals from diesel smoke and other emissions in the atmosphere will settle on your vehicle’s surfaces. If you live near an airport you will also have fallout from jet exhaust. If this residue isn’t removed immediately, permanent damage to the finish can result.

Isn’t rain the best wash for my vehicle?

No! Rain and snow contain acids that eat away at the paint and finish of vehicles. After acid rain falls on a vehicle, the water evaporates, but the acid remains. Concentrated by sunlight, this acid can become so strong that it will eat through the finish, ruining the vehicle’s paint and appearance.

Why do vehicle finishes fade?

This occurs because of surface contamination, environmental factors, stains, and oxidation. Automotive paint is designed to reflect light to create the dazzling shine and gloss we see in most new-car showrooms. This shine and gloss would last for years if your vehicle were professionally washed on a daily basis and kept indoors 90 percent of the day.

Most modern vehicle finishes consist of a base coating that contains the color, and a protective clear coating on top that is designed to keep the color paint from oxidizing. Oxidation was an obvious problem 10 years ago because you could quickly recognize a color fade. Now that the outer paint layer is usually clear, oxidation is less obvious. The sun dries out the top clear coat layer and natural oils are lost. If these oils aren’t replaced by regular cleaning and waxing, the top clear-coat layer oxidizes and the surface gradually becomes duller and duller. Even more than yesterday’s paints, today’s clear-coat finishes look faded whenever the surface becomes contaminated by airborne pollution, acid rain, industrial fallout, and countless other factors. If this contamination isn’t removed frequently, it reduces the reflective quality of the finish until it looks dull and lifeless. Also, this contamination will begin to etch into the thin clear-coat layer and expose the base color coat if it isn’t removed frequently. The vehicle will require costly repainting once the clear coat protection is gone.

What if I don’t have the time or money to wash my vehicle regularly?

How can you afford not to protect one of your most costly investments? Professional car washes offer safe, fast, high-quality washes at affordable prices.

I have the protective coating on my underbody so why do I need to have the underbody treatment?

The protective coating applied by the manufacturer or aftermarket does provide some protection to the underbody. The underside of your car is susceptible to pollutants as well. Every time you drive through a puddle you are splashing up contaminants. The underbody of your car takes a tremendous punishment from small stones that are kicked up by your tires. These stones bombard the underbody and nick your underbody’s armor and expose bare metal. Once rust gets a foothold it will spread regardless of the protection. The underbody treatment will rinse and flush the underbody and then apply a rust inhibitor to your underbody, which will help prevent the harmful effects of rust. The underbody treatment will not affect any of the electronics of your vehicle. It is designed to be a full-coverage, low-pressure (similar to driving through a puddle) rinse and application of a rust inhibitor product.

What type of soaps do you use at your car wash?

We use soaps that are specifically designed for the types of dirt and road grimes in our area. All soaps are biodegradable, safe for your vehicle, and safe for the environment.

Are the soaps and waxes used at your car wash bad for the environment?

No. Our car wash only uses soaps and waxes that are biodegradable and safe for the environment.

I notice that your car washes are always so clean and neat, what do you do to keep them looking so nice?

It is our policy to keep our facilities as clean as we clean your vehicle.

Is it safe to wash my convertible at your car wash?

Yes, we wash convertibles every day at our car wash.

What is “touch-free,” or “touchless” washing?

Touch-free washing is a wash process where the only thing that touches your vehicle is soap, waxes, and high-pressure water.

Will the “touch-free” wash scratch my vehicle’s finish?

No, the only thing that touches your vehicle is soap, waxes, and high-pressure water.

What is the largest vehicle I can wash at your car wash?

Our touch-free automatic washes can accommodate vehicles up to 7’ 6” high. Our self-service washes can accommodate vehicles up to 13’ high.

What is triple-foam wax?

Triple-foam wax is a terrific visual display of colorful waxes that coat your vehicle and add extra protection for your vehicle’s finish. The red foam wax features a unique polymer formula, which helps protect clear-coat finishes from U.V. (ultra violet) rays. The blue foam wax has a unique formula developed to remove stubborn road grime from clear-coat finishes. The yellow foam wax was designed to leave a protective shine on clear-coat finishes.

What is clear-coat protectant?

Clear-coat protectant is the ultimate protective treatment for clear-coat finishes. It locks in a mirror-like, weather-tight layer of protection to guard sensitive clear-coat finishes from the elements. It contains enhanced polymers to help protect your car’s finish from the harmful effects of the sun’s U.V. rays.

What is a “spot-free rinse?”

In simple terms, a reverse osmosis process pushes water through a membrane (filter) that traps the minerals on one side and allows the spot-free rinse water to flow from the other side. Our spot-free rinse systems include five stages:
• A sediment filter to trap particles including rust and calcium carbonate
• A second sediment filter with smaller pores
• A carbon filter to trap organic chemicals and chlorination
• A reverse osmosis filter with a thin film composite membrane
• A second carbon filter

Reverse osmosis (RO) is used to remove dissolved materials in the water. As normal rinse water drying on a car evaporates and goes into the atmosphere, anything that is not water (such as dissolved materials) will remain on the car. After the water is removed, the remaining material will leave a spot. By using RO at our car washes, it is possible to remove the unseen, non-water materials out of the final rinse water and eliminate those unsightly spots.

Of course, there have been many more customer questions through the years, but I feel this is a good compilation of the most legitimate ones. I hope this has been helpful to a few of you new operators out there. You, too, will very soon have memorable customer questions to add to your good and funny list. I still can’t get over the lady washing her pig in my self-service bays!

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