[SOLVED] How to use an Automatic Drive Through Car Wash

Automatic drive through car washes usually require you to choose a washing program, pay a fee, then bring your car into the car wash and then just wait until the machines do their work.

With self-service car washes, you usually pay a fee so you can use all the cleaning tools in the car wash so you can clean your car manually.

This article is mostly about automatic car washes and how to use them, so read on for more:

How to use Automatic Car wash

1.      Locate a Drive-Through Car Wash

You can find a drive-through car wash by doing a quick search online or asking locals. Ensure it is operational and open for business.

2.      Choose Your Wash Package

Once you’ve arrived at the car wash, there’s usually a menu board displaying the various wash packages available.

These can range from basic washes to premium packages that include additional services like wax, undercarriage cleaning, wheel cleaning, and more. Choose the package that best fits your needs and budget.

3.      Make a Payment

After choosing your package, you’ll need to make a payment at either:

  • A cashier or staff member at the entrance who can take your payment.
  • Automated payment machines where you can insert cash or swipe your credit/debit card.

In some car washes, after paying at a main cashier (or at a gas station that’s paired with the car wash), you might receive tokens or a code that you’ll enter into a machine at the car wash entrance.

Follow the instructions provided to complete your transaction. In some cases, you might receive a code to input into the machine.

4.      Enter the Car Wash

After making your payment, you’ll drive up to the entrance of the car wash. There are usually signs and/or traffic lights to guide you. Make sure there are no vehicles in the wash before you enter.

5.      Prepare Your Vehicle

Before you enter the actual washing area, there are a few things you should do to prepare your car:

  • Put your vehicle in neutral: This is usually indicated by a ‘N’ on your gear shift.
  • Close all windows and sunroofs: You don’t want any water getting inside your car.
  • Retract your antenna if it’s not built into the car: This can prevent it from getting damaged.
  • Turn off your windshield wipers to prevent damage.
  • Disengage your automatic parking brake if your vehicle has one.
  • (Conveyor Car Washes) Follow the Conveyor System: Most drive-through car washes use a conveyor system to move your car through the wash. There will typically be a track that you align your driver’s side tire with. Once your car is properly aligned, the conveyor system will take over and start moving your car through the wash.
  • (In-Bay Car Washes) Sit still and wait: Some drive-through car washes uses an in-bay car washing system, where a car stays stationary while it’s being cleaned by machines around it.  

6.      Drying Process

After your car has been thoroughly cleaned, the drying process begins.

This usually involves the same arm or arch moving over your vehicle with powerful air jets to blow off the remaining water.

In some cases, you might need to drive your car slowly out of the bay to pass under separate dryers.

You might also consider using a microfiber towel to manually dry off any remaining water spots, as they can leave marks on your paintwork when they dry.

7.      Exit the Bay

Once the washing and drying process is complete, a signal (usually a green light or a change in the color of the lights) will indicate that it’s time to drive your vehicle out of the bay.

Make sure to drive out slowly to avoid any potential obstacles.

8.      Check Your Vehicle

After you’ve left the car wash, it’s a good idea to do a quick walk around your vehicle to make sure everything looks good. Check to see if there are any areas the car wash missed or any potential damage.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to read and follow any posted instructions or guidelines at the car wash you’re using, as the specifics can vary from place to place.

The 3 different types of automatic car washes

Tunnel (Conveyor) Car Wash: This is the most common type of drive-through car wash. As described in the previous step-by-step guide, vehicles are placed in neutral and pulled through a tunnel on a conveyor system.

The car is cleaned through a combination of automated cleaning equipment, including brushes, sprays, and dryers.

Some car washes advertise their cleaning machines as being soft cloth or soft wash. This means their machines use soft cloth strips to clean the vehicle. The cloth is less likely to scratch the car’s paint compared to some older, harder brushes.

Touchless (Laser) Car Wash: These car washes use high-pressure water jets and detergents to clean the car instead of physically touching the car with brushes.

This method is often preferred by people who are concerned about the potential for brushes to scratch or damage the car’s finish.

However, a touchless wash might not clean as thoroughly as a wash that uses brushes, especially when it comes to stuck-on dirt or bird droppings.

In-Bay Automatic Car Washes: These are a type of car wash where the vehicle stays stationary while the washing equipment moves around it.

In-bay automatic car washes are a popular choice because they are fast, convenient, and often less expensive than tunnel car washes.

They also take up less space, which is why they are commonly found at gas stations. However, the quality of the wash might not be as thorough as a tunnel wash, especially for very dirty vehicles or hard-to-reach areas.

Self-Serve Car Wash: While not a “drive-through” in the traditional sense, self-serve car washes are another popular option. They are typically a covered area with a high-pressure sprayer and a foaming brush connected to a central pump. You drive in, park, and then wash your own vehicle using the provided tools.