What is Automatic Car Wash? Pros, Cons & Types

Invented and started by Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle in 1914. Automatic car washing is a method of cleaning and maintaining vehicles using automated systems, reducing the need for manual labour. Unlike traditional handwashing, which involves individuals washing vehicles manually, automatic car washing relies on specialised equipment and machinery to perform the cleaning process efficiently.

As experienced, the automated washing approach is popular for its convenience, speed, and consistency in thoroughly cleaning various types of vehicles.

Pros of Automatic Car Washing:

  • Time Efficiency: Automatic car washing is significantly faster than traditional handwashing, allowing for a quick and efficient cleaning process.
  • Consistency: Automated systems provide consistent cleaning results, ensuring that each vehicle undergoes the same set of programmed steps for a uniform and high-quality wash.
  • Water Conservation: Many automatic car wash systems incorporate water recycling systems, reducing water consumption and promoting environmental sustainability.
  • Reduced Physical Strain: It eliminates the need for individuals to manually scrub and wash vehicles, reducing physical strain and the potential for injuries.
  • Advanced Cleaning Technology: Automatic car wash systems often use advanced cleaning technologies, such as high-pressure jets, soft brushes, and specially formulated detergents, to achieve effective and safe cleaning without causing damage to the vehicle’s finish.
  • Accessibility: Automatic car washes are widely available and accessible, providing convenience for vehicle owners in various locations.
  • Options for Different Needs: Automatic car washes offer a range of wash packages, allowing users to choose the level of cleaning that suits their vehicle’s requirements and their budget.

Cons of Automatic Car Washing:

  • Potential for Scratching: Friction-based automatic car wash systems, especially those with brushes, may pose a risk of scratching the vehicle’s surface if the equipment is not properly maintained or if abrasive materials are present on the brushes.
  • Limited Customization: Automated systems may not provide the same level of customization and attention to detail as handwashing, particularly when it comes to addressing specific problem areas or hard-to-reach spots.
  • Cost: While basic automatic car washes are often affordable, premium or specialized services can be more expensive. The cost can add up over time, especially for frequent users.
  • Environmental Impact: Despite water recycling efforts, automatic car washes still consume a significant amount of water, and some cleaning chemicals may have environmental implications. However, this impact is often lower than traditional handwashing.
  • Lack of Personal Touch: Some car enthusiasts prefer handwashing their vehicles to ensure a personal touch and greater control over the cleaning process.
  • Risk to Fragile Parts: In certain automatic car wash systems, fragile or aftermarket parts, such as spoilers or antennas, may be at risk of damage due to the automated process.
  • Dependence on Equipment Maintenance: The effectiveness and safety of automatic car wash systems depend on regular maintenance. Neglecting maintenance can lead to malfunctions and potential damage to vehicles.

Table of Contents

Types of Automatic Car Wash Systems

1. Touchless Automatic Car Wash

In a touchless system, the cleaning process relies on high-pressure water jets and specialized cleaning solutions to remove dirt and contaminants from the vehicle’s surface without physical contact.

Touchless automatic car wash
A touchless automatic car wash

Touchless systems are known for their ability to minimize the risk of scratching, making them suitable for vehicles with delicate finishes.


  • High-Pressure Water Jets: These jets deliver pressurized water at varying angles to effectively remove dirt.
  • Cleaning Solutions: Specially formulated detergents are applied to enhance cleaning effectiveness.
  • Rinse Systems: Water rinses off the cleaning solutions and loosens dirt.


  • Reduced risk of surface scratches.
  • Ideal for vehicles with sensitive or speciality finishes.
  • Efficient and quick cleaning process.


  • May not remove stubborn or heavily soiled contaminants as effectively as friction-based systems.
  • Relies heavily on the force of water, which may not be sufficient for certain types of dirt.

2. Friction Automatic Car Wash

Friction-based systems use soft brushes or cloth materials that make physical contact with the vehicle to agitate and remove dirt. These systems are effective at providing a thorough cleaning.

Friction Automatic Car Wash
A friction automatic car wash


  • Rotating Brushes: Soft brushes or cloth materials rotate and make contact with the vehicle’s surface.
  • Cleaning Solutions: Similar to touchless systems, detergents are used to enhance the cleaning process.
  • Rinse and Dry Systems: Water rinses off the cleaning solutions, and drying systems remove excess water.


