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Can a car wash mess up your alternator?

8 Different Ways A Car Wash Could Damage Your Car’s Engine – And How To Avoid These Damages

Keeping a car clean is the least we could do, given how much money they cost us.

However, despite the will to keep a car clean, many people neglect washing the engine due to its intricacies.

Engine cleaning is typically left to the professionals to avoid damaging it, but how much harm can a car wash do to your engine?

Quick Answer

An engine isn’t waterproof and can incur severe damage in a car wash if washed incorrectly. Coldwater on a hot engine block can cause it to warp, exposing wires and sensors can lead to their malfunctioning, and a wet intake system can cause far more severe damage.

Read on as we take a deeper dive into how washing your engine can cause it to suffer damage.

We will also discuss the proper way to clean your engine, aside from the benefits that come with keeping it spotless.

Table Of Contents

Can a Car Wash Damage Your Engine?

As much as we want to pamper our car with a good engine wash, water and engines don’t exactly make a great combination.

Quick Answer

A car wash can damage your engine since many engine components are sensitive to water. Exposing these parts to water can cause them to stop working. Modern automobiles sport better-insulated engine parts, making them less vulnerable to water damage. However, such parts are not 100% water-proof.

It pays to know which parts are the most susceptible to damage and how they can affect your car’s performance.

How Water Can Damage the Engine’s Cylinder Head

Adding water to a hot engine is a recipe for disaster. Metal parts like your car’s cylinder head can experience thermal shock due to a sudden shift in temperature.

This reaction causes tension within the metals and could cause them to warp, crack or break.

A cylinder head is essentially the engine’s armored suit; it keeps all the internal components and fluids in place.

If a cylinder head is damaged, any of the following may occur:

  • Engine oil may start to leak. A cracked cylinder head can cause engine oil to seep out of the engine. If enough oil leaks out, it can severely compromise how well lubricated the engine is, causing even more significant damage.
  • The engine may start leaking coolant. A drop in coolant level can affect the engine’s temperature, causing the engine to overheat. The coolant can also contaminate the engine oil if the cylinder head is damaged.
  • A damaged cylinder head can cause the engine to start misfiring in more severe cases. Think of the cylinder head like a house where all the car’s cylinders live. If the home is severely damaged, it will affect how the cylinders do their job and eventually cripple the entire engine.

How Water Can Damage Your Car’s Electrical System

Cars now have more electrical systems than ever, many of which reside under the hood.

For these electrical systems to be functional, car manufacturers can only make them water-tight to a certain extent.

Many plumbing materials use copper, and according to a study done by ScienceDirect, the amount of copper in water affects its corrosion rate.

Quick Answer

Generally speaking, water and electricity do not mix because this can cause premature corrosion, aside from a short circuit. Due to water contamination, parts like the fuse box, onboard computer, and other electrical modules may experience electrical shorts.

Removing the car’s battery can prevent short circuits, but that doesn’t safeguard all the car’s electrical components from damage.

Below are other electrical components under the hood that can be compromised by exposure to water:

  • The car battery. A car’s battery can withstand some degree of water exposure, but moisture on the terminals can cause corrosion. Corroded terminals can compromise the connection between your vehicle and the battery, which will affect how well the battery charges.
  • The alternator. Like car batteries, alternators can get wet, but they are not immune to water. Since alternators are air-cooled, they have airways where water can pass, and prolonged or frequent water exposure can cause their internal components to rust. Trapped water can also lead to grime, affecting the alternator’s performance.
  • The distributor caps. Suppose water manages to make its way inside a distributor cap. It can disturb the flow of electricity to the sparkplugs, leading to misfiring or difficulty getting the engine to start.
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The Effects of Water on Your Car’s Intake System

A car’s intake system is composed of an air filter, mass flow sensor, and throttle body.

It is responsible for sucking in air to be mixed with fuel and compressed as part of the combustion process.

If a substantial amount of water manages to make its way to your car’s intake system, the water will not be compressed and will result in a pressure build-up that can bend your piston rods and crack your engine block.

Is Washing Your Car Engine Bad?

Quick Answer

Washing your car engine can be risky but only if you don’t take proper care when doing so. All things considered, it is far more advantageous to clean your car’s engine on a regular basis instead of leaving it dirty.

