Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Car Wash? Uh, No.

Keeping your car clean is important, but do you need to spend money at a car wash to do so?  If you have a hose and a bucket and a sponge, you can do a better job yourself at home.

A new car wash is going up in town, and for the life of me, I am not sure how they plan on making money.  Like so many other ill-conceived ventures in our small town, people just open a store and hope it makes money, without doing any research first.

The car wash is right next to a brand-new "surf shop" kind of store that sells bathing suits and suntan oil and beach towels.  You know the kind of place, often called "WAVES" or "WINDS" - they are all over Florida.   Well, they built that building at considerable expense and then stocked it with all the goods and then opened up for business - and then closed a week later.   It sat abandoned for year before they had an auction, and now the building sits empty.

They had a Jesus Fish on their sign, so you know the deal - they thought if they prayed hard enough, the business would succeed.  I guess no one thought to do a survey of people in the area, visitors, and tourists, and wonder what they would want to buy and what a good location would be.  No, no, Jesus will do all that for you!   Jesus Christ, marketing consultant.  So another abandoned building litters the landscape - along with a host of run-down motels, single-tenant strip-malls, and boarded-up restaurants.   We're not talking Wharton Business School graduates down here.

So I wonder how well the car-wash will do, being as it is also in a bad location, being past the turn for rich-people's island, and a U-turn if I wanted to go there.

But it got me thinking about the price of car washes, because last year, I spend probably $50 to $100 on coin-op car washes that were totally unnecessary. When traveling, the camper and truck get pretty dirty, and it seems like the only place to get them clean is a car wash.   Some campgrounds do allow you to wash your vehicle at the site (most don't, however).  I think in the future, I'll learn to live with a dirtier car, at least for a while.

Car washes come in a number of flavors.  Your typical mechanical wash uses plastic brushes which tend to scratch the paint as they spin nearly as fast as a weed whacker.  Some better washes use cloth brushes which are somewhat gentler.  However, make sure you don't have fancy rims before going through a car wash - or a low-slung cars.   Guide rails can "rash" rims and bang against suspension pieces.

Other "touchless" washes use high pressure sprays and chemicals to remove dirt.  These are not very effective in my opinion.   And of course, the coin-op type are fine and all, but you can end up spending more in quarters than you would at a regular wash, and dirt-encrusted scrub brushes can scratch paint.

Regardless of type, it is always helpful to have some old towels to dry off your car, otherwise you just end up with a collection of spots all over the car and oftentimes it can look worse than before you washed it.   If you want to get fancy, I suppose you could use a chamois, but frankly, that sort of thing, like clay-barring  your car, strikes me as over-the-top car worship.

And yes, a towel can leave some fine scratches in a car over time.   But look at this truck, after 13 years of hand washing this way, it doesn't look too bad, does it?

You don't need to have a car detailed or clay-barred to have it look good.  Just a regular wash and occasional wax is all it needs.

 (The local quikie-lube offers a "free car wash" using one of those touchless jobs.  But of course, it is little more than a quick rinse, which often makes the car look worse, unless you have some towels with you to dry off the car.   They are hoping, of course, that you will "upgrade" to the next level of wash as part of the deal).

Hand-washing places and car detailers are fine and all, but they charge a lot of money to make your car look perfect.   If you don't garage the car, it will look imperfect in short order.   The cost of hand-washing and detailing is just not an option for most of the rest of us.

Garaging a car is important to keep it clean.  If you leave a car out overnight, dew may collect and bead up on the paint.   When this dries, it leaves spots, as dust sticks to this dew and then dries in circles.   Tree leaves, pollen, dust, and whatnot fall on the car (and leaves clog important drain tubes under the hood and in the trunk area, potentially creating a water damn which can short out your engine computer).   So if you have a garage, use it for your car.  If your garage is full of junk and your car is parked outside, your priorities are backward.

So what is the best way to wash a car?  Well, again, I am not going down the road of "detailing" and car-worship.   If you have some rare sports car, you aren't reading this blog.   I've found that simply using a soft cloth or sponge and a bucket of warm water and car soap is the best way.   And by the way, the smaller your car is, the easier it is to wash it - think about that before you buy a Suburban.

