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I want to get into a washing routine because my car is always dirty. One of my friends uses a pressure washer all the time and says it does a great job. I'm not sure if I should buy one; what else would you suggest? - Brian in Pickering, Ont.

Your friend may be fond of the pressure washer because it requires less elbow grease than an old-fashioned hose or hand wash, but this method is not without opponents, especially among automotive enthusiasts.

Sure, a pressure washer can blast away grime and dirt, but those opposed say it can also damage a vehicle if you don't know what you're doing. You might force water into areas it's not meant to go, rip off trim or peel paint if you happen to hit a flaw.

When it comes to pressure washing, the concerns are more than just cosmetic. According to DEKRA, a German safety organization, it takes only five seconds of highly pressurized water aimed directly at a tire sidewall to damage or weaken it.

So are you risking your precious wheels by taking them through a touchless car wash? They're designed to use water pressure, which is carefully controlled to avoid these issues - but that's not the only reason you may prefer to leave your washing to the pros.

"In many areas, washing on your driveway has been banned for environmental reasons. I'm very involved with the Canadian Carwash Association, and their website has some good info on this," says Dianne Parker, one of six women who own Rims & Rovers Auto and Pet Wash in Beaumont, Alta.

"Basically it's because the soaps you use washing on your driveway don't get treated before going back into rivers and streams; whereas if you're at a professional car wash, it gets treated before going into the sewer system.

"If someone wants to wash on their driveway and there's no bylaw against it, a pressure washer is definitely the way to go, but your car will still never be as clean or look as good as going to a professional car wash," says Parker.

So what, exactly, could stop you from getting the same results as the professionals?

"It really depends on the product you're using. In our case, we use very high-end products and our water is softened, which makes a huge difference in how your car looks after it's been washed. We also use extremely hot water for washing and rinsing which also makes a difference," says Parker.

"How I explain it to people is it's no different than washing your dishes at home. Hot water cuts grease and removes the dirt a lot more effectively. You get road film on your vehicle from construction and chemicals in the air, and unless you cut that grease somehow it's only going to get so clean."

What other washing options do you have? There are those who claim that you'll never get a car as clean as you would with a bucket of water and proper car wash liquid, a clean brush or sponge and some elbow grease. You can have this professionally done, or bylaw-permitting, try it yourself.

A lamb's wool mitt or horse hair brush is recommended for washing by the experts at many professional hand-washing facilities. And for drying? A genuine chamois leather - also known as a shammy.

"The car needs to be rinsed off after washing, and all you really need is a chamois leather after that to dry and polish the car," says John Ettling, owner of Hutchings & Harding Ltd., where chamois leather cloths have been made since 1897.

"Because of the unique properties of a chamois leather, it absorbs water, and dries with a streak-free shine. This is all to do with the fact that it's sheep skin, which is a very open fibre structure, and tanned with fish oil."

If your heart is still set on a pressure washer, use it cautiously. Most manufacturers recommend keeping the spray wand at least 20 centimetres (eight inches) away from the vehicle surface - and remember to take it easy on the tires.

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