Whale Watching: The Value of Washing Your Truck
All Washed Up
I occasionally get dirty glances from the local-resident water police who apparently have little better to do than wander around searching for people using water in an abhorrent way: washing a car or truck. I can only imagine what the particulate emissions from my barbecue would do to them (they’d lose any argument when I asked if they smoked a cigarette as seldom as I grill) or see the puff of start smoke from my mechanical-injection diesel. But I’m not going to stop cooking outdoors and using the old diesel occasionally, and I’m certainly not going to stop washing vehicles.
I learn far too much about them doing so.
In this business, vehicles are typically borrowed from manufacturers, and one of the agreement’s stipulations is the vehicle is returned—less normal wear and tear—as it was handed out. I may be in the minority, but interpret that to include reasonably clean and with a full fuel tank, so I clean a lot of different cars and trucks. Not as many as a car wash, but I can do it on 10 gallons of water, likely less than evaporates off the water police’s pool in a week.
Since water tends to magnify things and make them shinier, washing a truck gives you a clue if the paint job is a good one and brings out flaws and imperfections better. You probably know before it gets wet what is decal and what isn’t, but when that decal grabs your sheepskin mitt on a wet pass you have to wonder how long it will remain affixed. I’ve never owned anything stickered so I can’t give an average lifetime.
Washing will show you how good the panel fit is, how slippery (or not) the spray-in bedliner is when wet, and how well stake pockets, in-bed tie-downs and side steps drain. I never thought it a big deal until I left a pickup—with side “steps” more like ledges parked outside in the rain, listing slightly to starboard because of road crown. When the rain quit everything got cold and that undrained ledge formed an ice skating rink overnight.
With a little thought you can imagine the stamping process complexity that carved the sharp character line in your broadsides and where the rust will form first: Rocker panel at the wheelwells, inside the fuel door, the bottom corner of the windshield, or…? You may also be able to predict how snow-packing might affect forward vision because the fog light nacelles will plug up if you don’t keep them on and heated, or how a minute or two at speed on a muddy road will make your taillights marginal and license plate completely illegible. And if the wash water collects in some flange at the bottom of the wheel, it’s plausible snow, salt, mud, and sand will pack up in the same place, leading to rusty or out-of-balance steel wheels.
Don’t stop outside either. A few minutes inside tells if you can reach the far dash corners or if anything you drop beside the seats gets permanent residency. You’ll find how much crap collects in shift boots, lever-release indentations, too-deep seatback pockets, and carpet edges where your gas pedal and dead pedal heels go—and why they all wear out so fast. Far and away I get the most nicks and cuts vacuuming even though you’d think the area under a front seat—where all the sandal-clad or bare feet of rear seat riders end up—simply wouldn’t have so many sharp edges beneath it.
So next time you test drive a truck, new or used, ask if you can take it home and wash it. You’ll learn a lot.