Can a Pickup Truck Go Through a Car Wash? 11 Tips for Safe Washing

Can you take a pickup truck through a car wash

You’ve just bought your new pickup truck, you’ve been driving for a couple of weeks, and it’s now grimy and dirty… but you’re lazy like me and don’t want to pay to wash it by hand, or do the job properly yourself?

I get it. We don’t always have time to do everything by hand, we lead busy lives.

But will your pickup truck go through the car wash and not get damaged?

Pickup trucks make up a huge percentage of vehicles on the United States roads, and as such car wash manufacturers ensure that most pickups will fit inside a car wash for a proper clean.

However, there are some considerations you need to take.

For example, lot of the time it will depend on how long the pickup truck is and whether you have any aftermarket add-ons bolted on.

At the very least, before you pay for your wash, check the car wash signage to see what restrictions the bay has on vehicle lengths and heights.

It’s so important to know the size of your truck and be aware of any modifications that the truck has had done to it.

Will a Ford F150 Fit in a Car Wash?

With the Ford F150 being the best-selling truck in the United States, you would think that all car wash operators would ensure that they can fit with no concerns. 

So, in most cases, yes, you can take your Ford F150 through a car wash.

But, it can depend on the truck’s package. For example, is it a Crew Cab, Extended Cab, Super Duty, or other size variation?

Some Ford F150s will fit in a car wash, others won’t. It depends on your own model, and the car wash that you are deciding to use. 

11 Tips for Taking a Pickup Truck Through a Car Wash

Before you take the plunge and drive your truck through your local car wash, here are some things you need to think about before doing so if you want to make sure you won’t get your pride and joy damaged.

#1: Choose Your Car Wash Carefully 

Not all car washes are made equal.

I always recommend that you choose a gas station that is modern and recently built. These guys are almost guaranteed to be able to take your truck into the car wash bay safely.

car wash pickup truck with tonneau cover
Will your pickup truck fit inside a car wash with a tonneau cover?

Whilst pickup trucks have increased in size, the older car washes have stayed the same and were designed for smaller vehicles so make your choice sensibly. 

If you can, find a dedicated car wash that has attendants who will wash the back window and tailgate manually for you.

#2: Choose a Car Wash That Uses Cloth and Not Brushes

Many old-fashioned car washes still use brushes rather than cloth, and these brushes can scratch your truck’s paintwork.

Even better, go for a touchless car wash as these only use high pressure jets, and don’t go near your vehicle with a brush or cloth.

#3: Measure Your Truck First

Use a tape measure and go from front to back, then ask the car wash operator if your pickup is going to fit properly.

Whilst you might think you know how long your truck is, nothing beats knowing for sure what your dimensions are, as specifications online aren’t always 100% accurate.

measure up
Don’t just measure your pickup truck before washing, but also check the dimensions of the car wash yourself too.

If the operator of the wash doesn’t know how much will fit into their wash, then also measure the bay before you drive in.

In truth, don’t take their word for it.

Always measure up before you drive into the bay. 

#4: Empty the Truck Bed

Sounds so obvious doesn’t it, but it’s easy to forget. 

Completely empty your truck bed before you take it through the car wash. Not just because it means you limit the chance of damage (poorly insulated LED lighting being an example), but it’s also due to safety.

Car washes can flip and throw items that aren’t secured, and there have been reports where tool boxes have been flung from a truck bed due to the high pressures involved.

#5: Fold the Side Mirrors In

Some side mirrors won’t be compatible with the car washing process, and could jut out too far on longer trucks against the car wash mechanism. 

Regardless, I always fold mine in as have heard reports of side mirrors being taken clean off by car washes.

Don’t be that guy.

#6: Make Sure the Windows Up

Yep, it really does happen.

If you don’t want your truck interior to become a fish tank on wheels then check, double check, then triple check again that the windows are completely up. 

#7: Be Aware of Raised Suspensions and Oversized Tires

If you have modified your truck with oversized or off-road tires, then the car wash might not be for you.

Similarly, with radically raised suspensions, you might simply be too high to fit in the car wash without the risk of damaging your truck.

large truck
Yep, this might not just fit into your local car wash for obvious reasons!

Any aftermarket accessory that you have on your pickup truck could present a problem at the car wash and prevent you from taking your truck through the bay safely.

#8: Watch Who Goes Through the Car Wash Before You

If possible, hang back to see who goes through the car wash first.

If you don’t see a vehicle entering first, you have no idea on the state of the vehicle that wa previously washed.

Whilst some older car washes do recycle water, the modern ones don’t. But even so, there could be some debris left on the brushes that could damage your paintwork.

If a vehicle with heavy dirt and debris goes before you, some of that crud could be left over, leading to scratches on your pickup bodywork.

And nobody wants that.

#9: Be Wary of After Wash Wipe Downs

Many car washes will be heated air after the wash to get rid of water still on your vehicle.

Once that’s done, there might then be an attendant who will wipe your truck down with a cloth.

This is where damage can occur, especially if they are using dirty clothes that haven’t been changed out since the previous visitor.

wipe down
Be wary about after wash wipe downs as they could damage your truck’s paintwork.

If you get a wipe down from a dirty cloth, then there’s every chance that you’re going to get dirt and abrasives scratched into your paintwork – just like sandpaper.

Not good.

There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t simply drive away after the wash, and let your pickup truck dry off naturally.

Then when you get home use a spray cleaner to get rid of any water stains yourself.

#10: Don’t Worry About the Spray on Waxing

Don’t pay for spray on wax.

Whilst it might look good in the short term, it won’t have the UV resistant properties in it like a hand-applied wax will.

You might as well spend your own money on a proper wax and protectant and do a proper job which will help to prolong the life of your pickup truck. 

#11: Check Your Truck Before You Drive Off

Every single car wash will have some small print on a sign somewhere that states the proprietor is not responsible for any damage that might occur.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hold them to account should their equipment damage your truck.

If you do see something that you think was caused by the car wash, immediately ask to speak with the owner or manager.

Whether they are liable or not, many car wash operators will offer to fix up any problems to keep the reputation for customer service.

If they refuse to help you then I would advise that you take the matter up with the company franchise itself, as many of them are run by big name gas station brands.

Take a photo to support your claim and put everything in writing.

Do Car Washes Recycle Water?

In one of the previous tips I mentioned the recycling of dirt water.

This could be a concern if you are thinking about taking your pickup truck through a car wash, but is it a valid concern?

Not really.

I spoke with a guy who owns a number of car washes throughout the United States including brush types, self-serve units, and no touch facilities.

He told me that no car washes that he knows of recycle water.

He said that the ones that might, would be just the ones where high-pressure rinse passes are used.

In fact, he said that 99% of the time, the car wash you use for your pickup truck will be using water that is going to be of far better quality than the stuff that comes out of the tap in your own home.

Final Thoughts

Do I recommend taking a pickup truck through a car wash?

Not really.

Have I done it myself?

Yes, I have.

But nothing beats a proper hand wash where you can do a better job safe in the knowledge that you won’t be risking damage to your truck.

After all, a garden hose, buckets, and cloths can get into the nooks and crannies that a car wash can never get into.

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Josh Henderson

Hi I'm Josh and I'm a huge pickup enthusiast. I started this website in 2018 in order to share all my projects and custom mod tips that I've done with my own Ford F-150.

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