Keeping your car’s engine clean has the following benefits:

  • It increases your engine’s longevity. A dirty engine can harbor corrosive elements that can harm it, especially when they accumulate.
  • It keeps your engine running optimally. The build-up of debris in an engine can block inlets, outlets, and other passageways that compromise its performance.
  • It is easier to detect leaks when the engine is kept clean. Faulty or worn-out gaskets and seals can cause leaks which will be hard to see if there is plenty of caked-on grime on the engine.
  • It looks so much better. While this benefit is merely cosmetic, there’s no denying that a clean engine is more pleasing to look at.

What To Do if a Carwash Has Damaged Your Engine

After having your car cleaned at a carwash, it is always a good idea to inspect it for any damage.

However, water damage to your engine may not always be visible, so you should let the car run idle for a few minutes before leaving the establishment.

Aside from giving your engine bay a visual inspection to check for any physical damage, do the following:

  • Pay attention to any irregularities in how the engine sounds.
  • Check for any peculiar smells, as any electrical shortages, or other forms of damage, can be detected by your olfactory senses.
  • If you notice anything out of the ordinary, immediately inform car wash personnel and switch the vehicle off -keeping it running may worsen any issues.
  • Ensure that all water-sensitive parts are dry by requesting the staff give it another pass with a blow dryer.
  • Don’t forget to check accessible internal components such as the air filter and spark plugs.
  • After any potentially water-contaminated areas have dried, start the car up again and check if that has resolved the issue.

If the car still fails to run normally, take the following action:

  • Inform the person in charge. Ask to speak to the owner or manager of the establishment to see what assistance they can offer. It is in the owner’s best interest to ensure you leave their establishment as a happy camper.
  • Make sure the incident is documented correctly. Request an incident report that acknowledges the issues and the fact that they only became apparent after the carwash. Ensure that the owner or an authorized representative of the carwash signs the document.
  • Inform your insurance company. You can also get in touch with your insurance company, which should give you additional guidance and assist with any potential claims.
  • Seek legal advice. As a customer, you have the legal right to have your car washed without accepting any damages inflicted upon it.
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Note that in case your car suffers damage, you will need to establish that the damage was done intentionally or through the carwash establishment’s negligence.

Legal fees can cost more than the actual damage in most cases, so it is best to settle claims through insurance.

Key Takeaways

Although engines in modern cars are better insulated, you can’t discount the risk of them incurring water damage.

The good news is, as long as whoever is washing it takes proper caution, the chances of any damage are very minimal.

In fact, keeping an engine dirty is far more detrimental than washing it now and then. Thus:

  • A carwash can damage your car’s engine if done improperly.
  • There are more benefits to keeping your engine clean instead of leaving it dirty.
  • If your engine is damaged at a carwash, exhaust all efforts to settle a claim without taking legal action.

How to clean salt and grime off the car after winter

What’s the best way to clean the car when winter’s done with it? Road salt, dirt and general grime has played havoc with cars in more States than usual in 2021 — even as far south as Texas — and getting rid of all of that corrosion-causing muck should be a priority.

Yes, washing your car can be a difficult job, especially if it doesn’t end up much cleaner than it was when you started. But do it right, and your car can look like a gleaming new showroom model and be a place you actually want to spend some time in.

Don’t just throw a bucket of soapy water over your car though – give it a proper clean! Here are 10 tips for cleaning and detailing your car the right way…

1 What’s the best time of day to wash the car?

Don’t try to wash and wax your car in extreme heat or direct sunlight, so avoid the middle of the day. If the weather has warmed up then water will evaporate quickly and form grimy residues before you have a chance to wipe them off.

Dark-coloured cars can absorb so much heat they become hot to the touch – this doesn’t just burn your fingers, it can affect some of the chemicals used for car detailing.

An overcast day is best for car cleaning, but keep an eye on the weather forecast — the last thing you want is a rain shower to ruin all your hard work.

2 Clean the car’s interior

Before you clean the outside, clean the inside. Start by removing any obvious rubbish from the ash trays, door bins, glove box and other interior storage spaces. Don’t forget to check under the seats for sweet wrappers, missing spectacles and mislaid dimes (hey, you never know).

If you use seat mats, take them out and clean them separately. A quick dusting down won’t usually do it, so if they’re rubber, wash them with warm soapy water. If you use carpet mats, you may even be able to run them through the washing machine – but check the instructions.

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3 Use a vacuum cleaner on the car

Now you can vacuum up all the dust and grit, but first you have to loosen it up or move it out into the open where the nozzle can reach it. So use a stiff brush to loosen any dirt in the upholstery or carpets.

If you have a dog you’ll know how difficult it can be to shift pet hairs, so try a moistened rubber glove or wrap scotch tape around your hand with the sticky side facing outwards.

