Car washes have gotten expensive! Are they worth it?
The other day, we were waiting to pick up the new truck, and we had to wait while they programmed a second key (something to check on these days, as extra "keys" for modern cars can cost hundreds of dollars). So we thought we would go down the street and get the hamster washed at the local car wash.
Nearly $20 later, we are wiping soapy water off the car with rags they provided. It was a modern, state-of-the-art mechanized car wash place, but the end result was, well, expensive and a lot less than expected. When we got home, we had to re-wash the car.
Back in the day - before I started this blog - I would think nothing of dropping $10 or more on a car wash at the local car wash place in Ithaca, New York, You could even buy a "coupon book" for a dozen washes and save a few bucks. But the idea of spending $100 on car washes, in retrospect, seems obscene to me now. Sort of like paying for a haircut - when I get them for free.
It isn't hard to wash a car, and it doesn't take that much time. I worked my way through college, in part, by washing UPS "Package Cars" - the delivery vans you may call "trucks". I learned quickly how to efficiently wash a large vehicle, and it was a good lesson to learn. I had also learned car detailing from a friend of mine when I was at GMI. He was from the inner city, and he had a 1978 Hurst/Olds. He showed me a lot of tips on how to make a car look like new.
Today, I am not as obsessive about car detailing, but I do try to keep our cars clean. I buy car wash soap at Dollar Tree (for a dollar) and use a half-bottle (50 cents worth) in a bucket of warm water with a sponge or car wash glove. They used to have large bottles for a buck, but today they seem to be selling "Armor-All" car wash concentrate, which seems to work as well. Rinse down the car, starting at the top and working your way down - let gravity help you. Then, wash the entire car with your soap and sponge - don't let it dry! - and again, starting at the top and working your way down letting gravity be your friend. Don't let the soap dry on, or you'll have to do it over. Be sure to overlap your sudsing, so you don't leave those unsightly marks where the old dirt shows through. Then rinse thoroughly - again, from the top down.
Drying is the key. I use old bath towels, which I keep for that purpose. I use one to get most of the water, and then two others to remove the rest. If you don't dry, water spots will form, and if you have hard water, it will leave spot marks. Open the doors, trunk, and hood, and wipe down the door jambs and door edges, trunk edges, etc.
For a car like the hamster, this can take a half-hour or so, maybe less. It takes about as much time as it does to go through a mechanical wash (or one of those coin-op deals) and hand-dry the car. But it costs a whole lot less.
Some car washes are now over $20 a throw!
For some reason, car washes lately have gone high-dollar. And trust me, you don't want to get the "economy wash" they offer for eight bucks. It just blasts soapy water on the car and leaves a mess. They want you to "upgrade" to the de-luxe wash with tire treatment and tri-color foam coral "wax" (because three colors of foam is better than just one, of course!) and so on and so forth. If you opt for the whole enchilada, it can run close to twenty bucks - perhaps more in some urban areas.
Now, granted, if you live in an apartment building, they might not let you wash your car on site (although some places do - our condominium used to provide a space with a hose so you could wash off your car). So you are stuck with having to deal with coin-op or going to a washateria and paying the going rate. But if you can wash the car yourself, well, boy-howdy can you save a lot of dough.
And if you own a house with a garage (or condo, or apartment, or whatever) keeping the car indoors can keep it cleaner longer. In both Virginia and Georgia, the big problem for us was pollen. If you left the car outside, it would get covered with pollen. Then, during the night, it gets cold, and in the morning, dew forms on the car, turning the thin layer of yellow pollen into a spotted mess. Cars kept in the garage overnight tend to look cleaner, longer.
And of course, near DC, we had to deal with acid rain and other pollutants. If you have a garage, keep your car in it. If your garage is full of "stuff" instead, as yourself why.
Car detailing is another matter. Some folks pay tens of dollars - or even over a hundred - to have their car hand-washed and "detailed". This includes cleaning every inch of the interior, treating surfaces (vinyl, leather) with protectants, detailing the engine, cleaning the carpets, trunk, and so on and so forth - in an effort to make the car look as brand-new as possible. For some folks, unable to detail their car themselves, it might not be a bad idea to do this once in a great while, to get the grime off the car. But to do this on a regular basis is simply unaffordable for most folks.
It seems like a small thing - car washes. But like anything else, added up over time, it adds up to a lot of money. Of course, one "solution" is to not wash your car, which might be an option if you own a piece of crap car - it doesn't affect the looks or value very much. But if you have a newer car, you are accelerating the depreciation even further (and creating problems down the road) by letting dirt accumulate. I helped a friend detail their Jetta after it had been sitting out for a couple of years. Dirt had accumulated around the inside of the trunk lid, causing the drain holes to clog and letting water into the trunk. Similar things were happening to the doors. Once water enters a car, mildew forms, the car smells like a swamp, and you don't want to own it anymore - nor does anyone else.
So it pays to wash your car, at least occasionally, if it is any sort of car at all.
The other problem with these washaterias is that they can actually damage your car. Some still use nylon bristle spinning brushes, which can create a pattern of thin scratches in the paint, over time. Even the "soft cloth" brushes can cause fine scratches, particularly if the car ahead of you was especially dirty. So-called "brushless" car washes are often useless, or use harsh chemicals and high-pressure sprays to blast dirt off your car.
Like I said, if you live in an apartment, maybe you don't have a choice. You have to go to at least a coin-op place to wash your car, on occasion. However, if you are efficient in your use of a coin-op spray booth, you can often get away with a good wash in a minimal amount of time and money. When travelling, we often have to resort to coin-op places to blast the dirt off. We bring a bucket and wash brush and fill the bucket with soapy water. One of use rinses while the other one scrubs, and between the two of us, can wash the truck and trailer in a minimal amount of time. That being said, it can still cost several dollars to wash the truck and trailer.
Some campgrounds allow you to wash your vehicle on-site, but most do not. One trick I have tried is to make a big soapy bucket of water right before a rain storm is forecast. Once the rain pours down, I put on my raincoat, soap down the rig, and let Mother Nature do the rinse job. It's been known to work, and rainwater is very soft water! But it is hard to predict rain storms with that much accuracy on a consistent basis.
But if you own a home and have a hose and spigot, there is no point in spending $10 or $20 to wash your car at a car wash. It is just a waste of money and you can do a better job at home.
Don't have the time? Just try not watching one television show that week.