Here's my .02
If you want the car to stay good looking you should at least
1) consider paint protection film
2) use a high quality wax/sealant.
a) I recently found a 1-2x/yr apllication stuff that has worked very well on my Elise. "HD nitro seal" is the name...it's expensive, but it lasts rather well. and I'm a huge fan. (first time I've spent much on a "wax/sealant")
3) California car duster can help keep things looking 1/2 decent for longer periods in areas like I live where rain is rare.
Automated vs hand washing is a hard one. I don't believe for one second that automated washes will actually harm your paint (they may blast some things into your paint, but I've never seen it personally.) Having said that, I'm not a fan of hurricane forced water getting blasted @ my car so I generally avoid them.
The self serve car wash is on its way out (sadly) as to me it is the second best option (after hand washing @ home - which is currently outlawed here due to water restrictions). use the double bucket method and you will save yourself from some swirls.
Car care questions? visit autopia.org forums...those guys know their stuff....much better than I.