Car wash soap from Dollar tree is a dollar - but use a half-bottle for each wash.

I have been using Dollar Tree "Wash and Wax" which is a dollar a bottle.  It seems extravagant to use a half-bottle for washing the car, but that is only 50 cents, and like a lot of Dollar Tree stuff, it is watered down.  They even sell buckets and sponges..... for a dollar.

I used to use an RV wash and wax from Camping World, but this stuff seems to work as well for a lot less.   As the name implies, it leaves a wax-like film on the car that makes it very shiny. 

Wet down the car completely and then start sponging at the top and work your way down, being sure to overlap your strokes to cover the whole car.   Use a lot of the soap solution.  Don't let it dry on the car, or it will leave a soapy film even after rinsing.  If the soap dries, re-wash that area.  Use lots of water to rinse, and then towel dry with some old, soft towels.   Be sure to get the door jams and the area around the trunk lid.

It takes only a few minutes and is a lot cheaper than spending $7 to $15 at the car wash.   And it is a good workout, too.  We all need the exercise.   Granted, this technique is not a concours standard wash or whatever, but frankly, I just want my car clean and good looking.  I am not entering a contest.

I see a lot of people spend a lot of money on car washes.  And the funny thing is, the largest number of car washes in our little town are in the poorest neighborhoods.   A lot of poor people spend a lot of money on their cars - adding rent-to-own bling rims, customizing them, and of course, spending hours washing and waxing them.  And this is, of course, one reason the poor remain poor - they obsess about the trappings of wealth while never accumulating real wealth.   And the real wealth they could accumulate is spent on the trappings.  Wash.  Rinse. Repeat.

Kids are that way, too, and I was obsessed with cars when I was younger - often obsessing about shit cars, too.  As you get older and realize a car is just an appliance you own that should be reliable and cost-effective (indeed, car expenses are a huge portion of our annual budget) you start to realize that obsessing about cars is just increasing the cost of ownership by a factor of 2 or 3.

I used to go nuts waxing cars, but lately I am less obsessed about it.   I used that "once a year car wax" in the orange bottle from Wal-Mart and it works OK.  It is a little abrasive, but not excessively so that it would damage the paint.   Things like Zymol (which you can get in a Crystal Decanter - how cute) I found to be a pain in the ass to buff out and they really didn't provide a better or longer-lasting shine.

Of course, I have a home, a driveway, a garage, a hose, and a bucket.   Many people live in apartments and condos, and it is not so easy to wash your car yourself.    When we lived in our Apartment in Alexandria the management actually let us wash our cars with a hose next to the building by the parking garage.   Why this kindness, I don't know.   But few people took advantage of it.    At our condo in Florida, we would wash our cars, but as an 11-unit building, we could pretty much do whatever we wanted to.   At our condo in Virginia, they don't have that luxury.

So if you are renting, it is a lot harder to keep a car clean (no garage in most instances) and a lot harder (and more expensive) to clean the car.   We've used those coin-op washes and have it down to a ballet of washing and rising - again a bucket of soapy water is helpful.   One man scrubs while the other rinses.  Guess who gets wet the most?

The problems of living in an apartment is one reason I would not get too attached to a car or own a fancy car if I had to park outside.   It is just too heartbreaking and time-consuming to deal with all of that (plus the odds of door dings and break-ins).   Yet, you will see a lot of people living in apartments who drive very expensive cars, parking them outside.  It really makes no sense.   Again, the tendency of the poor to spend more on the appearance of wealth than actual wealth.   If you don't want to be poor (or want to stop being poor) stop doing shit like that.

I wish the new car wash people luck in their endeavors.   They were giving away free washes the other day to test out the machinery, but I was carrying a load of lumber for a friend, so I couldn't go through the wash, and without towels to dry it off, it would have just made things look worse.  For me, I'll be washing cars at home, particularly now that I have more time on my hands.