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Washing our Model S

There have been opinions, rumors, statements etc. about not sending our new cars through a carwash. Overall this seems to make good sense. While I believe the issue of injuring the battery has been thoroughly dispensed with, I’m still picking up advice that an automatic carwash is not a good idea because: a) the Model S is an aluminum body; b) it will damage the paint armor; c) the Tesla paint is water-based; and/or d) fill-in the blanks. Again, some of these reasons seem to make sense. But here’s the rub: I am rapidly approaching the age where spending an hour giving my Model S the tender loving care it deserves is impractical because the back isn’t what it used to be. For the record I have been washing my family’s cars and then my own cars since before I could drive. It has been a religious experience which served to really bond me to the beauty and pride of owning a nice car.

However, life intervenes.

So (finally) my question is what do you think the real implications will be of running it through a normal car wash, that isn’t brushless? I know I can always try to find someone to hand-wash my car regularly, but is this carwash business really hype or will I be risking serious damage to the vehicle? What do y’all think?

From what I understand, Tesla recommends you take the Model S to a touchless car wash, so you can still bring it to a car wash, but your options are more limited.

It really depends on whether you are the type of person that stresses out over every swirl mark or not. If you are, then only hand washing will do the trick.

The paint armour will protect the areas that it covers but brushful car washes "could" rip parts of it off. I'd be more concerned about it ripping off a mirror, the spoiler (if you have one), or getting caught in the pano roof, or damaging the tires (the rails in a car wash tend to cut up the sidewalls)

I don't believe the aluminium body to be an issue.

Most cars use water based paints these days.

I've always used the 25 cent variety.

Not to mention that driveway washing is extremely unfriendly to the environment. I've been using touch less and soft touch washes for years with nary a swirl mark on our cars for several years. Every once in a while I do a P21S paint treatment and quality wax job to bring out the shine.

I know the Roadster was not supposed to be run through a car wash but I still used a touchless. But I never used an underbody wash as I was concerned that the pressure could get water into the motor and/or the PEM. I know that a brush style wash would get it cleaner but I was also concerned about the spoiler not being strong enough to handle that consistently.

NO! Touchless is a NO-NO!! The grime-stripper chemicals are the problem, not the brushes!

There are some places around my area where you can get a handwash for $12-15.

By nekked babes?!!!
;)

I will wash mine.

But, there's plenty of folks out there with their own car wash by hand businesses tring to make a living....

FYI, in some places its a fine to wash your own car (droughts and whatnot). We need alternatives like a professional place that can wash them for us as businesses are of course exempt from this ordinance.

I just recently saw a semi-scientific research about results of hand wash and normal brush car wash. Result was kind of surprising, hand wash damaged car windows and paint more than automatic brush wash.

Could be that this car wash was exceptionally well kept, but OTOH I have used local car wash and I never noticed any damage to paint or windows, those brushes were actually quite gentle and apparently very clean. Also result was really clean.

I obviously have no idea about usual US car wash quality so my opinion could not apply there.

Of course doing it yourself with love and tender will give best result, but I personally wouldn't mind using car wash every now and then even for car this expensive. OTOH the car I loved driving taking care of most (this far) was one of the military vehicles that wasn't technically even a car...

Timo,
Do you have the reference for that research? I'd be very interested. It actually makes sense to me that the average automatic car wash might do a better, more uniform job than the average hand washer. Professional detailers of course would do the best work but they aren't necessarily the ones who would be doing your run of the mill external wash even at a detail shop. The trainees would probably be assigned those tasks.

I waited outside my local grocery store for 15 minutes today because I wanted to talk to the owner of a spectacularly pretty dark metallic blue BMW 750i. I asked him if he did anything special to keep it looking so good, and he said he just takes it to the local touchless wash fairly frequently. The car is 9 months old.

Brian H: What's the deal with the chemicals? What harm do they cause? They sure didn't seem to have hurt this BMW, at least not yet.

An automated car wash, touchless or not, does not do a complete job. It often can't reach a lot of places, like in the rims, around the rear license plate or in the door sills. So for a complete job you have to do some additional hand-washing afterwards.

I prefer doing it all by hand.

My thought is that some, perhaps most, of the "washing the car in the driveway is bad for the environment" is because in an ICE car you wash a bunch of oil into the storm drain system where it pollutes the water supply. An EV will be much better because there isn't an engine dripping oil.

The rest has to do with the chemicals that you use. Presumably, you can choose biodegradable products.

Of course, in areas where water is in short supply, driveway washing can be water intensive although it doesn't have to be.

I take my Infiniti to a high quality light touch wash one to two times a week, with no adverse long term effects. The reality of my schedule will require that I do the same with my new Telsa; unless Tesla specifically says not to. If the Model S cant take a car wash, I doubt it will do well in a driving rain storm at 80 mph on the interstate. I have to believe the components will be well protected.

mpottinger,

As long as you are not bothered by the odd swirl mark in the paint, there won't be any problem. If you always want your car to look as if it were a car in an auto show competition, then you'll have a lot of frustration with a normal car wash. Tesla recommends using a brushless carwash. I think this is mostly because brushful carwashes tend to rip off mirrors and there can be grit left in the felt fingers from the last car which can scratch the paint pretty bad if you're unlucky.

