Lather, Rinse, Regret: 7 Mistakes You’re Making at the Car Wash

Car going through car wash

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Car going through car wash
Cheapism / DALL-E 3

At the Car Wash, Yeah!

Car washes are a great way to ward off rust and keep your car looking spick and span at the same time. From self-serve washes to full-service facilities complete with towel drying and complimentary air fresheners, there are tons of spots where you can clean your ride. But these places aren't entirely foolproof, and there are some common mistakes drivers make at them — including the ones we've listed below.

The woman washes her car at a self-service car wash.

1. Scrubbing Your Car Before the Wash

If you're at a self-service car wash, don't just grab the brush and start scrubbing. Think about it: If the last person who used that brush caked dirt and grime onto it, you'd be scraping all of that right onto the body of your vehicle. You might as well be taking a rake to the side of the car. Instead, take the sprayer and rinse the brush completely before using it, and make sure you remove any debris from your vehicle with the sprayer instead of using the brush.

Car Inside Powerful Touchless Car Wash

2. Leaving the Side Mirrors Out

Before heading into the car wash, make sure you fold your side mirrors in. Whether you do so by pushing a button or by rolling your window down and folding them in yourself, this is a precaution you'll want to take. Some car wash employees will even fold them in for you if you ask them to. 

If the mirrors are left out, they can become tangled up in the cleaning cloths, get damaged, or snap completely off. If you have a retractable antenna, you should put that down while you're at it.

Hand on gear stick

3. Taking the Car Out of Neutral Too Soon

Follow the guidelines in the car wash. Leave your car in neutral until the light comes on telling you to put 'er in drive. Patience really is a virtue, guys, and if you take your car out of neutral too soon in a car wash, you could throw the entire equilibrium of the wash off. Just be patient. 

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Car in carwash

4. Leaving Without Checking for Damage

If you think you heard a suspicious noise over the whirring of the sprayers in the car wash, there's no harm in checking your car out once you've pulled out of the wash. If any damage was done, its best to address it immediately. Let's face it: If you come back two days later claiming that the car wash is what caused your side mirror to fall off, the wash workers have no reason to believe you didn't just clip a mailbox in your neighborhood and are trying to pin the mishap on them.

Related: 4 Things to Know Before Using the Costco Car Wash

Woman working at the car wash and washing the car

5. Not Bringing Enough Quarters

Visiting a manual car wash? Bring enough quarters. In fact, bring more than enough quarters. There is nothing worse than not having enough change for the sprayer while your car is still lathered in soap. 

Related: How To Wash Your Car at Home And Save Money

A man calls the insurance company or the police because someone backed into the side door of his car in the parking lot.

6. Not Aligning Your Vehicle Properly

Those automatic gas station car washes sure are handy, especially when they offer a discount on gas when you purchase a wash. Just remember, you have to line your tires up appropriately with the tracks — and there's probably not going to be a worker to tell you if you're on or off from where you should be. Misaligning your vehicle can lead to scratches and scuffs that aren't going to come out in the wash.

Woman Phoning For Help After Car Windshield Has Broken

7. Going Through the Car Wash With a Damaged Vehicle

Whether you have loose trim on your car or a cracked windshield, you might want to think twice about going through the car wash if your vehicle is damaged. The pressure of the water within can make the damage worse.