  • Effective at removing various types of dirt and contaminants.
  • Provides a thorough and detailed cleaning.
  • Can be customized for different levels of pressure.


  • Risk of surface scratches if brushes are not properly maintained.
  • Brushes may retain dirt, potentially causing scratches on subsequent vehicles.
  • Not recommended for vehicles with delicate finishes or aftermarket modifications.

3. Hybrid Automatic Car Wash Systems

Hybrid systems combine elements of both touchless and friction-based technologies to achieve effective cleaning while minimizing the risk of scratching.

These systems aim to provide the benefits of both approaches for a well-rounded cleaning experience.


  • High-Pressure Water Jets: Similar to touchless systems, these jets are used to remove dirt without physical contact.
  • Soft Brushes or Cloth Materials: These are incorporated for added cleaning effectiveness, especially for stubborn contaminants.
  • Cleaning Solutions: Applied to enhance the cleaning process.
  • Rinse and Dry Systems: Similar to friction systems, water rinses off the cleaning solutions, and drying systems remove excess water.


  • Balances the strengths of touchless and friction systems.
  • Effective at removing various types of dirt.
  • Minimizes the risk of scratches compared to traditional friction systems.


  • May not be as gentle as touchless systems for vehicles with extremely sensitive finishes.
  • Requires careful maintenance to prevent the risk of scratches.

4. Robotic Car Washing Machine

Robotic car washing machines utilize automated robotic arms equipped with high-pressure nozzles and cleaning tools to wash vehicles.

Robotic car washing machine
A robotic car washing machine

These systems often offer precision and efficiency in cleaning, as the robotic arms can be programmed to move precisely around the vehicle’s contours.


  • Robotic Arms: Automated arms equipped with high-pressure nozzles and cleaning tools.
  • Sensors: Detect the contours and dimensions of the vehicle for precise cleaning.
  • Cleaning Solutions: Applied to enhance the cleaning process.
  • Rinse and Dry Systems: Water rinses off the cleaning solutions, and drying systems remove excess water.


  • Precision cleaning with minimal risk of damage.
  • Can be customized for different vehicle shapes and sizes.
  • Efficient use of water and cleaning solutions.


  • Initial setup costs can be higher compared to other automatic car wash systems.
  • Requires regular maintenance of robotic components.

5. Conveyor Car Wash Systems

This car wash system involves a conveyor belt that moves vehicles through the cleaning process. Various cleaning components, such as brushes, water jets, and drying systems, are strategically positioned along the conveyor.


  • Conveyor Belt: Moves vehicles through the washing process.
  • Cleaning Components: Brushes, water jets, and drying systems positioned along the conveyor.
  • Control System: Coordinates the movement of the conveyor and activation of cleaning components.


  • Efficient and continuous cleaning process.
  • Suitable for high-volume car wash operations.
  • Can incorporate multiple cleaning technologies for a comprehensive wash.


  • Limited customization for different vehicle shapes.
  • Potential for longer wait times during peak hours.

6. Brushless Car Wash System

Brushless car wash systems, also known as touch-free or no-contact systems, rely solely on high-pressure water jets and cleaning solutions to wash vehicles.

Brushless car wash system
A brushless car wash system

These systems are designed to minimize the risk of surface scratches and are suitable for various vehicle finishes.


  • High-Pressure Water Jets: Deliver pressurized water at varying angles for effective cleaning.
  • Cleaning Solutions: Applied to enhance the cleaning process.
  • Rinse and Dry Systems: Water rinses off the cleaning solutions, and drying systems remove excess water.


  • Minimal risk of surface scratches.
  • Ideal for vehicles with delicate or speciality finishes.
  • Quick and efficient cleaning process.


  • May not remove stubborn or heavily soiled contaminants as effectively as systems with brushes.
  • Relies solely on the force of water for cleaning.

7. Drive-Through Automatic Car Wash System

Drive-through automatic car wash systems allow vehicle owners to drive their cars through a designated area where the cleaning process is automated.

These systems are often located in convenient locations such as gas stations or standalone car wash facilities.


  • Architectural Structure: Includes equipment for washing, rinsing, and drying positioned along the drive-through path.
  • Control System: Activates cleaning components based on the vehicle’s position.