Just a reminder to those less familiar with car washes, brushless and touchless are not the same.

Robert, can you explain?

I always wash at home with lusterlabs lxr. Keeps the car clean even if it drizzles. It is auto drying to I hardly have to spend any time wiping it down. I also have some high end mitts and towels which I will have to replace now going from black to white car.

Conventional: Rotating brushes with bristles (harsh)

Brushless: Rotating or agitating soft cloths (less harsh)

Touchless: No contact (least harsh, although chemical wash agent effect may be damaging)

I'm not a car guru so I'm sure there will be asterisks added to the above by others, but I think that's the gist of it.

I got a chuckle out of this person's thoughts on Touchless car washes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXROQ_PsL9E&feature=youtube_gdata_player

I think the car wash I was talking about a bit earlier was brushless, not conventional. Actually all car washes I have seen here are like those (rotating soft cloths).

Ripping off mirrors sounds really rough to me. Definitely nothing like that in any of them.

Timo,

Unfortunately, it only takes one of the streamers (don't know the terminology) to get tangled and loop over the mirror to rip it off as the car goes down the line. No, it doesn't happen that often but it's not zero.

I usually hose down my cars but never actually wash the car. Since Tesla went through the trouble of installing retracting door handles, I am not going to let a little dirt mess up the aerodynamics of the car.

On the environmental impact of washing your car on your own many parts besides the ICE can cause problems. Tire particles washed off cars can release cadmium, lead, and zinc into the environment. Brake dust contains heavy metals like copper, and while the are no engine oils, there will be lubricants and greases elsewhere. If you want to wash at home, an option would be to drive the car onto grass. You can also wash your car over a tarp and place PVC pipe or 2x4s under the edges of the tarp to make sure the water doesn't reach storm drains. Then you can collect the water. It can be disposed of in a vegetated area -- the vegetation will help naturally treat the water.

Source: my wife who works professionally doing environmental outreach on stormwater.

jerry3,

All of those places I have used have sensors that stop the process immediately if something like that is detected.

mwu,

I don't think copper constitutes as toxic heavy metal, you actually need a bit of copper to be healthy, and level where copper starts to be toxic is rather high. Also if it is already a dust, then letting that dust to float into air sounds much worse to me than letting it settle into ground.

If no contact/brushing is done, stronger chemicals are used. Can harm the paint/finish. Per TM.

Timo, you are right that the copper is not directly a threat to us. However it is a threat to many animals that live in water, namely salmon. My wife is the expert, but I think smaller animals are susceptible at lower levels. Salmon have a problem because the copper inhibits their warning system to predators. Each car doesn't produce a lot of copper, but combined through storm drains (all of which run to streams and creeks which connect to rivers and oceans) it can add up if proper care is not taken.

Sources:
http://www.stormwaterx.com/Resources/IndustrialPollutants/Copper.aspx
http://www.gfredlee.com/Runoff/reg_copper_0600.pdf
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/release/2007/03/copper-increases-p...
This article states that as much as 40% of the copper that enters the San Francisco Bay may come from brake pads: http://www.scvurppp-w2k.com/cu_clearinghouse_web/brake_pad.htm

I saw a similar study Timo, but it'd take me a week to find the link again. I know it maybe referenced in www.metronews.ca but I don't know how easy it'd be to find.

Brian: I have a hard time believing that to be true. TMs baked on powder coats shouldn't give a flying fig newton to what basically amounts to dish soap. Don't laugh, that's what most places use.

Where I live, each house has it's own septic facilities, and dry wells account for all the drainage. So there is little to no difference here between dumping waste water on vegetation versus allowing it to run elsewhere. Even here we get public service messages that tell us to use water as if we had sewers; I guess those responsible either just want us to be trained in case we move or they're just copying messages from other nearby locales.

If much of the copper found in San Francisco Bay is from brake dust, how much of that is washed off the cars during the rain while driving versus the amount washed off in a car wash? While you might want to minimize it, don't expect that everyone "doing the right thing" will make the problem go away. Just by using an EV with regen you'll be generating far less brake dust.

EdG, I'm not sure on the answer to that, and you are correct that it wouldn't solve the problem (just reduce it). However just because "doing the right thing" isn't the complete solution doesn't mean that one should ignore that part of the solution.

I'm mainly posting here because I have information relevant to the discussion. I'm not trying to raise a lot of fuss or guilt about it. I enjoy autocross, so I'm not guilt-free either.

Something to note is that there are environmentally aware car washes that recycle and filter their water. Also, in some places there are fines for car washes that don't use proper techniques for preventing contaminants from reaching storm drains (think of the mobile car washes that operate in parking lots). I would have to ask my wife to know for sure, but I think brake dust isn't the only problem with car wash waste water... I believe soap has an impact on creaks and streams as well.


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