Finally – and this is a cool tip – use a compressed air canister to blow dust and grit out of nooks and crannies you can’t reach with a brush or the vacuum cleaner nozzle.

4 Don’t forget the dash!

We’re not quite done with the interior yet. The dashboard and instruments collect a lot of dust too, but these are more delicate, so use a damp cloth on the dash and controls – there are dash and upholstery cleaning products for this – and try using a soft paintbrush to flick dust out from the rims of the instrument dials.

Don’t be tempted to use a silicone spray to add some shine – a shiny dash can create horrible glare, and if any overspray gets on to the pedals it can make them dangerously slippery.

5 Wipe down the sills

Finally, while all the doors are open, fetch a bucket and clean the sills and door openings. These are easily overlooked during a regular car wash, but stick out like a sore thumb when you open the doors later.

6 Best technique for cleaning a car?

What’s best way to wash a car? Some suggest you wash down the car with plain water first to get the worst of the dirt off. That’s not a bad idea if your car is especially dirty, and it will reduce the risk of rubbing grit into the paintwork later.

Now wash your car with proper car wash solution. Don’t use household detergent because this will strip away any protective wax layer on the paint.

Start from the roof, then work your way down the sides, front and rear of the car. This gives the car wash solution a little more time to soak into the grimiest areas near the bottom and means your water stays cleaner for longer.

Be careful that your bucket is not collecting grit. You can get grit guards to fit in the base – effectively a plastic grid that stops your sponge reaching the bottom of the bucket – or you can just keep an eye on the color of the water or feel any grittiness in the base of the bucket as you rinse out the sponge.

If in doubt, get a fresh bucket of car wash rather than risk rubbing grit into the paint.

If you’ve got some stubborn spots, don’t just keep rubbing away because this may damage the paint. Instead, use a tar and bug remover spray. And if you have any dirt that appears to be bonded into the paint, you can use a clay bar to remove it – though read the instructions carefully, because this is professional detailing territory.

7 Wax on, wax off

You don’t have to wax your car every time you wash it. There are car shampoos that contain wax, too, but most detailing experts would rather wax the car properly 2-4 times a year. If you use the right car wash solution, any existing wax layer should be preserved.

You will need to rinse off the car before waxing it and allow it to dry too. Don’t leave water to ‘puddle’ and dry naturally because this will often leave some residue, even when the water looks clean.

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Instead, use a chamois leather or a silicone squeegee. These aren’t designed to dry the surface on contact – instead, they spread the water out into a thin layer that evaporates more quickly and cleanly.

If you do see any puddles of water, you can use compressed air to blow the water away.

So now apply your wax, following the makers’ instructions carefully. You apply the wax in straight lines – you don’t buff the paint surface in circles – then you leave it to dry before polishing it off. A microfiber cloth is perfect for this.

Don’t use more wax than the instructions tell you to. It won’t make the car any shinier, but it will make it more likely to get trapped in seams and fittings where it will dry, look messy and be hard to shift later.

Some detail pros will wax the car twice, and there’s a clever test you can do to check the depth of the shine – place a ruler perpendicular to the surface and see how many numbers you can read off in the reflection. The more you can see, the better the shine.

8 Get rid of the brake dust

Don’t forget the wheels. You’ll probably need a pretty stiff brush to remove all the brake dust and road grime, and here’s a handy tip – when you think you’re done, push the car forward through half a rotation of the tires and do it again so that you clean the parts you couldn’t get to properly the first time around.

There are special wheel degreasers and cleaners which will remove grime without damaging paintwork in the way a regular detergent might. Some even contain sealants to help protect against grime and pitting in the future.

You can also get tire cleaners that give your wheels that new car look. The shine soon fades away, but it looks great while it lasts and it’s a handy tip if you’re just about to sell your car.

9 Now clean the glass

Now’s the time to clean the glass. It’s a good idea to leave this until last because the windows tend to pick up dirt and grime from all the other steps.

You need a good glass cleaner for this, but choose one designed for automotive use and not a regular household glass cleaner because these may contain ammonia, which is bad for vinyl upholstery.

Make sure you wind down the windows to get to the top edges, otherwise these will still carry a strip of grime even though the rest of the car is spotless.

10 Take care of that body

While you’ve been cleaning your car you’ve probably noticed a couple of cosmetic flaws that need some attention. Dings and scrapes are best left for the body shop, but faded paintwork and plastic trim can be fixed.

