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Car Wash FAQS: Here’s What You Can & Can’t Do!

Car Wash FAQS: Here’s What You Can & Can’t Do!

Getting your washed is as simple as driving your car to the nearest car wash. Or is it? 

Many drivers are confused as to what exactly they can and can’t do when going to get their car washed. 

Before you get your car washed, you should consider any deliberate or accidental alterations that have been made to the exterior of your vehicle, including roof and bike racks, temporary licenses, cracked windshields, fresh paint, and more. Failing to take these into account may cause damage to your vehicle or even result in fines.

Some situations might actually have the employees refuse your entry into the car wash, and why does that happen?

Well, that is why I’ve written this informative article to tell you what exactly are the Do’s and Don’ts when you go to get your car washed. 

We’ll be talking about the different things you can have attached to your car when going for a car wash, what things are allowed through the car wash, and what you’ll have to leave at home before going.

So, make sure to read this article to the very end, so you know exactly what to do, and don’t end up confused when you go the car wash!

Can you go through a car wash with a roof rack?

A roof rack is essentially a rack installed onto the roof of your vehicle and is used to attach equipment and gear, or smaller vehicles, like bicycles, to transport them from one point to another. 
This rack generally spans across the whole roof of the vehicle.
When getting your car washed, it is advised to not take your roof rack with you.
 The reason behind this is that when going through the car wash, the roof rack might obstruct some of the washing equipment, and if you’re going through a self-service auto car wash, the overhead brushes might actually damage and break your roof rack.
Along with this, the roof parts under the roof rack might have cleaning liquids collected there and damage your car’s finish.
 You won’t be able to clean those parts without having to remove the roof rack first.
Therefore, it is advised to remove your roof rack before taking your car to a car wash. 
The removal process won’t take that long, and you can completely unload any heavy gear off of the roof rack within 10-15 minutes. 
My advice would be to do this, instead of facing any issues when you reach the car wash and get a damaged roof rack for your troubles.

Can you go through a car wash with a soft tonneau cover?

Tonneau covers are panels that fit over the open cabin of a pickup truck and come in different kinds. 
And if you’re getting your car washed, chances are that your tonneau cover needs some washing as well.
Here’s what you need to know. 
Hard-top tonneau covers are probably the safest when you go into car washes since the brushes won’t damage them. However, the brushes might scratch any paintwork you might have done on the hard-top tonneau.
Soft tonneau covers are also advertised to be safe to bring into a car wash. Different tonneau manufacturers assure that you can safely go through a car wash without removing your soft tonneau cover.
However, it is advised that you remove the soft tonneau cover. 
Since these are usually attached by velcro or straps, removing them isn’t that hard.

What about partially open tonneau covers?

Partially open tonneau covers might prevent you from having your car washed, especially if you have some equipment in the truck bed. 
The equipment might obstruct the brushes or washing equipment, and it is advised that tonneau covers should be completely closed before having the car washed.
Bottom line, both soft and hard tonneau covers can go through a car wash, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask the staff whether you can take them with you or you have to remove them.

Can you go through a car wash with a temporary tag?

In some cases, your car might have a temporary tag, which might be made of paper, and highly susceptible to water.
Temporary tags are issued by the DMV when district residents have their vehicles inspected before the vehicle can be fully registered. 
These are required by law to be attached to the car until your actual license plates arrive.
It is advised that you don’t take the temporary car tags into the car wash with you, since they will be ruined and end up as debris on the car wash floor.
However, a good solution to this is to use DIY car washes, where you can pay to clean your car yourself. 
Since you’ll be washing your car yourself, no one would mind if you placed your temporary tag into the car, and proceeded to wash the car to your heart’s content!

Can you go through a car wash with a crack in your windshield?

Having a crack in your windshield can put you at a crossroads when it comes to having your car washed. 
Technically, you can have your car washed even if the windshield is cracked, but there is a huge risk of the crack getting bigger due to the heavy equipment used in the car wash.
Different car washes have different types of water pressure machines, and you have to be careful how you wash your car.
For example, if you go to a DIY car wash, you can use the high-pressure nozzles on the rest of the car, and simply avoid the windshield.
You can then proceed to manually wash the windshield, using a good quality windshield cleaner and a microfiber cloth. 
This will reduce the chances of your windshield cracking further due to the high-pressure water hitting it directly.
The brushes used in some car washes can also be harmful to cracked windshields since they might further chip away at the broken glass.
My final advice would be to avoid car washes altogether until you get your windshield fixed, and rely on manually washing your car in the meantime.

