How to Use a Self Service Car Wash
The hollow bridge-like structure promising a clean car need not be intimidating. Sure, the directions may have rubbed off from years of wear, but most stations are the same. So, similar functions and similar equipment will give the car owner instant familiarity when driving up to a self-serve car wash. For several dollars less than a detail shop you can have control over how your car gets clean to prevent damaging external equipment like antennas or fancy grill work.
Self-Service Spray Car Wash. Think pressure washing.
- Scope out the territory to find one with the car bays and spray nozzles.
- Drive car into center of bay.
Drive into an empty bay centering the car away from walls. Give enough berth so that you can walk all the way around the car and still hold the spray wand. The wand is on a tether and will swivel with you where you go.
- Selection Dial. This takes only coins.
Determine the cost of the wash. If writing is obscured or sketchy, go check another bay because they will likely be all the same price. Machines usually take quarters. New ones take a charge card, too.
- Locate the change machine in order to get the right amount of quarters or bring your own. You may need from $2.00 to $5.00 for an entire clean.
- Determine which direction the dial points to start. There are 4 or 5 stages of a car wash:
- Mats along the wall ready to be sprayed.
Be ready to move fast. Car washes are timed for your dime. Take floor mats out of the car and set them against the wall to be sprayed as you walk around.
- Turn the dial to the pre-rinse cycle if the car is heavily caked with dirt; otherwise, put the dial on soap or wash and put the appropriate amount of quarters in the slots. Give it a second and the machine will start to run.
- Nozzle with trigger grip.
Point the tip away from you and press whatever looks like a handle or trigger.
- Keep a good grip on the sprayer.
Quickly walk around the car blasting the first round of dirt off your car. One circuit should do it. Remember to hit the floor mats as you go around.
- Rinse off the foamy brush with the high pressure nozzle before you activate the foam brush. Grit, sand, and mud could be lurking in the brush from previous washes, and can scratch your finish.
- One choice on the dial forces the suds to come out the scrub brush arm. The warning above says to use the spray to blast the bristles first, in case there are rocks or something stuck from the previous person's turn.
Turn the dial to the Wash cycle and the suds should start coming out momentarily. This is where it is good to have a rag or other cloth to wipe after the suds. Maybe have a friend to help scrub as you spray. Hit the floor mats with suds if you want, too.
- If you usually take longer than one full cycle, let the time run out while you're on the foamy brush stage so you can get good scrubbing time in well after it actually stops dispensing the foam. This period also lets you see the spots you missed as the soap dissipates, and you won't be in a hurry, since the time has already run out. Just make sure to not let the foam sit long enough on the car to develop into a film. Pass over the car repeatedly to keep the surface moist while you scrub.
- Alternate method of preparing mats
Turn the dial to the Rinse position and start rinsing the soap. If you go quickly, the suds will not have had time to dry a film. If there is some drying, just wipe it again and rinse, then do not touch that spot again with the rag. Don't forget the floor mats.
- Jump to the selection area and turn the dial to wax and do a loop around your car to use up those last few minutes. Do not wax the floor mats.
- Vacuum/shampoo and trash center.
Drive out of the bay and go to the area where you can vacuum the inside and throw away trash that has been accumulating in the seats.
- The quickest and most effective way to wash a car is from the top down, so do the roof first, tops of each side, tops of windshields and work down.
- Self-service car washes don't do as good of a job of cleaning the surface of your car as can be achieved by washing your car by hand. To prove it run your finger over your car post wash. To make the best of both worlds take a bucket, gallon of water, sponge, and car wash soap along with you. Use the minimum amount of money to rinse your car then manually wash your car by hand. Once done, rinse again using the minimum amount of money required. Be considerate, however, as most self-service car washes don't permit people to hand wash while others are waiting.
- Seat and window wipes can also be purchased.
Some car washes also have rug shampoo services. Consider this if you have a stain or spilled foods inside.
- Bring your own quarters or good dollar bills. Machines may not read your highly used bills.
- In making change, do not accidentally drop in the US dollar coins. Unless the machine says it takes dollar coins, you will only get a quarter's worth of change back.
- If the machine does not say how many minutes you get for your money, then start small. Put in the first set of quarters and see how far you get. Time that first round so you know how fast you have to go for the second round of quarters.
- Some car washes require a minimum initial deposit (e.g. $0.75) but warn you when you are nearing the end of your time and allow you to add single quarters to get incrementally more time. This is handy when you are almost done and don't need all the time you would get from another initial deposit.
- Be courteous and hurry if others are waiting.
You may not get to baby your car during high traffic times. So, feel free to avoid congestion in the first place and come back at another time.
- Use the power wash cycle to hit inside your wheel bays and up underneath your vehicle. Most cars will also tolerate an engine wash. Avoid the higher pressure spray in the engine bay.
- In the deepest parts of winter, most car washes leave the water running into the wands to avoid freeze-ups in the lines. You can take advantage of this and go over your entire car once or twice with the pressure wand to start softening the dirt/road salt before you even put any coins into the slots. Use this "free water" to do your floor mats.
- Pay attention to scrawled notes that warn a machine is out of order. Otherwise you'll lose your coins.
- Pay attention to closing signs. Lights go out and it's hard to wash in the dark. Some electric equipment may also be shut off.
- Be aware of rust/paint damage, as high pressure can lift paint, magnetic signs and bumper sticker from your car.
- Check which way any wind is blowing and try to avoid standing down wind from the spray.