car covered in soap

What You Need to Know About Self-Service Car Washes

Car washing is an aspect of automotive maintenance that’s just as important as engine repair. Car washing is necessary whether you’re maintaining it in storage or preventing road salt damage and limiting corrosion to your vehicle. However, you may understandably be hesitant to bring your car to a garage and have other people get all over it. Lucky for you, there are now self-service car washes in plenty of areas around the United States.

But what is a self-service car wash? Why should you visit one? Aside from a car washing brush, what items should you bring to a self-service car wash?

What is a Self-Service Car Wash?

woman soaping the car

A self-service car wash differs from an automatic car wash system in that you have to do all the washing and rinsing yourself. Unlike an automatic car wash, a self car wash station lets you manage how much rinsing and soaping your car receives. You can also focus as much time as you need on a specific area that an automatic car wash might not clean thoroughly. For example, an automatic car wash might not thoroughly clean mud in your car’s undercarriage, which could lead to corrosion and particles infiltrating your engine.

A self-service car wash typically looks like a series of separate garage-like stalls. Each stall has a spray hose mechanism. The mechanism is usually coin or bill operated and may vary in each self car wash station. But why should you visit a self-service car wash?

What are the Benefits of a Self-Service Car Wash?

cleaning the car with sponge

You maybe wondering why you should drive all the way out to a self-service car wash instead of cleaning your car in the comfort of your own driveway or taking it to a regular car washing business.

Here are a few compelling advantages of going to one.

  • Specialized Tools

Yes, you can just park your car outside your house and wash it with a home car washing kit, but you probably don’t have the right equipment or soap to give it as good a wash as possible. Take water pressure for example. According to experts, the ideal water pressure for cleaning a car is between 1,600 and 1,900 PSI. Unless you have a pressure washer of your own, you’re going to need to take your car to a self-service car wash just to be sure you can remove all the dirt from your vehicle.

  • Charges for Time, Not Services

Regular car wash stations charge for the number of services they perform for your vehicle. The standard rate will most likely include a wash and rinse. After that, it may vary from establishment to establishment. Some may charge extra to clean the interior. Others may consider waxing a different service. A self car wash charges for the time you spend cleaning, not different services. As such, they can be cheaper depending on how long it takes you to go over your vehicle thoroughly.

  • Maintains Social Distancing

Just a year ago, this benefit wouldn’t have been important. But regular car washing business mean you have to talk to the people in charge and let them inside your vehicle if you want them to clean the interior. Despite multiple safeguards, you could be understandably wary about doing so. A self-service car wash ensures you and only touches your car and lets you distance yourself from other people.

  • Tailor-Fit Your Washing to Your Car

Finally, a self car wash business lets you customize your washing routine in a way that best fits your car. For example, if your car has a damaged windshield, you can avoid spraying it directly with a high pressure water jet, something an automated car washing system won’t bother doing.

Admittedly, even self-service car washes have their limitations. The following are some of the disadvantages a self car wash business has.

  • Bring Your Own Tools

The mechanisms in these businesses include a sprayer for water, soap and wax. There’s also a car wash brush of some sort in most stalls. Some establishments also have a vacuum hose for cleaning the interior. Aside from these items, you’ll have to bring your own equipment like squeegees, disinfectants and other objects.

  • Can Take a While

Depending on how much experience you have on washing a car yourself, you might take longer than expected to get your car in top shape. This can cost you more money than you might have thought a self-service car wash costs. With regular practice, however, this may not be such a problem later on.

  • No Other Services

Because you’re the only person in a self-service car wash business, don’t expect other services unless it’s part of a larger establishment. Some places may offer car wash and detailing services at the same place, but it depends on the location. They may also not have a lot of the car washing chemicals available at other establishments.

How Does a Self-Service Car Wash Work?

woman rinsing her car

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can make the most out of a visit to the nearest self-service car washing center.

  1. Park Correctly

As described above, these establishments have multiple garage-like stalls. Drive your car up and inside an unoccupied stall. Make sure to give yourself plenty of room to maneuver around the vehicle. There should be a wide allowance between your car and the walls, ideally between 3 to 5 feet.

  1. Take Out Mats

Exit the vehicle and pull out your car’s floor mats if they’re made of rubber or plastic. Set them to one side of the stall for cleaning later.

  1. Locate and Study Sprayer Mechanism

Look for the sprayer control mechanism in the stall. It should look like a gas station pump, with dials or buttons. The sprayer should also be attached to it. Study the mechanism’s settings, which usually include wash, soap, rinse and wax.

  1. Activate Wash Settings

There should be a slot for coins or bills on the sprayer mechanism. If the sprayer machine doesn’t have a reader to indicate how much time you’ve bought, drop in just enough coins and bills to activate it. You can add more as needed. Select the wash setting on the machine.

  1. Wash Car and Mat

Carefully hose your entire car from back to front and top to bottom. The water pressure of a self-service car wash sprayer can be at the upper ranges of the ideal setting, so be careful not to use it on areas where your car paint has cracked. Use the powerful jet to dislodge mud, dirt and other particles from your wheels to the undercarriage of your vehicle. Don’t forget to also hose down your car mats.

  1. Apply Soap Setting

Change the setting on the sprayer mechanism to soap. This shouldn’t take a while as you only have to completely cover your car’s exterior and the mats with soap foam. Once every nook and cranny have soap applied to it, you can turn off the sprayer mechanism for now.

  1. Brush the Car

Most of these establishments have an attached car wash brush. In the event that your stall doesn’t you can always bring your own as part of a car washing kit. Scrub away the foam and dirt from your car. Pay special attention to the rims of your car tires. Brush down debris from your car’s floor mats as well.

  1. Rinse and Dry

Choose the rinse setting on the self-service car wash sprayer. The water pressure should be lower as its only supposed to remove the foam and soap. Rinse your car of foam as thoroughly as possible. You can use a squeegee mop and microfiber towels to dry your car quickly and without risk of streaks on your windshield and windows.

What Should You Bring to a Self-Service Car Wash?

cleaning car with sponge

Since you’ll be the only person in charge of cleaning your vehicle at a self-service car wash, you have to be prepared.

Here are the items you’ll need when you pull up to self car washing facility. Check that you have all of them before driving off to make the most of your time and avoid problems.

  • The spray mechanism in the stall will either be operated by bills or coins. Bring plenty of change to guarantee your water or soap supply don’t get cut off.
  • Your clothes will get soaked when you wash a car so wear clothes that you don’t mid getting a little soggy. Also bring a change of clothes as well as a plastic bag you can put your wet clothes in.
  • If you have your own car wash brush, you should bring it along. The brush in the stall may not be compatible to your needs. For example, the bristles may be too stiff to your liking and scrub away at your car paint.
  • Not every stall will have an attached vacuum unit available. If you’re going to clean the interior of your vehicle in a self-service car wash, you should also bring your own vacuum to remove dirt and debris from the floor of your vehicle.
  • Stock a basic car washing kit in the trunk of your car. Such a kit should include car wax, your car washing brush, a spray bottle of disinfectant and assorted specialized tools like tiny brushes for getting into grooves and your own window squeegee. Store this kit next to your car emergency kit for quick use.

A self-service car wash might seem like an extravagance and exhausting, but its worth it. Not only can you clean your car with the thoroughness it deserves, you’ll have access to high water pressure sprayers and top-notch soap. If you want to combine the care of washing a car yourself with the high-end equipment of professional car washing without the exorbitant costs, pack up your cleaning equipment and head on over to the nearest self-service car wash.



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