Can you go through a car wash with a cracked window?

Just like cracked windshields, cracked windows on the rear and passenger sides also face the risk of cracking further when going through a car wash.
Water and washing liquids can seep through the crack and ruin the interior of the automobile. 
If you’re getting your car washed with a cracked window, you will probably have to block the crack with a thick cloth in order to avoid any water leaking through.
Aside from this, the warm temperatures of the water in the car wash will cause the glass to expand, causing any cracks to increase as well.
Once you’re out of the car wash and the glass begins to cool, further stress will be placed on the window, increasing the crack.
Your best bet would be to go to an automated car wash or a DIY car wash, where you can avoid your windows completely while cleaning.
This way, you can stick to the lower portion of your car and avoid putting stress on the cracks on the window. 
You will also be saving your interior from getting ruined by soapy water leaking in.

Can you go through a car wash with a bike rack?

Bike racks are attached to your vehicle in order to make transporting bicycles easier. They usually attach to the back of your car and can accommodate around 2-3 bicycles at a time.
Now removing your bike rack before going into a car wash might seem like a hassle, and you might be thinking of just letting it slide. However, I would advise you not to take your bike rack into the car wash with you and safely remove it to maintain the condition of both your car and your bike rack.
The reason behind this is that several bike rack manufacturers recommend that you should remove your bike rack before entering a car wash, and many car washes will not let you enter before removing your bike rack.
The bike rack can interfere with the car wash equipment, and end up being damaged by snagging the brushes of the car wash. 
In some severe cases, the bike rack can actually be ripped-off of the vehicle!
Bike racks can also be subject to rusting, and the different chemicals used in car washes might actually be harmful to the bike rack’s paint finish.

Can you go through a car wash with a light bar?

A light bar is essentially a bar of LED lights attached to the bumper or roof of the car. These are used to provide extra light, which can be helpful during night drives or areas where good visibility is necessary.
In some situations, it is perfectly safe to leave your light bar on the car while going through a car wash, whereas some situations might require you to remove the light bar before going into the car wash.
If you have a light bar attached to the car’s roof, you need to avoid car washes that have roof cleaning brushes. These brushes can be extremely harmful to these lights, and you would fare better if you went through a touchless car wash.
Touchless car washes only use high-pressure water, which isn’t strong enough to harm your light bar.
If you have a light bar installed on the bumper of your car, then you can probably use any car wash without the light bar being damaged.
In summary, only use touchless car washes if you have a roof light bar, otherwise, you’re good to go!

Can you go through a car wash with a ladder rack?

Ladder racks fit on the top of your car and are used to attach ladders for quick and easy transportation.
Going through a car wash with a ladder rack can be dangerous if you go through any brush washing. 
There have been several reports of ladders getting stuck in the soft touch brushes, usually because the jagged edges and configuration of the ladders can easily snag onto the brushes.
I would advise you to use touchless car washes where your vehicle is well below the maximum height limit. 
Leaving your ladders on during the car wash can cause damage to the surface of the ladder as well as make it harder for you to clean the roof section below the ladder rack. 
In summary, it is safer just to remove the ladders from the vehicle and then use the car wash, or use a touchless car wash instead.

Can you go through a car wash with a fresh coat of paint?

Car manufacturers usually recommend that you don’t wash the car for 30 days in order to maintain a fresh coat of paint. 
So, if you have just had your car painted, I would advise you to wait until you are sure that the print quality won’t be compromised.
With regards to fresh paint, you shouldn’t have it waxed until a full 2 months after the car has been painted. 
It is advised to get your car waxed since waxing provides an extra layer of protection and maintains the finish of the paint underneath.
The wax finish will also protect against bird droppings and dead bugs which are acidic in nature and can ruin the paint finish of your car.

Final thoughts

Well, I hope this article has the information needed to solve your query.

Generally, it is advised to remove and accessories from the vehicle before going through a car since they might end up damaging the equipment of the car wash, or the car itself.

With regards to cracked windows or windshields, I would honestly advise you to avoid car washes altogether since the risk of degrading their condition is higher. It would be better if you just wash the car yourself. 

Even if your car is extremely dirty, it would take only a few hours to completely clean it by hand and you wouldn’t risk further breaking your windows.

That’s it for this article. I hope you make a well-informed decision and make the necessary arrangements before taking your car to the carwash. this way, your car gets the shine it deserves, and nothing gets damaged!

Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of VehicleAnswers.com! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!