An automatic car wash may seem like a quick and easy way to keep your car looking fresh and clean.
However, your vehicle may look worse than before it came in if it gets damaged.
You can go through a car wash with an antenna, but it is usually best to remove or retract the antenna before entering to avoid damage. A car wash’s moving components like mechanical arms, rotating brushes, and blower housings can hit and damage your antenna.
Aside from discussing the potential damage automatic car washes can cause to your vehicle’s antenna, this article will cover how to prevent damage and what you should do if your car sustains any.
I will also tackle the different car washes and tell you which one is the least harmful for your vehicle.
Can You Go Through a Car Wash With an Antenna?
You can go through a car wash with an antenna, but you probably shouldn’t if you want to keep it safe. Most antennas are flexible, but going through a car wash can still cause them to bend and snap off during different stages of the washing process.
The Washing Process
To better understand how your antenna can break when going through a car wash, let’s go over the typical stages of a car wash to determine how and when the potential damage can occur.
The Configuration Stage
Before your car goes through the car wash tunnel, an attendant will approach you to ask you what type of wash you want, be it a regular car wash or one with extra services.
Once you choose the services you want, the attendant will then configure the car wash based on the size of your vehicle so that the cleaning mechanisms align better with your car.
Do note in most cases, the size settings are very generic, so there may or may not be enough clearance for the mechanical arms to clear your antenna.
The Pre-soak Stage
The first step in washing your car is running through high-pressure water to loosen the dirt.
This process involves going through a metal arch with nozzles on it.
If your antenna manages to clear the metal arch and pressure from the water, its next challenge will be making it through the curtain, where long strips of cloth move back and forth to give your vehicle a thorough wipe down.
The cloth is typically soft, but it may have enough force to damage your antenna.
Foam Application and Scrubbing
Once the loose dirt has washed off your car, the next step involves foam application and scrubbing to give your car a more thorough cleaning.
The risk of your antenna breaking during foam application is minimal since the pressure used to apply the foam is not strong.
However, the scrubbing stage uses 2 to 4 large cylinders with small soft cloths that spin at 90 revolutions per minute, which can cause damage to your antenna.
The initial rinse follows the scrubbing stage. During this rinse, rotating jets spray water at your vehicle at 1000 pounds per square inch of pressure (70307 kilograms per square meter).
This water will shoot off all of the soap and dirt left on your car, but it could also snap off your antenna.
Final Rinse and Drying
The final rinse does not use high-pressure water, but the metal arch where the nozzles are can still hit your antenna.
Drying then takes place using a blower. Car wash attendants can also complete this step with hand towels.
This part of the wash is the least likely to damage your antenna, granted that it’s still there.
Depending on the car wash and the services you selected, the attendants may repeat several stages of the wash process, further increasing the chances of damage to your antenna.
Can You Go Through a Car Wash With a Shark Fin Antenna?
Many modern cars now use shark fin antennas and other antennas with secure mounting spots.
You can go through a car wash with a shark fin antenna, but it may still be prone to damage. If your shark fin antenna is factory installed, it should withstand a car wash. However, if the antenna is an aftermarket product, its strength will depend heavily on its adhesive.
Vehicle designers use these antennas increasingly since they resist theft and damage from wind and car washes.
They are also more aesthetically appealing and cost less since manufacturers can use one shark fin antenna for multiple bands instead of several other antennas.
Shark fin antennas are shorter and more streamlined than conventional rod-type antennas, making them less susceptible to damage.
So, shark fin antennas are more likely to resist the potential damages a car wash poses, but only if they are secure.
If you didn’t use the proper glue to adhere the shark fin antenna to your vehicle, it might still come off while you’re at the car wash.
What To Do if a Car Wash has Damaged Your Antenna?
Many car wash establishments will have notices stating they are not liable for any damage to your vehicle.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should just leave your broken antenna on the ground.
If a car wash has damaged your antenna, ask to speak to the car wash owner or anyone in authority. Explain to them that your antenna was destroyed at their facility and ask for an incident report. Documenting the incident might come in handy if you want to make an insurance claim.
Some establishments make it their responsibility to remove the antenna before the car enters the car wash tunnel.
So, the car wash personnel should still have a certain degree of duty to ensure your vehicle does not get damaged.
There are no guarantees, but some car wash managers may agree to pay or at least provide some form of compensation for good customer service.
Other Parts of Your Car That Can Get Damaged at a Car Wash
The antenna may be one of the most vulnerable parts of your car when going through a car wash, but other parts of your vehicle are at risk.
So, aside from removing your antenna, there are other precautions you could take to prevent any damage to your car.
Windshield wipers should be able to withstand wind and water.
However, the cloth from the rollers can still get caught on the wipers and snap them off, mainly if the wipers are not in their default position.
So, before entering the car wash tunnel, ensure that the wipers are down.
Side View Mirrors
Your car’s side-view mirrors stand a greater risk of damage the farther they extend out.
Hence, keep them folded inwards during the car wash process to prevent them from getting hit by any machinery moving around.
A car’s paint finish is also susceptible to damage.
The wear and tear may not be immediately apparent, but simply wiping a dirty vehicle can cause micro-scratches that will accumulate over time.
Automated car washes that are poorly maintained can significantly harm your car’s paint.
It helps to add a layer of protection to your car’s topcoat by applying protection such as ceramic coating.
What Type of Car Wash Is the Safest for Your Car?
There are different types of car wash facilities and equipment.
It’s essential to know how each facility is different to understand better the risks involved in having your car washed there.
The safest car wash for your car is a touchless car wash. Touchless car washes do not come into contact with your vehicle, so they won’t knock off your antenna, racks, and mirrors. In addition, they are usually the best for your car’s paint job.
Brush-Type Car Wash
Older car washes used stiffer and more abrasive brushes than the soft cloth material found in newer car wash facilities.
These brushes can easily scratch your paint finish or leave unwanted swirl marks, so it’s best to avoid them.
Soft-Cloth Car Wash
Many car wash establishments use soft cloth materials for scrubbers and microfiber curtains.
This material is less abrasive to your car’s paint but can still be harmful if not properly maintained.
Dirt, sand, and salt can contaminate the cloth, and if the car wash attendants do not clean them regularly, the caked-on dirt and debris can also scratch your car’s paint.
Touchless Car Wash
As the name suggests, the touchless car wash leaves your car untouched.
Instead of using brushes or cloth, it relies purely on high-pressure water and air to clean your vehicle.
This type of car wash is the safest for your vehicle.
However, that also depends on the chemicals they use, which are usually more potent than other car washes.
Another drawback to using this car wash is that it generally does not clean your vehicle as thoroughly as other automated car wash facilities.