Do waterless car washes actually work?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who is considering a waterless car wash product.

Rental cars that have not been rented sit in a shopping center parking lot.
–AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Q. What do you think of waterless car wash? I have seen these products, and I worry about scratching the paint.

A. I believe the best method to wash a car is using water and dedicated car wash soap, especially if the car is really dirty. Now, if you are good about regular washing and there is no caked-up mud and grit, the waterless wash products work well and save water. You’ll need plenty of microfiber cloths and you’ll need to be patient and let the wash products emulsify the dirt. One of the most important techniques is to only clean in one direction while rolling the cloth, so you always have a clean edge. Another benefit is that waterless cleaners add a little extra shine to the paint.

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Q. Do anti-lock brakes and traction and stability control systems cause additional brake wear??

A. Stability control systems will apply the brakes to prevent skidding, and traction control systems will apply the brakes selectively to prevent wheel spin. Under normal circumstances these systems are not operating. To me any additional brake wear (I believe it to be very little) is well worth the extra safety of these systems.

Q. I’m looking at full-sized pick-up trucks and have always owned Chevrolets and Fords. Although they have been fine, I’m thinking of something else. I really like the looks of the Nissan Titan. What do you think of it??

A. The 2020 Titan has been pretty thoroughly updated with a much better nine-speed transmission and additional safety electronics such as automatic emergency braking and intelligent cruise control. The ride is comfortable, the interior is roomy and comfortable, and the performance from the V-8 engine is quite good. Of course the tradeoff for engine performance is fuel economy. During my last road test of the 2020 Titan I only averaged about 16 miles per gallon. My other criticism is some vehicles “drive” bigger or smaller than their actual size. The Titan to me felt bigger than its actual size, making some tight maneuvers more tedious.

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Q. I have a summer convertible — an old but still fun Mazda Miata. The top is worn and has a hole in it. Short of replacing it, is there a way to patch it? I tried duct-tape, but it just peeled off. The car is 20 years old and it just isn’t worth the $700-$900 I’ve been quoted to replace the top.?

A. Depending on where the holes are, you may be able to patch the top. I have seen some kits that come with a piece of topping material, cleaner, and glue. It works like patching a bicycle tube or a tent. The other technique that seems to work is using some liquid rubber. I have seen some okay results using Flex-Seal. Goop it on and let it dry. It isn’t pretty, but it is better than water dripping on your head.?

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to?jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

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