Auto Tech

How Nissan's toy-like car wash helps protect real car paint

Engineers at the Japanese automaker use the tiny scale machine to save cost and time.


Did you have one of those Hot Wheels or Matchbox Car Wash playsets when you were a kid? I did, and its little foam rollers kept my prodigious die-cast collection showroom fresh. Upon seeing the setup in these photos, I can't help but think that an engineer at Nissan must've had a similar childhood, because he or she has put that same idea to work when it comes to developing paint for the company's new cars.

The Nissan Technical Center of North America in suburban Detroit makes use of a miniature car wash to test paint samples under consideration for future automobiles. The car wash, "about the size and shape of a popcorn machine," spins a 10,000-bristle brush at 180 rpm, while water jets and specially chosen "Arizona test dirt" pound rectangular metal plates that have been slathered in test paint. These tests are performed not once, but thousands of times to ensure robustness.

Sadly, that means that the 1:16-scale die-cast Nissan 370Z sports car in the picture is just for photos, but it looks good, right?

Test engineers apply special Arizona dirt to test paint performance in a mini car wash.


The goal is to create automotive paint finishes that stand up to the rigors of modern automated car washes, which are notorious for scratching clearcoat finishes and abrading paint. 

The downsized car wash is just one of a myriad of tests that automakers and paint companies use to ensure quality and durability. Before a new model ever sees a showroom, its paint finish has been subjected to a barrage of torture tests, including salt water, deliberate scratching and much more. Some automakers even drag their test cars out into the Arizona desert and surround them with mirrors to test paint and fabric fade resistance. 

Now that's a Hot Wheels playset I'd like to see.