Anything less than 2000 PSI should be fine for pressure washing your car to get it clean. Most cheap small electric pressure washers likely won’t come close to this amount of pressure but should be more than adequate for washing a car. Gas powered pressure washers are more likely to be able to achieve more than 2000 PSI of pressure and you should take care to ensure that you are not using one that would be above this. You also don’t want to get the tip of the pressure washer too close to the car. This concentrates the force and you also run the risk of accidentally scratching the finish with the tip of the sprayer. I good way to ensure that your spray tip is far enough away from the vehicle and the pressure isn’t too high is to find a distance from the sprayer that you can place your hand without it becoming too uncomfortable to hold there. If your hand can take the force then your car or truck should be able to handle it as well. If you’re in the market for a quality pressure washer but don’t know what is best, we highly recommend the Karcher K4 for its build quality, water cooled design, long hose, and long power cord.
Most gas pressure washers produce far too much pressure to be used for cleaning a car or truck. You’re much better off with an electric pressure washer. One good point to be aware of however with electric power washers is that some can not be used with an extension cord. Be sure that you are either purchasing a power washer with enough cord length or purchase one that is compatible with an extension cord.
Whether you go with a gas or an electric pressure washer, you want to use one that will produce between 1200 PSI and 1900 PSI or 1.4 GPM to 1.6 GPM. This will be ideal for removing stubborn road grime without harming the finish. If you intend to use the touchless method to wash your car you’ll definitely want to purchase one that is in this power range. If you plan to wash your car or truck less frequently and will be using the 2 bucket method then a lower power pressure washer will be fine for most people and allow you to save a few dollars. The touchless method isn’t terribly effective on very dirty vehicles and should be done every few weeks if this is your plan.
In addition to ensuring you have the correct pressure, you also should make sure that you’re using the correct nozzle. The best nozzle for car washing is the 40 degree nozzle. The 40 degree nozzle is typically white. The green 25 degree nozzle is good for wheels and a serious rinse of your car prior to washing but be sure to keep a good distance between the nozzle and your car.
When shopping for a good pressure washer for detailing your car or truck you want to make sure you get one capable of doing the job well. It should be capable of producing at least 1200 PSI and should come with a long power cord or can work with an extension cord. Not all can work with extension cords. You also want one that is going to last a reasonable amount of time before loosing pressure, leaking, and otherwise being a complete waste of money. You also need to understand what you’re compromising when you opt to go for a cheaper pressure washer compared to spending more money for one with the same output.
Cheap power washers usually can’t be used for long before they begin to get too hot and the cheap parts begin to break down. It’s not uncommon for you to only be able to use a cheaper model for 10 minutes before you should turn it off and allow it to cool down. This is a fact that you’ll rarely discover unless you’re reading the fine print. You also shouldn’t allow it to run for long without using the sprayer. The build up of the pressure within the motor when not flowing water will cause additional stress to the motor and build up heat faster. If you can keep these facts in mind and you don’t expect to put it to use too often then a cheap model may be a perfect fit for you.
If you’d rather spend a few dollars more to get a pressure washer you don’t have to worry as much about you’ll need to get one that is water cooled. You’ll pay a lot more for one of these but it should hold up to heavier use without any trouble. The pump motor in the water cooled model will also be made of more durable components which are typical made of metal. Cheaper models that aren’t water cooled typically have motors made almost entirely out of plastic. You can find cheap power washers for less than 100 dollars. Water cooled models that are ideal for car detailing will typically be less than 200 dollars.
Keeping all of this information in mind we can recommend one cheaper model and one more expensive model. Karcher is a great name brand in the pressure washer category and they have some reasonably affordable products in both the water cooled and non water cooled categories.
A good cheap pressure washer is the Karcher K2 Plus Electric Pressure washer, capable of 1600 PSI and 1.25 GPM. It is more than capable of doing a good job but you will want to take care when using it as it shouldn’t be used for extended periods of time and shouldn’t be left on without spraying for long. It does come with quite a long power cord and a long hose which should allow you to get all the way around any vehicle you’re detailing.
The water cooled K4 from Karcher is capable of 1900 PSI and 150 GPM. The K4 is more powerful than the K2 Plus and includes a more robust motor that they claim will last 5 times longer. They don’t stipulate 5 times longer than what however. That said, this machine should hold up very well. Despite its more rugged build quality it would be wise to turn off the K4 when not using it for more than 5 minutes (this is actually in the instructions) and try not to use it for particularly extended spraying sessions to help extend its lifespan.
Knowing that you shouldn’t use pressure greater than 2000 PSI means that electric pressure washers are far more ideal for car detailing than gas powered pressure washers. The good news is that electric pressure washers that can reach a respectable pressure (more than 1200 PSI) for car washing are very cheap. The bad news is that ones that will hold up for any real period of time are far more rare and you have to know what to look for. You also have to know what will cause these cheap products to fail prematurely. In the end, if you’re in the market for a pressure washer to detail your vehicle we recommend the Karcher K4 for several reasons. It is a respected brand name in the pressure washing category, it has a long power cord and hose, the motor is water cooled, and made from far more robust materials than just cheap plastic. If you want to save some money and can limit your spraying times to 10 minutes as well as ensure that you don’t leave the sprayer on while not spraying then the Karcher K2 Plus should be more than adequate and approximately half the price.