Can You Go Through An Automatic Car Wash With A Roof Rack?

You’re coming back from a great weekend of mountain biking on muddy terrain. You’ve unloaded your bikes from your handy roof rack and are ready to finally clean your filthy car at the nearest automatic car wash.

Roof racks can be a pain to remove, and you don’t feel like asking the gas station attendant for help. What’s the worst that can happen?

Should you go through an automatic car wash with a roof rack? How about a touchless car wash?

Keep reading to find out!

Can You Go Through an Automatic Car Wash With a Roof Rack?

a car with a lockable roof rack

No, you should not go through an automatic car wash with a roof rack. 

We get it. Removing roof racks before going through an automatic car wash can be a pain.

However, leaving it on could damage the roof rack and car and even put your passengers in danger.

Automatic car washes are characterized by ferociously spinning wheels covered in a thick microfiber cloth or foam strips.

They’re usually cheaper than other car washes because they’re not as advanced and simply wash every car in a similar method, regardless if it has a roof rack or not.

This means it doesn’t have sensors to detect the rack, so if it’s in the way, it will simply try to go through it rather than go over. If your rack is too tall for the car wash, it could be knocked off, damaging your car.

However, the biggest threat to your bike rack is the spinning wheels of cloth strips. As the name suggests, automatic car washes are meant to only be used on cars, which are smooth.

blue car with bike rack

However, bike racks are made of several poles and straps, which the strips of cloth can wrap around. Then, when the wheels pull away from the car, your bike rack will be pulled away with them.

In the best-case scenario, your roof rack will be torn off your car. In the worst-case scenario, your car’s body could be severely damaged.

There’s also the possibility that the car wash will damage your windows, especially if it’s still in motion while the roof rack is attached to the spinners.

If the window were to crack or break, you and your passengers could be injured.

And, although it may be obvious, you should absolutely never go through an automatic car wash with your bikes still attached to your roof rack.

Can You Go Through an Automatic Car Wash With a Hitch Rack?

A hitch bike rack of a car carries two bicycles

No, you should not go through an automatic car wash with a hitch rack. 

Although hitch racks aren’t sitting on top of a car like a roof rack, they still pose many of the same risks if kept on your car during an automatic car wash.

They have the same plastic or metal poles, which are easy for the spinners’ strips to wrap around.

Hitch racks are also close to your car’s rear windshield, which means they could break it if something goes wrong.

So, it’s best to remove them before using an automatic car wash, lest you end up with a hitch rack through your windshield.

How About a Touchless Car Wash?

touchless car wash

You can use a touchless car wash with a roof/hitch rack.

Touchless car washes only spray water and soap onto your car and are gentle enough to use with a bike rack.

There are no spinning wheels to wrap around the rack, and many touchless car washes also feature sensors that detect the closest object, so you don’t have to worry about the sprayers knocking into the rack.

Of course, you should also remove your bikes from the rack before going through these types of carwashes. The water can seep into the bearings and even chip your bike’s paint.

However, touchless car washes use pressurized water, which could knock the rack off your roof, especially if it’s improperly installed. In the event of this happening, the rack could slide down your windshield, possibly damaging it.

So, please be mindful of how your roof/hitch rack is installed and, if possible, opt for a less-pressurized option.

Tips for Washing Car with Roof Rack

Follow our tips and tricks for safely washing your car if you have a roof rack.

Now that you know to never go through an automatic car wash, let’s go over a few things to keep in mind the next you wash your car with a bike rack.

1. Prep Your Car for the Car Wash

man is removing his bike from the bike rack of his car

Before using an automatic car wash, remove your bikes and bike rack. It’s also best to close your side-view mirrors, as the spinners’ straps could wrap around them.

If you’re using a hitch rack, it’s best to replace the hitch ball, so water doesn’t get trapped in there.

If you’re using a touchless car wash and have decided to keep your rack mounted to your car, ensure it’s securely fastened in place.

Some roof racks can be laid flat when not in use. We recommend laying your rack flat, if possible, to prevent the pressurized water from knocking it out of place.

2. Hand Wash Your Car

man is washing his black car

We strongly advise hand washing your car if you must leave the bike rack on your car,.

As always, please remove your bikes before doing this since, unlike cars, they should not be sprayed down with a hose or pressurized water.

Hand washing your car at a gas station or at home will help ensure that your bike racks aren’t damaged since you will have more control over the water pressure, soap, sponges, and cloths.

Not to mention, it’s gentler on your car and will help preserve the paint. Just remember to replace your sponges and clean your microfiber cloths regularly!

Your roof racks only need a little rinse and do not need to be scrubbed or washed with hard chemicals.

It’s easier, cheaper, and better for your car and bike rack.

3. Invest in a Trunk Rack

car with a trunk rack

If you cannot hand wash your car and have trouble removing roof or hitch racks, we recommend investing in a trunk rack .

Although you cannot access your trunk while installed, trunk racks are super easy to strap onto your car and remove before going through an automatic car wash.

They’re also relatively light, so most people can pick up and install them without any help.

However, some trunk racks work best with bikes with a top tube, downtube, and seat tube, which gives the frame a triangle shape. Using other types of bike frames on these trunk racks could lead to uneven weight distribution.

So, make sure the bike rack supports your bike’s frame type before purchasing it.

If you’re interested in getting a trunk rack, but still aren’t sure if they’re the right for you, watch the video below demonstrating how to mount and remove a trunk rack in a matter of minutes!

Allen Sports Deluxe Trunk Mount Bike Rack Installation

Wrapping Things Up

Never go through an automatic car wash with any sort of bike rack attached to your car.

Not only could it damage your bike and car, but in rare cases, it could even injure you and your passengers.

It is, however, safe to have a bike rack on your car when using a touchless car wash.

If you don’t feel like constantly removing and replacing your roof or hitch rack, try getting a trunk rack, which is easier to install.

Have you ever gone through an automatic car wash with a bike rack? Let us know in the comments below!

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