  • Convenient for vehicle owners with minimal effort required.
  • Quick and automated cleaning process.
  • Typically, accessible and available without appointments.


  • Limited customization compared to more advanced systems.
  • May not provide the same level of thorough cleaning as some other types.

Steps to Use an Automatic Car Wash System

  • Drive-In: Pull your car into the entrance of the automatic car wash. Make sure your windows are rolled up and your antenna is lowered if possible.
  • Follow Signs: Look for signs or instructions that guide you. They might tell you to put your car in neutral, turn off the engine, or align your wheels to ensure a proper wash.
  • Payment: If there’s a payment machine, follow the instructions to pay for the wash. Some car washes accept cash, coins, cards, or even mobile payments.
  • Stay Still: Once you’ve paid, the car wash will start automatically. Keep your foot off the brake and hands off the steering wheel. The machine will move your car through the wash.
  • Drive Out: When the wash is done, follow the signs to the exit. If there’s a drying area, you can drive through to get rid of any remaining water on your car.

Steps to Choose the Right Automatic Car Wash for Your Vehicle

  • Consider Your Vehicle Type: Different automatic car wash systems cater to various vehicle types. I suggest access whether your vehicle has a delicate finish, aftermarket modifications, or specific cleaning requirements.
  • Research the Types of Car Wash Systems: Understand the different types of automatic car wash systems, including touchless, friction, hybrid, robotic, brushless, and drive-through. Consider the pros and cons of each system based on your vehicle’s needs.
  • Evaluate Cleaning Effectiveness: Assess the cleaning capabilities of the car wash system. Consider the technology used, such as high-pressure water jets, brushes, or robotic arms, and how well it addresses your vehicle’s cleanliness requirements.
  • Review Customer Feedback: Look for reviews and feedback from other vehicle owners who have used the automatic car wash. Real-world experiences can provide valuable insights into the system’s performance, potential issues, and customer satisfaction.
  • Check for Customization Options: Some brands offer customization options, allowing you to choose different wash packages based on your preferences and the level of cleaning your vehicle requires.
  • Assess Speed and Convenience: Consider the speed and convenience of the automatic car wash. Some systems are designed for quick and efficient cleaning, which is beneficial for busy individuals. Evaluate the wait times and overall convenience of the facility.
  • Inspect Maintenance and Cleanliness: Visit any car wash facility and assess its overall maintenance and cleanliness. Well-maintained equipment reduces the risk of damage to your vehicle and ensures a more effective cleaning process.
  • Verify Environmental Considerations: Check if a car wash system incorporates eco-friendly practices, such as water recycling or the use of biodegradable cleaning solutions. Consider the environmental impact of the system in your decision-making process.
  • Understand Cost and Value: Compare the costs of different automatic car wash systems and evaluate the value they provide. Consider factors such as the level of cleaning, additional services, and any loyalty programs or discounts offered.
  • Visit Multiple Facilities: Explore various automatic car wash facilities in your area. Compare the equipment, services, and overall experience at each location before making a decision.
  • Consider Long-Term Effects: Think about the long-term impact on your vehicle. Some systems, if not properly maintained, may lead to scratches or other damage over time. Choose a system that aligns with your vehicle’s longevity and appearance goals.
  • Personal Preferences: Take into account your personal preferences. If you prioritize a touchless system for its gentleness, for example, factor that into your decision.

Steps to Find a Nearby Automatic Car Washing Station

Nearby car washing station
Your nearby car washing station
  • Online Search Engines: Use Google or Google Maps and search for “automatic car wash near me” or “car wash [your location].”
  • Mobile Apps: Check car wash apps like “Washos” or “Washify” for nearby facilities, with features like scheduling and payments.
  • Social Media Platforms: Look for local car washes on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Local Business Directories: Use online directories such as Yellow Pages to find car wash facilities. It will help you find the best-rated washing provider nearby.
  • Word of Mouth: Ask friends, family, or locals for recommendations.
  • Gas Stations: Inquire about car wash services at gas stations you frequent.
  • Community Forums and Apps: Check community forums or apps like Nextdoor for local discussions and recommendations.
  • Local Newspapers or Flyers: Look for advertisements in local newspapers, newsletters, or flyers.
  • Drive Around Your Area: Explore your neighbourhood and nearby areas for signs or advertisements.
  • Car Dealerships and Auto Service Centres: Ask dealerships and service centres if they have attached or nearby car wash facilities.

