Going through a car wash with your beloved bikes strapped to the back can be a daunting experience. Will the brushes scrub too hard and damage your expensive carbon fiber frames? Could the high-pressure jets blast your racks right off the vehicle?
This comprehensive guide will give you the definitive answer on taking your rack-mounted bikes through the suds. We’ll also provide tips to make sure you emerge with a sparkling clean car and undamaged bikes.
The Short Answer
Most bike racks are indeed car wash safe, but there are some precautions you should take. Avoid touchless and soft-cloth automatic washes. Hand washing or touchless self-service washes are best. For drive-through washes, choose cloth brushes and inform attendants beforehand. Lower or remove valuable bikes. Secure racks tightly. Skip the undercarriage wash. Then roll through slowly and cautiously.
To Wash or Not To Wash? Key Factors To Consider
While many racks and bikes can make it through unscathed, there are some risks to consider:
Type of Bike Rack
- Hitch racks tend to be the sturdiest option if secured properly. The bikes are held away from the vehicle.
- Roof racks can flex more, causing bikes to sway. Use extra caution.
- Trunk racks are the most susceptible to damage. Avoid automatic washes.
- Spare tire racks won’t clear undercarriage brushes. Hand washing only.
Type of Bike
- Road/racing bikes have exposed gears and derailleurs that brushes could catch on.
- Mountain bikes with chunky, protected tires and frames tend to hold up better.
- Carbon fiber bikes are very expensive to repair if damaged by brushes. Exercise extreme care or avoid automated washes entirely.
Type of Car Wash
- Touchless automatic washes use harsh spray pressure that can dislodge bike racks.
- Soft cloth automatic washes have wrapping brushes that can bend wheels or catch on bike parts. Higher risk of damaging bikes.
- Touchless self-serve bays give you control of the spray wand. Safer for bikes.
- Hand washing is the gentlest, but most time-consuming method.
- Drive-through automatic washes with cloth bristle brushes are reasonable if you take proper precautions.
Preparing Racks And Bikes For The Car Wash
Take a few key steps before entering any car wash to minimize risks:
Secure The Rack
First and foremost, your bike rack must be solidly mounted to the vehicle.
- Hitch racks should be tightly fastened to the receiver. Ensure any bolts or knobs are fully tightened.
- Roof racks should have their straps cinched down over the crossbars tightly. Tie down any loose straps.
- Trunk racks often rely on foam pads or straps. Check that bikes are anchored firmly to the pads and straps are ratcheted tightly.
- Spare tire racks should have a reinforced vertical arm with a secure bolt mount. Verify bikes are held snugly.
Doing a vigorous shake test on the racked bikes before going through a wash can reveal any looseness issues that should be corrected.
Lower Or Remove Valuable Bikes
If you have very expensive, exotic, or easily-damaged bikes on the rack like lightweight carbon fiber road bikes, consider removing them first and keeping them safely indoors.
Leaving them mounted to racks greatly increases the risk of cosmetic or structural damage from car wash brushes and mechanism. Don’t put your $10,000 Pinarello Dogma at risk for the sake of convenience!
If removing the bikes isn’t practical, at least lower the bike rack if possible so the bikes are closer to the ground and father away from brushes along the sides.
Fold In Loose Parts
Make sure any bike parts that could catch on brushes are secured:
- Fold in side mirrors to avoid them getting tangled in brushes.
- Fold down or remove flags on the racks.
- Tilt saddles parallel to frames.
- Rotate any handlebars perpendicular to frames.
- Check for any loose accessories like pumps and straps that could fly off.
Wash The Bikes First
If you’re doing a hand wash or self-serve wash, always clean the bikes first before the vehicle. This prevents any dirt or grit from the car’s body from splashing onto the bikes. Use a low-pressure hose or hand sponge gently around bike frames.
When using a drive-through wash with brushes, tell the wash attendants beforehand that your vehicle has bikes attached. They may directive you to a certain track or use extra care around the rack.
No Undercarriage Washes
Skip the undercarriage spray if possible. The high-powered underbody jets can damage bikes on hitch or spare tire racks. Most car washes offer undercarriage spray as an optional add-on.
If avoiding it isn’t possible, keep the wash selection on the lowest pressure setting.
Driving Through The Wash Cautiously
Once you’ve prepped the racks and bikes properly, navigating the wash involves a few key maneuvers:
Resist the urge to blast through the wash entrance or exit like a Top Gun pilot. Mosey through at a slow walking speed to avoid abrupt swaying of the bikes on racks. Sudden stops or acceleration can make the bikes rock violently.
Follow Attendant Guidance
If a wash employee is directing you, follow their signals precisely. They’ll often delay brushes if needed and make sure you’re positioned optimally as you traverse the conveyor line. Don’t enter or exit out of turn.
If you have roof or trunk racks, consider rolling down the windows and bracing a hand lightly on the bikes as you pass through. This helps minimize sway and jostling. Just don’t actually grab on or you could get pulled into the mechanism!
Pause Between Stages
On conveyor systems, pauses naturally occur between wash stages as you coast from water spray to soap brushes etc. During these gaps, you can quickly check that the bikes aren’t shifting or tilting. If needed, reach out and nudge them back into proper alignment cautiously.
