The main question people ask is whether you can or can not wash your car with a bike rack installed. The answer depends on a car wash type:
- When it comes to the standard automatic car washes (with brushes that physically contact your car), you must not go through it with a bike rack mounted. All producers of bike racks clearly state it in the instructions,
- Touchless car washes (both automatic and handheld pressure washes), on the other hand, can be used with a bike rack installed nine times out of ten (will discuss some precautions further in the article).
In case you are concerned that a high-pressure car wash can damage the bike rack, in my practice, I have never heard such stories. In fact, basically all bike racks (excluding maybe the cheapest models) are designed to withstand very hostile conditions (all sorts of road pollutants, etc.) so interaction with water under high pressure won’t be a problem for them.
Before moving further, does not matter which car wash we are talking about, you must not wash your car with a bike car rack installed and bikes loaded. It can damage your car, the car wash and the bikes as well.
Can you go through an automatic car wash (with brushes) with a bike rack?
As I have mentioned earlier, you can not go through an automatic car wash with brushes having a bike rack installed (does not matter which bike rack type you have, trunk-mount, roof or hitch, all are prohibited), because parts of the car wash system can easily tangle in the bike rack causing very serious damage not only to your car but the car wash as well:
- The worst thing that can happen is that the top part of the car wash system will fall off. It will inevitably severely damage the roof of your car though your problems do not end here. You will also be paying for the car wash system damage because basically all of them have a sign that tells that you can not use it with car bike racks,
- Your bike rack can get pulled off by the car wash system. The damage will be done not only to the bike rack itself but to your car as well.
It is true that some bike rack types (such as roof bike racks) pose much more significant risks than others (such as trunk-mount racks or hitch racks). However, I would not recommend taking your chances with any bike rack type anyway. It does not worth it since it is not a big deal to take off a bike rack and put it back after, which will probably take less than 5 minutes.
Even though you might get away with going through an automatic brushes car wash, it may affect your warranty. For example, Thule T2 Pro XTR 2 clearly state that you must not do it. Other manufactures include a similar clause as well.
Can you go through a touchless automatic car wash with a bike rack attached?
Here it gets a bit more tricky.
In most instructions, there is a clause that says you can not go through an automatic car wash (without any specification whether it is a contact or touchless car wash, which means that both are prohibited).
In reality, you can easily go through a touchless car wash since the car wash system won’t contact any elements of your car including the bike rack. Yes, in theory, it can affect your warranty. In practice, I have never heard that someone got a bike rack damaged this way.
However, there is a super important precaution that must be taken. Before going through a touchless car wash, make sure that your car with a bike rack installed will actually fit since different car washes allow different car sizes.
Especially it is important for roof bike racks. Trunk-mount racks and hitch racks won’t cause any problems.
A smart thing to do would be to consult somebody from the car wash staff and get direct approval.
The last thing to mention here is that you’d better not go through a touchless automatic car wash with bikes mounted. It can easily damage your bikes. Moreover, with bikes loaded a bike rack can become significantly larger in size so your car simply won’t fit.
Can you wash your car with a handheld pressure washer and a bike rack installed?
There is no reason you can’t do it. Every car bike rack is designed to be used outside of your car and be in contact with the environment. As a result, it will be interacting with sometimes quite hostile conditions, and water (even if it is under high pressure) won’t be the greatest enemy of your bike rack.
Just don’t do it with bikes loaded since it can wash away oils and lubricants. You are even likely to damage the tires since those are not designed to withstand high pressure (very opposite to car tires).
Summing up, you can not go through an automatic car wash with brushes and a bike rack installed. Under no circumstances.
Even though the manufacturers do not encourage it (or even directly prohibit), you can go through a touchless car wash with a bike rack mounted. Nothing bad will happen given that you have made sure that your car does not exceed the car wash’s allowed size.
Handheld pressure washers can be used to wash cars with a bike rack.
Under no circumstances do not wash your car with bikes loaded on a bike rack and you are going to be fine.