Price of Automatic Car Washing Service

The average price for an automatic car wash typically falls in the range of $8 to $15, depending on the location, services offered, and the type of wash package selected.

In comparison, manual car washing, where individuals wash their cars by hand, may cost less, ranging from $5 to $10, but it requires more time and effort.

Additionally, the cost can vary based on the cleaning products used and the level of detail provided.

While automatic car washing may be slightly pricier, many find the convenience, speed, and consistent results worth the investment, especially considering the time and effort saved compared to manual washing.

List of Equipment Used in an Automatic Car Washing System

Below is the list of equipment or machines used in automatic car washing systems:

  • High-Pressure Water Jets: These powerful jets spray water onto your car, removing dirt and grime.
  • Rotating Brushes or Cloth Materials: Soft brushes or cloth materials gently scrub the surface of your vehicle, ensuring a thorough clean.
  • Cleaning Solutions and Detergents: Specially formulated cleaning solutions enhance the effectiveness of the wash, targeting tough spots and adding shine.
  • Rinse Systems: Water rinse systems follow the cleaning process, washing away cleaning solutions and any remaining debris.
  • Drying Systems: Drying equipment, such as high-velocity air dryers, removes excess water from your vehicle, leaving it dry and spot-free.
  • Control Panels and Sensors: User-friendly control panels guide you through the process, while sensors ensure the equipment adjusts to the size and shape of your vehicle.
  • Conveyor Belts: In conveyor-based systems, a conveyor belt moves your vehicle through the various stages of the wash, ensuring thorough cleaning.
  • Robotic Arms (in some systems): Robotic arms, if present, add a touch of automation, moving precisely around your vehicle for a detailed clean.
  • Digital Payment Systems: Many modern car washes feature digital payment systems, allowing for convenient transactions through cards or mobile apps.
  • Foam Cannons (in some systems): Foam cannons may be used to apply a layer of foamy detergent, providing an extra level of cleaning.

These are major items only. You will see other small equipment only.

Tips or Precautions for Using an Automatic Car Washing System

  • Read Instructions: Follow the guidelines provided by the car wash.
  • Remove Items: Take out personal belongings from the car.
  • Check for Damage: Inspect for existing damage before washing.
  • Fold Mirrors: Use power-folding mirrors to prevent damage.
  • Close Windows: Ensure all windows and sunroofs are closed.
  • Follow Signals: Pay attention to lights and prompts.
  • Turn Off Wipers: Avoid running wipers during the wash.
  • Use Neutral: Keep the car in neutral with the parking brake off.
  • Avoid Brakes: Don’t engage brakes unless instructed.
  • Choose the Right Package: Select a wash package that meets your needs.
  • Inspect After Wash: Check for missed spots or issues after washing.
  • Consider Hand Drying: Use hand-drying if available for better results.


Are automatic car washes bad for your car?

No, modern automatic car washes are designed with materials and technologies that are gentle on your car’s finish. They use adjustable water spray guns, soft brushes, cloth materials, and advanced cleaning solutions to minimize the risk of damage.

How much does an automatic car wash cost?

The cost of an automatic car wash varies depending on factors like location, the type of car wash, and the services included. On average, prices range from $8 to $15 per wash.

Do automatic car washes damage paint?

No, reputable automatic car washes use gentle cleaning solutions and materials designed to protect your car’s paint. When properly maintained, they pose minimal risk to the vehicle’s finish.

Do automatic car washes scratch your car?

No, if the automatic car wash is well-maintained and uses appropriate materials, such as soft brushes, cloth or water, the risk of scratches is minimal. Properly designed systems prioritize the safety of your vehicle’s exterior.

Who invented the automatic car wash?

The first automatic car wash was invented by Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle, who opened the first automated car wash, called the “Automat,” in Detroit, Michigan, in 1914.

Can automatic car wash damage the transmission?

No, automatic car washes are designed to clean the exterior of the vehicle and do not pose a risk to the transmission or internal components.

Are these washes open 24/7?

Not all automatic car washes are open 24/7. The operating hours vary depending on the facility and its location. Some may have specific hours of operation or may be accessible at all hours with automated payment systems.

