Car Talk: Pros and cons of hand washing your vehicle

Although automatic car washes save water, it's gentler to hand wash your vehicle. Here's why.|

Dear Car Talk: My husband and I agree on most things, but there are a few disagreements. For one, he is a conservative and I am a liberal. Big disagreement there. Our other major disagreement is how to take care of the exterior of our new, 2019 Toyota Corolla. I am a hands-on person and prefer to hand-wash our vehicles. He is a fan of those brushes and slappy things at the local car wash. I think they are a bit rough on the finish. We are in our 70s and this will most likely be our last major vehicle purchase. This is especially so since we were lucky enough to get one of the last Toyotas with a CD player. We're not selling it! So, which of us is going to win this argument? Do I get to hand-wash it, or does he get to go watch those slappy things hit our car? Also, any car washing tips you'd like to share? And while you're at it, is there any way to get him to drop this conservative thing and adopt my liberal views? - Virginia


So, let me see if I got this straight. You're liberal, and he thinks you want to hand-wash the car with rags sewn by indigenous, fair trade rag makers, and a free-range, non-GMO, vegan car wash. And since your husband is conservative, you think he prefers a coal-fired, faceless corporate concrete box with brushes and slappy things that exploits its workers for the benefit of the 1%?

I'm going to suggest we focus just on the car because that's the only thing we're qualified to address. And even then, only barely so.

There's little doubt that hand-washing a car is gentler on the car's finish than a machine wash that uses brushes and slappy things. There's also an argument to be made that, if you're doing it yourself, you'll do a better job and pay more attention to the details.

I also like it because it gives you some exercise, Virginia. It takes a surprising amount of bending, twisting and polishing, and it's probably pretty good for you. Especially if you're in your 70s and aren't playing a lot of one-on-one hoops anymore.

The only downside is that it uses more water than a commercial car wash. How can that be? Well, these days, commercial car washes are required to capture and recycle the water they use. So even though your car drives through a virtual rainstorm, the overall use of water is not that great.

If you live in an area where wasting water is looked down upon, Virginia, you can combat that with some newer products called "waterless car washes."

A "waterless car wash" is essentially a spray that you apply to one section of the car at a time, and then use a clean rag to wipe off the dirt. In terms of how to wash the car, you'll find lots of how-to videos on YouTube these days. In general, it's best to wash a car in the shade, so the car's finish isn't hot. Use a bunch of clean, microfiber towels. And make sure you change or rinse them frequently, so you're not scratching the car's surface with dirt that you wiped off another section of the car.

We've also had some good luck with a product called Meguiar's Hybrid Ceramic Spray Wax. It's a spray on, rinse off wax that's very easy to use and leaves the car with a really nice shine, not to mention a layer of wax protection.

In terms of getting your husband to let you have your way with the car, frankly, if you're willing to do the work of washing the car, I don't see why your husband should object. He's getting a clean car, you're getting some exercise and fresh air, and you're both saving some money.

The only exception I would make is if you live in a part of the country where it snows. In that case, a week or so after a snowstorm, you might want to let him take the car through a commercial car wash to clean any road salt off the undercarriage.

To make that more palatable for yourself, you can force him to listen to MSNBC on the satellite radio while the car is getting brushed and slapped. Enjoy your clean, new car, Virginia.


Dear Car Talk: I'm just starting out in the auto repair business and working for a dealership.

It strikes me as odd that this seems to be one of the only professions where you have to provide your own tools in order to work in the field.

Why don't more garages and dealerships provide company-owned tools for their technicians? - Tyler


Because you guys would steal them. It'd be like pens at any other workplace. Except replacing wrenches is a lot more expensive.

Plus, mechanics like to have their own tools. They like to use tools they're familiar with and trust. A lot of professionals do. Baseball players like to have their own bats. Burglars like to have their own ski masks.

You'll find that most mechanics will etch their names or initials into their tools, so that when other mechanics borrow something, they have a snowball's chance of getting it back.

Of course, there are some tools that the shop provides for everybody. It's usually the big stuff. In addition to the lifts and tire machines and stuff like that, we'll also provide larger and less frequently used tools that are not practical for each mechanic to own. For instance, our shop has a ball-joint press and a bunch of spring compressors, and anyone who needs them is welcome to use them. And we're not worried because they're too big for any of our guys to sneak out in their pants.

As you've probably discovered, Tyler, buying a set of professional tools isn't cheap. It's a major investment in your career. So you have to be sure you want to fix cars for a while. Even the most basic set of tools from a good quality manufacturer like Snap On is likely to cost you $20,000. And that's bare bones. You'll have to add to it over time.

My one recommendation is that you buy a good quality set of tools. The cheaper tools will break, or even worse, they'll round off nuts and bolts and cause you big headaches, so they're not worth it. Consider taking out a loan if you have to.

Be sure to etch your name on your tools. Then be very sure to never accidentally leave one of your tools inside a transmission after you rebuild it, because when the customer gets towed back to the shop, it'll have your name on it!


Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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