For faded paint you need polishing solution and a bit of skill. Just remember, polish is not wax. Polish is abrasive and designed to remove the top layer of paint that’s faded to reveal the true color underneath. If in doubt, leave it to an expert.

But bumper polish is easy. Many cars have black plastic bumpers and trim that fades to a patchy gray over time. Bumper polish can be messy to apply, but it’s also pretty easy, and restores that showroom gleam to faded plastics.

So even if your car is 20 years old, it doesn’t have to look it. A good clean will leave it looking years younger, and it will also highlight any little nips and tucks you can get done at the body shop to finish the job off properly.

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Kwik Kar Wash & Automotive Center of Round Rock

Kwik Kar Lube & Auto Repair - Old Settlers

Your car deserves to stay clean as you drive around Round Rock. Save time and money as you wait for a tune up and take advantage of our premiere car wash services.

Kwik Kar Wash & Automotive Center of Round Rock is proud to offer full-service car washes that range from a standard clean to a floor show finish. Trust us to be your one-stop-shop for your complete auto needs.

If your car needs to be cleaned and you just seem too busy to handle the mess, Kwik Kar’s Round Rock location in Austin has the services you need to make your car look like new!

Exterior Wash Options

Even daily trips to work and back can leave your car in need of a thorough cleaning. Kwik Kar can clean and treat your vehicle with the attention that our customers have come to expect from our brand.

If you just need a quick wash, our express car wash option is the perfect solution. Simply drive up to our express auto-teller and select the wash you desire:

Kwik Clean $7 ($19.99 unlimited monthly)

  • Wash and Blow Dry

Kwik Shine $15 ($29.99 unlimited monthly)

  • Clean +
  • Wheels Cleaned
  • Triple Shine Foam Polish
  • Underbody Wash
  • Clear Coat

Kwik Protect $20 ($39.99 unlimited monthly)

  • Shine +
  • ArmorAll® Ceramic Sealant
  • ArmorAll® Extreme Shine Was
  • Rain-X® Surface Protectand
  • Rain-X® Wheel Protectant
  • Deep Clean Foam Curtain
  • Tire Shine
  • Hand Dry

Interior & Exterior Wash Options

For customers who want a more precise clean, our full service wash has several options available that allow for total car wash customization.

Kwik Pro — $25 ($54.99 unlimited monthly)

  • Presoak
  • Triple Shine Foam Polish
  • Wheels Cleaned
  • Tire Shine
  • Hand Dry
  • Vacuum
  • Windows Cleaned
  • Dash/Console/Cup Holders Wiped
  • Doors/Seats Dusted
  • Door Jambs Cleaned

Kwik Premium — $35 ($64.99 unlimited monthly)

  • Pro +
  • Rain-X® Surface Protectant
  • Rain-X® For Wheels
  • Dash/Console Conditioned
  • Rubber Mats Cleaned
  • Door Jambs Cleaned

Kwik Ultimate — $45 ($89.99 unlimited monthly)

  • Premium +
  • ArmorAll® Ceramic Sealant
  • ArmorAll® Extreme Shine Wax
  • Deep Clean Foam Curtain
  • Leather Seats Surface Cleaned

Detail Packages

For a pristine clean, we also have premiere options that treat your vehicle to a level of clean that makes your vehicle worth showing off.

Complete Detail – Starts at $185

Our complete detail service is one of the best deals you can find on the ultimate cleaning for your car. This offer includes:

Exterior Detail – $145 & Up

Our complete detail service is one of the best deals you can find on the ultimate cleaning for your car. This offer includes:

  • Clay Bar
  • Hand Wax
  • Paint Correction

Showroom – $325

Finally, if you actually do plan on showing your vehicle off, our Showroom service is your best deal for turning heads around town. This option includes:

  • Vinyl
  • Seats
  • Carpet
  • Light Overspray Removal
  • Light Paint Correction
  • Headlight Restoration

Auto Spa Options

  • Vinyl Detail — $65
  • Seat Cleaning — $65
  • Carpet Cleaning — $65
  • Headlight Restoration — $49.99
  • Carnauba Wax — $65
  • Teflon Wax — $85

*Auto Spa Options include a FREE Kwik Full Service Wash

A La Carte Cleaning Services

For unique or less requested services, our current a la carte options include:

  • Mats — 2 for $5 or 4 for $8
  • Engine Detail — $50 & Up
  • Hand Wash — $50 & Up
  • Clay Bar — $50 & Up
  • Vacuum & Windows — $10

*Additional Charge for SUVs, Vans & Trucks

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