Are automatic car washes profitable?

Yes, automatic car washes can be profitable businesses. The profitability depends on factors such as location, pricing strategy, and the volume of customers served.

Can you take a convertible through an automatic car wash facility?

Many automatic car washes can accommodate convertibles. It’s advisable to check with the specific car wash facility to ensure they can safely wash convertible vehicles.

Can you take a Tesla through it?

Yes, Teslas can go through automatic car washes. However, Tesla owners should refer to the car’s manual for any specific guidelines or recommendations related to car washing.

Do automatic car washes strip wax?

Quality automatic car washes are designed not to strip wax. They use cleaning solutions that preserve protective coatings. However, regular wax reapplication remains important for long-term protection.

Do you turn the car off in an automatic car wash?

In most cases, you should follow the facility’s instructions. It’s common practice to turn off the engine and follow safety guidelines provided by the automatic car wash facility.

How long does an automatic car wash take?

The duration varies based on the wash package and facility efficiency, but on average, it takes around 5-10 minutes for a complete automatic car wash.

How to pay for an automatic car wash?

Payment methods vary and can include cash, coins, credit/debit cards, or mobile payment apps. Most automatic car wash facilities have clear instructions on payment options at the entrance or on-site.

How often should I wash my car using an automatic car wash?

The frequency of car washing depends on various factors such as climate, road conditions, and personal preference. Generally, washing your car every 2-4 weeks is a good starting point. However, if you live in an area with harsh weather or your vehicle is exposed to heavy road debris, more frequent washing may be necessary.

Are touchless car washes safe for my vehicle’s paint?

Yes, touchless car washes use high-pressure water jets and specially formulated cleaning solutions to remove dirt without physically touching the vehicle’s surface. The technology is designed to minimize the risk of scratches, making touchless car washes safe for your vehicle’s paint.

Can automatic car washes remove tough stains and bird droppings?

While automatic car washes are effective for routine cleaning, they may not always completely remove stubborn stains or dried bird droppings. For such cases, additional manual attention or spot cleaning may be necessary before or after the automatic wash.

Are these washes environmentally friendly?

Many automatic car washes implement environmentally friendly practices, such as water recycling systems and the use of eco-friendly cleaning solutions. These measures contribute to reducing water consumption and minimizing the environmental impact of the car washing process.

Do automatic car washes clean the undercarriage of the vehicle?

Some automatic car washes offer undercarriage cleaning as part of their services. This is important for removing road salt, grime, and other debris that can accumulate underneath the vehicle. Check with the specific car wash facility or choose a wash package that includes undercarriage cleaning.

Can I remain in my car during an automatic car wash?

For safety reasons, it’s generally recommended to follow the facility’s instructions and exit your vehicle before entering the automatic car wash. This ensures a smooth and safe wash without the risk of injury.

Will an automatic car wash damage my side mirrors or antenna?

Automatic car washes are designed to avoid damage to vehicle components. To ensure additional safety, it’s advisable to adjust side mirrors properly and, if possible, lower antennas before entering the car wash.

Can automatic car washes effectively clean larger vehicles like SUVs or trucks?

Most automatic car washes are designed to accommodate a range of vehicle sizes, including SUVs and trucks. However, it’s advisable to check with the specific car wash facility to confirm any size limitations and ensure a proper fit for your larger vehicle.

Can automatic car washes remove salt and road grime effectively?

Yes, it can remove salt and road grime, providing a thorough cleaning to help prevent corrosion. It’s recommended to use automatic car washes regularly, especially during winter months, to protect your vehicle from the corrosive effects of road salt.


Automatic car washing emerges as a convenient and efficient solution for maintaining the cleanliness of your vehicle.

With advanced technologies and various systems available, car owners need to choose the right option based on their preferences and needs.

The benefits of time efficiency, consistent results, and evolving eco-friendly practices make automatic car washing an attractive choice for owners.

Explore this hassle-free car care approach and share your experiences in the comments below.

Your insights contribute to a valuable community conversation on automatic car washing.

Written by Shailesh Thakran

Hi, I'm think tank behind Throttlebias. I love blogging, mainly about Automobiles. Via Throttlebias, I want to educate & share in-depth articles about Car Detailing and related areas. Outside Throttlebias, I love to write marketing & stuff.

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