PHILADELPHIA -- When you go to the car wash, are you overwhelmed by all the options? Do I really need a tire and wheel cleaner? What about a special undercarriage wash?
No one wants to throw money down the drain so before you go all-in, listen to what our Consumer Reports car care expert has to say.
Let's start with the basics: How often should you wash your car?
"It's not about doing it on a schedule. Instead, if you notice your car has mud, road salt or grime on it, that's the time to wash it," said Jon Linkov, Consumer Reports Auto Editor.
A good car wash is important to protect the paint and finish from dirt and other debris that can sometimes leave permanent marks like bird droppings, tree sap and bugs.
And what about the dizzying array of extras and add-ons? Are services like wheel shine and spray on wax worth the extra cost to help protect the car?
"Definitely skip the extras. They may make your car look nice, but they'll wear off fast," said Linkov
But there is one car wash extra you should buy once in a while, but not every time.
"The undercarriage wash -- get it done once a season to clean road salt off after a winter and mud and grime off after a wet spring," suggests Linkov.
Consumer Reports says automatic car washes tend to be less expensive than hand washes. They're a good option if you don't a lot of built-up grime. But of course, you won't get the attention to detail that a hand wash offers.
Whether you choose an automatic or hand wash, how do you know if you've chosen a car wash that will actually get the job done right?
"Check out the cars leaving the location, do they look clean? Super cheap car washes may use dirty towels, old, harsh brushes and rush your car through the process," said Linkov.
And try to find a car wash that sprays down the car before the wash cycle begins. CR says pre-soaking will get you on the road to clean, shiny car.
If you prefer to wash your car yourself, remember using the wrong kind of soap, such as dish detergent, can strip a car's finish. And using sponges for cleaning as many people do can leave swirl marks in the paint.
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