It’s clearly among the most boring chores in life but someone’s gotta do it. Thankfully not me, but the man of the house. That’s because by the time it’s all over I could’ve invested better time writing a book like ‘101 Ways She Prefers To Spend Her Weekends—Written For Men’ than all Saturday with a bucket of soapy bubbly suds, a giant sponge and a high pressure water (dirt) blaster we call a Karcher.

Yet in our family, I’m positive that he sees washing the car as some kind of sacred rite to pass on to all future offspring in his genealogy, beginning with himself then our four year-old son. Which explains why he makes our earnest boy sit and watch as he painfully and lovingly applies to our car ‘with just the right amount of pressure’ a gentle circular soaping motion, his specially formulated recipe for a secret sudsy blend he’s concocted over the years. It is all part of the precise, elemental skill that my son needs to be ceremoniously schooled in, so that, like daddy, he can pass these invaluable life lessons to the next generation.

So when I asked last weekend, “Why don’t we take the kids to the car wash? It’d be fun for them and it’d save you all this work, hon”, I was simply trying to avoid another Saturday gone. His pensive look followed by a resigned sigh tells me I forgot we had this conversation before and he was right. I always had the impression, like most other unsuspecting people, that using an automated car wash, though a little more expensive than completing the chore at home, was money well-spent. The question is, is it?

Guy washing blue car

Is the convenience worth it?

Wash Your Car At The Drive-Thru

Do you ever wonder what goes on in these automated drive thru car washes? I think the best way to examine how they work could be to discuss the economics of their modus operandi. First, the sheer quantity of vehicles pumped out in typical 10 minute blocks at these automated washers is remarkable. To ensure maximum profit, these machines are designed to churn out as many cleaned cars as possible in the least possible amount of time. Probably isn’t ideal if your objective is to show love to a car. More cars means more filth to clean. Their cumulative effect continues the vicious cycle of spreading grime from one to another as each enters and gets swallowed by those those giant rotating brushes and spinning noodle-like mops.

Those high-speed brushes act like the jaws of a mammoth shark mercilessly grinding the dirt and grit from every last car before yours, scraping swirly scratches against your car’s beautiful paint shine. Imagine the mud-caked four wheel-drive that drove through the conveyor before you had just driven across some rough and swampy terrain…well, look. I won’t make you lose your mind now too. You get it, it’s a cruel world even for cars.

To add insult to injury, tough Australian legislation ensures car wash services adhere strictly to water restrictions. This is why professional car wash services are permitted to operate during times of peak restrictions, which means the man has a point and a reason to get cynical about ‘how clean and good’ will the automated car washers be if they’re using recycled water? More specifically, car wash services often use recycled water reclaimed from automatic washing bays. In order to meet Australian regulations, all local professional car wash services must use recycling equipment. While recycling systems vary between operators, up to 70-80% of the water used to wash our cars at these automated washing services are probably reclaimed, cleaned and re-used. Gulp.

Touch-less Car Wash

What about ‘touch-less’ car washers? These use high water pressure to clean our cars instead of harsh brushes and hence promise to minimise the chance of surface damage to our vehicles. Alas. The drawback of these ‘touch-less’ systems is that they use harsh, hazardous chemicals to substitute the job of cleaning done by those giant brushes in the traditional automated car wash. These are known to strip a car’s wax right off and hardly do a great job of cleaning at all, and worse, some say these touch-less ones leave a hazy film behind. Might not be best on a regular basis?

Some may argue that there are systems that employ synthetic brushes that are by nature resistant to trapping dirt and particles. While that may be true, the assembly of human labour lining up to dry your cleaned car by hand will strip off any advantages that these synthetic brushes were meant to have. Hello, you didn’t think that a $25 car wash came with clean squeegees, chamois, clean laundered drying towels, that not only smell good but get changed with every car processed, did you? My bet is on mouldy cloths. If we had to, I’ll go with the high-powered blow-dryers.

Self-service car wash bays? Apparently the engine cleaner and regular wash water are piped through the same wand. A hint from an expert is to start the wash on high-pressure rinse and spray against the wall for at least 20 seconds before aiming at your car. It will clear out the hose of any harsh chemicals left in the lines.

In time, I came to appreciate the exactitude of my husband’s car wash ritual. I hate to admit it, but he’s on to something. Something that someday might be worth passing on to our son, and his son, and blah blah blah, a sacred rite, an elemental skill that’s only going to serve well our family’s legacy of well-loved, well-maintained vehicles. What’s it called? The Do-It-Yourself Hand Wash. The wash that all cars just prefer, he wisely said.

Like 360 Finance, we’re the car loan broker that well-informed car purchasers do really prefer. When you’re on to a good thing — It’s just something worth passing on.