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.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
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?
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.