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You should never have to wash a car. Ever.

2017-02-02 10:53

Lance Branquinho

NO WATER NEEDED: Lance Branquinho says most modern cars don't require paint to protect the bodywork. Image: Lance Branquinho


Watch as the Bentley Bentayga cleans its headlights by squirting a water onto the 'dirty' areas.

Cape Town - South Africa is a preciously water scarce country with the tremendous demands on this resource from a not at all insignificant population number and significant industrialisation. 

During extreme weather fluctuations, such as the current drought in Cape Town, resource allocation of water becomes critical. It’s why Capetonians are not allowed to wash their cars with municipal water anymore. From this week

As an automotive enthusiast this troubles me greatly. The ban on car washing. Because, in principle, you shouldn’t ever have to wash a modern car. It’s a water resource problem most avoidable. 

Cars are painted for two reasons

We’re drawing from the empty well of ill-considered industrial design. Cars are painted for two reasons: product differentiation and oxidisation prevention. Plainly? We paint them to give car-buyers the illusion of individualisation (think Smartphone covers) and protect them from rust. Which are both ridiculously outdated design principles. 

The environmental cost of painting a car is scandalous. It’s the most toxic and involved element of any automotive assembly operation, with rampant cost implications to adhere to pollution prevention best practices. So unnecessary. 

Compounding the issue is a design fallacy of painting cars in the brightest gloss finishes imaginable, which make them contrast hugely with the earth tones of their driven environment. Unsurprisingly, they appear dirty all the time and burden you with the expectation of washing with water. Smeg kitchen accessories are disarmingly attractive in their bold lacquer finishes, but you keep a Smeg inside, not out on the street where dust, grime and grease can attach to it, ruining the aesthetic. 

Aluminium doesn’t require a speckle of paint

There is no sound design or engineering reason to paint a modern car. When all cars were steel, yes, the layer of paint was part decorative, but crucial to counter rust. 

In the good year of 2017 many cars have an exterior comprising aluminium panels – and this is a metal that doesn’t rust. True, it can suffer galvanic oxidation when put in contact with another metal, creating metal fatigue over time, but if you treat the aluminium with electrocoating, and consider the material composition of bolts used, it’s fine. And aluminium doesn’t require a speckle of paint to last a very long time.

Imagine that. Cars finished in raw aluminium. Obviously you wouldn’t want to polish them to a brilliant finish in a sunlight generous country like South Africa, to avoid distracting road glare to other drivers. But, if modern cars were finished in faded earth tones, with an anodised finish, they would never appear dirty due to their convergent hue with the dominant natural colours of the environment surrounding them. 

You could dry wipe really unsightly stains off your car but you’d never need to fill bucket after bucket to wash it, and hose off, before arduously having to wipe in the hope of preventing water streaks. 

It’s unnecessary madness, these decorative cars with their outlandish paint finishes. There is a better way. 

Technology has evolved

Whereas for many decades Land Rover Defenders were the only aluminium automotive options, finding a steel surface car that is not a heavy duty bakkie in the contemporary market is rare. And even the paragon of toughness, the bakkie, no longer requires steel as its primary surfaced material. 

Ford’s F-150 series, which is on a balance of averages the world’s best selling vehicle, is now aluminium skinned, not steel – to save weight and improve its longevity with superior corrosion resistance. 

Technology has evolved. Wouldn’t it be great if we could safeguard our water supply and indulge our love of car culture, by removing the paint from most new ones – which are aluminium underneath, and therefore in no need of enamel? 

Imagine the creativity yielded by this guilt-free automotive ownership status – and of all those vinyl artworks or embossed designs you could apply to your raw or anodised aluminium car for individualisation instead. 


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