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Which car wash features are essential, which you can skip

Car wash options can look like restaurant menus
Posted at 8:20 AM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 13:55:51-05

After weeks of snow and salt, this early spring weather means it's now car wash season.

But how much wash do you really need?

If your car is crying, "Wash me," get in line.

Cincinnati-area car washes are doing record business this week.

Harold Denny barely recognized his Chevy Equinox, until he took it to the AAA Auto Wash in Madisonville.

"It was real, real dirty," he said. "It looks now like when I bought it, when I first bought it."

Manager Logan Roberts says AAA washes run $12 to $24 -- though AAA members get a discount.

His most popular wash?

"I would say definitely our top wash, the Premiere, it offers two waxes and an undercarriage flush," Roberts said.

With some car washes, their list of services offered is so extensive, it looks like a restaurant menu.

Essential features you should look for

So we wanted to know what's really essential, and turned to our partners at Consumer Reports magazine.

Consumer Reports saysin road-salt season, don't be cheap.

It says make sure you are getting:

  • A full soapy wash (rinsing alone with a spray brush will not remove salt)
  • An undercarriage/underside flush
  • Wheel cleaning

Consumer Reports says an underside wash is essential after driving in road salt, and Roberts concurs.

"You definitely want the under carriage flush," he said. "You want to get all the salt off ."

Roberts cautions it can be tough to get all the salt off the underside, including the frame and brake lines, at a self-service wash.

Also important is a "wheel blaster" service, because it can prevent brake rust.

"You'll get the wheel blasters that clean your rims, the inside behind the rims where the brakes are and everything," Roberts said.

At his wash, the wheel cleaning is included, though at other washes it can be a $3 add-on.

What services you can skip

Consumer Reports magazine says if money is tight, however, there are a few options you can skip.

  • Tire shine.
  • Interior cleaning.
  • Spray-on wax (though a lot of drivers like the instant shine it provides, and it also helps keep dirt and bird droppings from sticking).
  • Air freshener (though for some people, it might be essential. Just saying.).

Customer Nellie Shafer says despite the higher cost, she loves AAA's full-service wash.

"I have a hard time doing it myself, so it is well worth the money I pay them," she said.

Finally, if you want to wash by hand in your driveway, Consumer Reports cautions you not to use dish soap: It removes wax and rust protection.

Use car wash soap sold at auto parts stores, so you don't waste your money.


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