There are a variety of ways to wash a car and they all have different environmental impacts. Washing a car at home the old fashioned way is probably the worst. The wash and rinse water is loaded with dirt, oil and detergent that ends up as run off into the storm drains and directly into rivers. My storm drain waters end up in the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. I have not washed a car at home in years as it was not a chore I enjoyed and never balked at the prices at the automatic car washes. I have to confess, I am not meticulous about keeping my car dirt free.
Traditional commercial car washes use less water than an average home user, and by US law they must drain their wastewater through the sewer system not the storm drains. So the water is treated and cleaned before being diverted to the ocean. Also many car washes recycle their own water.
When I owned the Roadster, I washed my car at two different places. A ‘touchless’ car wash and in one of those old fashioned places where you wash it yourself but they have higher pressure water for a few quarters. I had not washed a car myself in years, but the Roadster was so small it was a pretty easy job. I started to go to the touchless place more regularly till at one point they said no, the car is too low.
When I got the Model S, I figured I’d go back to the local touchless place. But when I got there they said they could not wash my car. I was a little perplexed and I had no idea why. The Model S manual warns you against the typical paint finish issues with any car.
Most automatic car washes in California work by pulling the car through the mechanisms while in neutral. With the 4.x software, forcing the car into neutral without a driver in it was not particularly straightforward. With the 5.x software there is a tow mode. I am still waiting for the software update.
I was not particularly fond of this car wash, so I started to look around where other Model S owners were getting their car washed, and I discovered a better car washing method that does not use water. I found a facility reasonably close that is much more ecologically correct. I have now been there three times. I mentioned earlier I am not very picky about having a clean exterior! Also every time the Tesla was in for service, Tesla had my car washed.
I am very satisfied with this waterless method. On a cost basis, the car wash is a little more expensive than a water based one, but I think not using water is worth the few extra dollars.
The employees and owners are informative and helpful. A lot of Tesla owners use this particular car wash. He said he has found a number of owners with the following three situations:
- Model S cars that used as family cars that are completely filthy on the inside
- Model S cars with a ton of scratches on the trunk, where people clearly put their groceries on top of the car and scratch up the finish.
- A lot of curb rash on the wheels.
I am guilty of curb rash, primarily in the front right wheel but I don’t have the other two problems.
I had noticed some grease near the moonroof, and he said that many Teslas have this problem and service can swap out the correct parts to stop the grease from appearing again on the roof. I will have service fix this when I go in for my annual service.