Electric vehicles are the future – that much is clear. However, that future seems a long way away considering the relatively slow adoption of electric vehicles.
Some people shy away from electric cars because of the many myths plaguing electric vehicles, including misconceptions about EVs and car washes.
An electric car can go through a car wash without damaging its electrical components. The sensitive components in electric cars are carefully sealed to prevent water penetration. However, some manufacturers advise against car washes, citing potential paint and sensor damage.
This article will delve deeper into the relationship between water and electric cars.
By the end, you should understand that, though they are unlikely to destroy your electric vehicle, automatic car washes aren’t the best option for your EV.
Can an Electric Vehicle Go Through a Car Wash?
We all know that electricity and water often mix to catastrophic effects. It’s reasonable for one to expect electrocution or worse when driving a car with a massive lithium battery pack that’s been exposed to water.
However, fear not: EVs are perfectly safe to drive through water.
Car manufacturers subject the car to a soak test, which involves driving the vehicle through heavy rain. They also drive the cars through flooded water to confirm that the sealants protecting the battery packs work.
This video by Tata Motors shows the water wading test performed on the Nexon EV. The car wades through water and emerges on the other side unscathed.
ICE cars have air intakes that suck in air into the pistons.
Water getting into these pipes also gets transported to the combustion chamber, where water doesn’t belong.
If that happens, the most likely outcome is an irreversibly damaged engine. Similarly, irreversible damage can occur if water penetrates into the gearbox.
Furthermore, engine fluids such as coolants and engine oil aren’t supposed to mix with water.
Water mixed in such fluids can cause damage to multiple car components.
Electric car motors do not suffer such vulnerabilities: they work without external influence, have no multi-speed transmissions, and have fluid-free internal systems.
Therefore, your electric car will likely weather a flood better than an ICE vehicle.
Elon Musk famously tweeted that the Tesla Model S can turn into a boat for a limited period, thanks to its floating ability.
However, he said that Tesla doesn’t recommend testing his assertion.
The water in automatic car washes doesn’t reach anywhere near flood level. The jets of water your car gets subjected to in the car wash are perfectly safe.
Your car will emerge safe from an automatic car wash, but there are several safety guidelines you need to observe depending on the type of car wash.
Tunnel Car Wash
In a tunnel car wash, a conveyor system moves the car through different wash stages.
Therefore, you need to put the car in Neutral (N) to prevent wheel locking.
For most EVs, the car needs to be on to engage neutral, so ensure that your EV has sufficient charge before you roll onto the tracks.
You also need to disable all automatic functions before the wash begins: you don’t want the windshield wipers activating in the middle of the wash.
Close all openings (doors, windows, charge door, trunk lids), too, to prevent water from getting inside the car or the charging port.
Finally, fold the side mirrors and disengage the antennae.
Jet Wash or Rollovers
In these automatic systems, the car remains stationary as the machine uses different washing systems and products to clean the vehicle.
As the car remains stationary, you should turn your engine off.
Like with the tunnel car wash, close all openings before washing commences and switch automatic functions off.
Similarly, fold the side mirrors and remove the antennae.
Why Do Some EV Manufacturers Advise Against Automatic Car Washes?
As we have seen, EVs can handle automatic car washes. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that some car manufacturers advise against subjecting their cars to automatic car washes.
Tesla advises against automatic car washes because they adversely affect the car’s paint job. Hyundai claims that automatic car washes tamper with external cameras and sensors dealing with safety.
The allure of automatic car washes is that they offer a fast and cheap way to clean your car.
However, consistent use of automated car washes can lead to speedier paint degradation.
The bristles used in some automatic washes retain dirt and grime from previous vehicles. The retained debris scratches and causes swirl marks on other cars, gradually degrading the paint.
Car wash attendants rarely wash the bristles after cars pass through, so it’s highly likely that the bristles at your favorite car wash contain dirt.
Tesla advises its customers to opt for touchless car washes. Such automatic car washes have no bristles coming into contact with the car.
The company states that its warranty doesn’t cover damage occasioned by improper washing.
Hyundai’s issue with automatic car washes presents a potentially catastrophic safety issue.
The manufacturer claims that soft-touch bristles with dirt and grime can obscure car sensors.
Cameras and sensors play a crucial role in safety. By obscuring them, you risk disabling critical safety features, including collision warnings.
Due to this risk, some soft-touch car wash owners warn their customers against running their cars in the automated car wash.
While an automatic car wash won’t destroy your EV, it may affect the paint job and safety.
Therefore, go through the user manual of your EV thoroughly before subjecting the EV to an automatic wash.
What Happens if an Electric Car Gets Wet?
Your EV will inevitably get wet, whether or not you opt for an automatic car wash.
You’ll likely encounter rain or snow and occasionally have to wash your car.
