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RAC Editorial

The hosepipe ban - how to keep your car clean

11 May 2012 at 08:50

Hosepipe bans are an inconvenience to many – including motorists. The ability to rely on an instant and limitless supply of water delivered to the point of use makes life for the car owner easy.

Even though many car owners neglect to keep their car free of dirt and grime, the knowledge that you can simply hose down your motor in 15 minutes is enough to know if you need to do it, you can do it.

But we’re currently in the midst of an on-going hosepipe ban. So, how do you keep your car clean and presentable without that unlimited resource of water, and what are the implications of the hosepipe ban for car owners?

What does the hosepipe ban mean for the motorist?

Getting technical, Section 76 of the Water Industry Act 1991 states: “a water undertaker may prohibit one or more specified uses of water supplied by it, if it thinks that it is experiencing, or may experience, a serious shortage of water for distribution.”

Put simply, water companies can enforce a temporary ban on the use of hosepipes if they see fit.

The current ban – which started on the 5 April this year – is being enforced by seven different water companies, mainly located in the southeast of the country:

  • Anglian Water
  • South East Water
  • Southern Water
  • Sutton and East Surrey Water
  • Thames Water
  • Veolia Water Central
  • Veolia Water Southeast

The current situation isn’t set to improve either, with 34 of England’s 48 ceremonial counties declared as “drought zones” by the Environment Agency –and the public body believes the ban could go on until Christmas.

As a result, privately owned vehicles, taxis and minicabs are prohibited from being washed using a hosepipe. However, it doesn’t mean that because you can’t wash your car you should neglect to keep your vehicle clean.

It’s actually a legal requirement to have all windows, mirrors, lights and number plates free from muck – obscured windows, mirrors and lights mean not only can you not see other road users, but it’s more difficult for them to spot you.

Driving around with a dirty number plate – so your vehicle is unrecognisable to the authorities – might see you receiving some unwanted attention from the police, too.

Apart from the obvious safety issues and compliance with the laws of the road, there’s also a mechanical aspect to keeping your car in a presentable condition.

Obviously you’re not going to crawl under your car and spray it with a hose or scrub it with a sponge – even if it was allowed – but a regular clean helps keep some important components free of dirt.

There’s the pride in keeping your vehicle looking in tip-top condition, too. For many, car maintenance is one of the joys of car ownership, just as much as actually driving it.

What can you do to keep your car clean?

If you’re the type of person who religiously washes and waxes and is fastidious about car cleanliness – or even if you only occasionally treat your motor to a quick rinse – you’re probably wondering how you can keep your car clean. Well there is a way.

Hosepipes might be out of the question, but buckets, watering cans and sponges are all very much allowed – only if filled from a tap, however. The rationale behind allowing these receptacles for car cleaning is that they are a much more efficient use of water.

According to Uswitch, washing a car with a hosepipe uses between 400 and 480 litres of water, whereas completing the same activity using a faithful bucket draws around 32 litres, based on a four buckets per car average.

Watering cans also hold great potential for efficient car washing – especially when fitted with a rose attachment. According to car care specialists Autoglym, just one watering can’s worth of fluid is sufficient to rinse away any shampoo suds after the lathering process. Is the hosepipe actually needed then?

Well, there’s a counter argument to suggest hosepipes might not be as inefficient as water companies may lead you to believe. Most figures calculated for hosepipe usage when washing your car assume motorists leave the water running constantly for 30 minutes.

But if you use a hose attachment, such as a sprinkler nozzle with a trigger – only allowing water to flow when pulled – water consumption can be cut to around 30 litres, roughly the same amount as using a bucket.

Add in the fact that the jet head increases pressure (rather than just random splashes from a bucket) and metres out the water more efficiently – similar to a watering can’s rose – and a properly set up hosepipe isn’t actually that inefficient.
However, it must be taken into account that only a small amount of people ever actually use their hosepipes in such a way, and that a ban is the easiest way to help curb water consumption and bring us out of drought.

Other than watering cans and buckets, commercial car washes can still be used to clean your vehicle, too. To many, this might seem opposed to the idea of saving water and washing in a more efficient way.

But actually, automated car washes such as those found in service stations across the nation use around 130 litres of water per car. That’s as much as 70 per cent less than water companies claim a hosepipe uses. Many actually recycle much of the water they use, too.

There is a way completely without water as well – waterless car cleaners are also a viable and effective method of cleaning your vehicle’s bodywork.

Waterless car cleaners: how do they work?

Most car owners might be dubious of a claimed wonder product that just requires a quick spray and a wipe to restore a lustrous shine to your car’s bodywork, with stories of swirl marks and deep scratches ringing around their heads.

Motorists will say they were always taught to wash a car with plenty of water first, loosening dirt and lubricating the bodywork ready for a full lather. But technology and chemistry has moved on, allowing for products that don’t require a pre-soak to clean.

Sales of waterless car care products have soared by up to 160 per cent after the Government’s recent announcement of water shortages – especially in the southeast with the London 2012 Olympic games fast approaching.

The current crop of spray-on-wipe-off products shouldn’t be boycotted – given that waterless cleaners were developed to clean fighter jets in arid conditions with water in short supply, they boast a decent history.

And even if you are dubious or don’t want to shell out £5-£10 for a bottle of solution, be warned: there are similar risks to using a bucket filled with soapy water and a sponge.

Rinsing your dirty sponge out in the fresh water you’ve just prepared, then continuing to wash the car with it, you run the risk of introducing harmful foreign objects to the layers of laquer on the panels of the car – potentially causing more damage than you might think a waterless cleaner would.

There’s more that you can do to protect your car as well. Waxing your car will help keep the risk of damage when washing to a minimum, as the compounds in the myriad polishes and creams available provide a slippery sheen that dirt doesn’t want to stick to, making it easier to wash off in future.

Using a microfibre cloth can help here too, as the make-up of the fabric means it actively traps dirt, rather then just pushing or smearing it across the car’s body panels.

In truth though, the main risk of washing your car in a hosepipe ban is using the hosepipe itself.

You leave yourself liable to a maximum £1,000 fine if your caught contravening the rules. And with neighbours and members of the public encouraged to shop anyone breaking the ban to water companies, it’s a very real risk.

Summary – keeping your car clean under a hosepipe ban

Whether in a hosepipe ban or not, the fundamental issue of keeping your car clean is important – the law dictates a certain degree of visibility of given aspects of your vehicle.
Yes, your options are narrowed when hoses are forbidden, but it’s still not the hardest task to give your motor the once over with a sponge and a chamois leather.

The main tips for that Sunday afternoon exercise under a hosepipe ban are as follows:

  • Try and park the car out of direct sunlight so the water/soap doesn’t dry too quickly, leaving nasty watermarks
  • Always wash the car from top to bottom – that way dirty water isn’t running onto clean paint
  • Use a bucket of warm water and a sponge – or a waterless car cleaner and microfiber cloth – to clean the dirt from the car’s bodywork
  • Use a watering can (with rose head attachment) full of cold water to rinse the body panels down after soaping
  • Leave to drip dry, or use a microfiber cloth or chamois leather to wipe clean
  • If possible, apply polish, wax, or other appropriate car care products to create a lustrous shine and improve protection

We all have an environmental responsibility as motorists that extends beyond CO2 emissions and the consumption of fossil fuels. Wasted water when washing your car is the issue for the here and now.

We need to be conscientious in our car care, ensuring a balance between adhering to the laws of the road, taking pride in the state of our machine and protecting our environment for future generations to come.

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