Pull Out If Needed
Don’t be shy about pulling out of the wash tunnel if something comes loose or starts rubbing despite your prep work. It’s better to re-enter later than damage your bikes and rack trying to get through on one attempt.
Some wash mechanisms require you to keep driving slowly at 2-3mph through the entire tunnel, even when no brushes or spray are contacting the car. This maintains proper spacing. Don’t halt the vehicle even if it seems brush-free.
Expert Tips To Keep Your Racks And Bikes Safe
Beyond the above basics, there are some pro moves that can further minimize risks:
- Use car wash gift cards during slow times to reduce waiting. Don’t rush!
- Briefly warm your engine before going through, which loosens dirt.
- Rotate handles perpendicular and pedals parallel to frames.
- Remove clip-on accessories like mirrors, pumps, bags.
- Zip-tie dangling frame fittings like derailleurs.
- Turn drop-handlebars perpendicular to brush direction.
- Wrap towels/pool noodles around vulnerable spots if very concerned.
- Apply car wax 1-2 days before for a lubricating layer of protection.
- Rinse first with low-pressure hose if washing by hand.
- Avoid washing bikes and vehicles in direct sunlight if possible. Let surfaces cool first.
- Dry bikes by gently blotting with a chamois cloth. Don’t rub!
- Re-lubricate chains afterwards and check bolts for any wash-induced loosening.
Can the Bicycle Chain Grease Stain Transfer onto the Car Wash Brushes?
If you need to remove bicycle chain grease from clothing, it’s crucial to prevent any transfer of stains. However, it’s highly unlikely for the bicycle chain grease stain to transfer onto the car wash brushes. The brushes are designed to clean vehicles and are not prone to absorbing or transferring grease stains. So, you don’t need to worry about contaminating the car wash brushes while cleaning your bicycle chain grease stains.
Choosing The Best Wash Type With Mounted Bikes
Now let’s examine the pros and cons of various car wash approaches when racks and bikes are in the mix:
These conveyor systems use only high-powered spray nozzles without brushes.
- No fabric strips or brushes that can stick and drag on parts.
- Fast and convenient end-to-end washing.
- High water pressure can vibrate and shift bike racks, loosening frames.
- No washing assistance from brushes on very dirty vehicles.
- Overspray can blast grit onto bikes from the car’s body.
- Pricey compared to self-serve.
Verdict: Too harsh for bikes. Avoid if possible.
Soft Cloth Automatic
Rolling wraparound curtains and strips massage the car.
- Thorough wash of vehicle with fabric strips.
- Convenient drive-through process.
- Cloth can wrap around and bend wheels.
- Brushes may catch on gearing, pedals, accessories.
- Bikes sway more, increasing paint scratching.
Verdict: Significant bike damage risks. Use with great caution.
Wash the car yourself with a handheld high-pressure wand.
- You control where spray aims, avoiding bikes.
- Can wash bikes first with light spray pressure.
- Cheaper than automated options.
- Requires more physical effort.
- Challenge to spray car’s roof and higher points.
- No mechanical brushing assistance on body.
Verdict: Much safer for bikes and racks.
The traditional DIY approach with sponges and buckets of soapy water.
- Most gentle cleaning of paint and bikes.
- Complete control over the wash motions.
- Satisfaction of hands-on washing.
- Very time consuming. At least 60-90 minutes.
- Requires bending and reaching all around the vehicle.
- Drying can leave water spots if not done carefully.
Verdict: Safest but most laborious.
Conveyor wash tunnels with dangling cloth bristle brushes.
- Thorough wash results from cloth brushes.
- Faster than self-serve or hand washing.
- Brushes can avoid bikes if positioned properly.
- Bristles can still catch on parts if not cautious.
- Bikes sway more than self-serve.
- Attendants may not take enough care around racks.
Verdict: Reasonable choice with preparation and caution.
Key Takeaways: Washing Vehicles With Mounted Bikes
To summarize the definitive guide on taking your bike-rack enclosed vehicle through the car wash:
- Most modern racks and bikes can indeed go through washes if proper precautions are taken. But risks do exist.
- Avoid touchless automated washes. The intense spray pressure can dislodge racks.
- Skip soft-cloth automatic washes. The wrapping brushes often snag on bikes and parts.
- Touchless self-serve is the safest DIY option. You control the spray wand around bikes gently.
- Hand washing is most gentle but extremely laborious. Use if you have exotic bikes.
- Drive-through washes with cloth bristles are reasonable if done carefully. Inform attendants of bikes.
- Secure racks extra tightly. Remove high-end carbon fiber bikes if possible. Watch swaying around brushes.
- Enter/exit slowly. Brace bikes lightly as needed through tunnel. Never halt mid-wash.
Follow these best practices and you can cruise through the suds with your bikes and racks intact, emerging with a sparkling clean vehicle ready to carry you to the next backroads adventure. Just take it nice and slow!
Mahin Abrar is a passionate writer and outdoor enthusiast. As a regular contributor to Bikepics.net, Mahin shares his knowledge and experiences in the fields of biking, cycling, hiking, and camping. With a deep understanding of these activities and a keen eye for detail, he offers valuable insights and practical advice to help readers get the most out of their adventures. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, Mahin's writing is sure to inspire you and guide you on your journey.