Thankfully, your EV is built to handle flood-level water.
Water striking the surface of electric cars will dry or bead off, just like with other vehicles. Water won’t reach the batteries or sensitive electrical parts as EV manufacturers seal them off. However, moisture can affect the car’s electrical systems if the vehicle lies submerged in water for a long time.
EV manufacturers perform extensive tests on cars to ensure the vehicles can handle everyday exposure to moisture.
It would be a catastrophic failure on the part of EV manufacturers if they made cars that broke down or posed safety issues by driving through puddles.
It is near impossible for water to penetrate the sensitive areas of your EV.
Remember Elon Musk’s assertion that the Model S can turn into a boat – that should assure you that your EV can handle water.
Like an ICE car, rainwater will roll off or dry off your EV.
As seen above, your EV can potentially handle flood water better than most ICE counterparts.
ICE cars can only wade through water lower than the engine’s intakes: if the engine takes in water, it can cause catastrophic and expensive damage.
EVs have no intakes and, therefore, no openings for water to penetrate.
Furthermore, the waterproof sealants protect the batteries from moisture interference.
However, given enough time, water will pass through. Your EV will likely suffer damage if submerged in water for a long time.
In 2012, a YouTuber named Rich Rebuilds restored a Tesla Model S that Hurricane Sandy had submerged.
He found four of the 16 battery packs waterlogged, concluding that the saltwater had bypassed the sealant.
One of the battery packs was so corroded that it started exploding as he inspected it.
Here’s a link to the video in case you want to check it out:
Rich survived, but the video demonstrated that waterlogged Tesla batteries could cause harm.
An expert speaking to Green Car Reports said that though EV batteries are generally watertight, wiring and larger packers can become waterlogged and damaged if submerged in water.
Flood damage, whether caused by freshwater or saltwater, will likely damage an EV.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you check for the tell-tale signs of submersion – corrosion under the screws and carpets, muddy residue behind the taillights – before you purchase a used EV.
Interior moisture affects EVs and ICE cars the same way. Interior parts with moisture can support mold growth, which presents a health risk.
A study on the effects of mold exposure in indoor spaces – cars included – on asthma patients found that some species of mold increased the risk of severe asthma.
It’s, therefore, vital that you dry any moisture that spills inside your vehicle.
How Do You Wash an Electric Car?
The downsides of washing your EV in an automatic car wash probably do not seem that severe.
For most people, the pros of automatic washing 一convenience, low cost, speed一 outweigh the potential cons 一like faded paint, possible camera, and sensor interference.
While I agree, I’d recommend considering another option.
It’s best to wash an electric car by hand since it eliminates the dangers of cleaning an EV using an automatic car wash. Washing by hand reduces the risk of interfering with sensors and cameras that facilitate the car’s safety. It’s also more gentle to the EVs paint job.
To thoroughly hand wash an electric car, you’ll need the following:
Start by using the hose or pressure washer to get grime and dirt off the car’s surface.
It removes surface particles that can scratch or cause swirls when you start washing.
A pressure washer is the best tool for the job, but a hose can still work.
The EV is designed to withstand strong water jets, so you don’t have to worry about water getting in.
However, you’ll want to avoid spraying directly at the battery area for long periods.
Remember to spray the wheels as well: they usually have sticky grime and brake dust that’s particularly difficult to clean.
Preferably, use dedicated wash buckets with grit guards to help separate silt from the water.
A microfiber wash mitt works better than a sponge or cloth, as it is more gentle to the paint.
Remember to clean in straight lines and dip the mitt in the rinse bucket before returning it to the wash bucket.
Wash and rinse the whole car, including the wheels. Then, use the dry cloth to rid the car of streaks and pooled water.
I recommend that you wash your car under a shade during the cooler parts of the day.
It reduces the chances of ugly water spots forming on the car’s surface due to evaporation.
After that, use the glass cleaner to clean the windows. Spray the cleaner on a cloth and shine those windows.
Pro tip: A clay bar removes imperfections in the paint that you can feel by running your hands over the car.
Wax provides the paint with an added layer of protection.
Can You Wash an Electric Car While Charging?
You’ve learned that an electric car can resist water pretty well. You’ve also seen that the best way to wash your electric car is by handwashing.
With that information in mind (especially the part about water resistance) you’re probably wondering whether you can save some time by washing an electric vehicle while charging.
It is not safe to wash an electric car while charging. You risk damaging the charger and charging port by exposing them to water. Keep the charge door closed at all times when washing the EV.
Exposing the charging port and charger to water can damage the electrical system.
You don’t see people washing ICE vehicles while refueling because it’s plausible that water will enter the fuel tank.
Similarly, washing an EV while charging exposes vulnerable car parts to water damage.