How Does an Automatic Car Wash Work?

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The Basics of Automatic Washes

  • Automatic car washes are in the business of improving the health of your car. There are two types of automatic car washes: in-bay automatics and conveyor tunnels. By utilizing cleaning products engineered to dissolve away the dirt and grime while enhancing the finish of your car and equipment designed to thoroughly scrub off the grime, automatic car washes are built with cleanliness in mind.

Getting Started

  • Most in-bay automatics are located on a gas station or convenience store site or are combined with a self-serve car wash facility that allows for several different payment methods: at the gas station pump, inside the convenience store or at the entrance to the wash bay. On the other hand, most tunnel car washes are now completely automated with a pay portal located near the entrance to the tunnel where you can select your wash package without personal assistance.

    First, choose a wash package then pay via cash, credit, debit or, in certain cases, with a loyalty card. As you move into the car wash bay, the automated system will queue up your wash package, even if you have been waiting in a queue of cars.

    With in-bay automatics, simply pull into the middle of the bay and watching for the illuminated signs near the bar exit to indicate when you should stop. For automatic tunnel car washes, the front tire of your car will be guided onto the beginning of the conveyor belt called a correlator, which is a series of wheels or rollers that allow the wheel of your car to be aligned correctly on the conveyor. In a tunnel wash, you remain in your vehicle with it in neutral as it is pulled through the wash as opposed to an in-bay automatic where your vehicle remains stationary as the machine passes back and forth over the vehicle.

Wet and Soapy

  • As your car is pulled into the tunnel, sensors, called eyes, trigger the digital control system to start the wash. Likewise, in an in-bay wash, sensors are also triggered to start the wash and adjust to the length of your car.

    At the start of the wash, pre-soak solution is sprayed onto the car to begin loosening the dirt. In some tunnels, the vehicle will pass through a mitter curtain which starts cleaning the hood, roof and trunk of the vehicle. In other tunnels and in most in-bay automatics, top brushes are utilized for initially scrubbing the hood, roof and trunk.

    Following pre-soak, a foam applicator applies a deep-cleaning detergent onto the car which is used in combination with the scrubbing brushes, large vertical cylinders with hundreds of small cloth strips, rotating rapidly around the vehicle to scrub off any accrued filth. In a touch-free automatic wash, where brushes aren't used, the wash utilizes high pressure water and stronger cleaning acts to provide the same effect.

    Next, a high pressured rinse through a series of rotating water nozzles sprays a continuous stream of water onto the car to rinse away the soap, dirt and other particles from the car's surface. In some washes, an undercarriage rinse follows. By shooting pressurized water upwards from underneath the car, the undercarriage wash removes any accumulated crud underneath. In a tunnel wash, the car will pass underneath a rain arch which utilizes a spot-free rinse to flush away all residual chemicals without leaving streaks or spots. In-bay automatics also utilize this spot-free rinse, just not as a separate component.

    Other automatic wash elements accompanying wash packages are triple foam polish or wax which is a specially formulated protectant that works on glass, chrome, rubber, plastic and metal and wheel cleaners or wheel brushes which remove brake dust and scrub the vehicle tires while applying a tire shine gel.

To Sleek and Shiny

  • The final step in an automatic car wash is driving slowly through the exit dryers. Tunnel conveyors slowly roll your car through the dryers, which rapidly blast large amounts of air out through nozzles, but in-bay automatics will signal for you to pull forward and slowly exit the bay as your vehicle is being dried.

    While these types of washes initially had to be manually operated, the convenience of the Internet and computer technology has enabled the automatic car wash to be a completely automated system that is both convenient and hassle-free. Through specialized machinery and carefully formulated chemicals, automatic car washes--both in-bay and conveyor tunnels--protect the finish and underbody of your car so it looks newer longer.

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