This is a trying time of year. It's a freezing, depressing, seasonal affective disorder-inducing trying time. Yet, there are some to whom this icy hell is a paradise of promise. They look forward to this stretch the way kids look forward to Christmas morning.
I'm referring to the close to 200 members of the Canadian Carwash Association, an organization that represents nearly 1,000 car wash sites across the country. If you own a car wash, winter is boom time. Since the organization began keeping a wash volume report in 2004, the first three months of each year have vastly outstripped the others.
This fact was reinforced last week, when I brought my anti-Porsche (Dodge Grand Caravan) in for its "#4 VIP Outside/Inside" treatment. "We make all our money in the winter," the saleswoman told me as I paid. Then, as if I doubted her, she stared me straight in the eyes and slowly said, "IN WINTER, WE MAKE ALL OUR MONEY."
It makes sense. Between December and the end of March, our vehicles are splattered with road salt and assailed by brine, a blend of rock salt and magnesium chloride that is used to pretreat roads.
"In the summer, it's bird poop and bugs," says Brad Goetz, 53, vice-president of Ajax-based Mondo Products Ltd., a company that manufactures and distributes chemicals for the car-wash industry. "In the winter, it's, 'I can't see out my windshield.' And it's too cold to wash the car in the driveway."
Getting your car regularly cleaned seems like common sense. After all, seeing is an important part of driving. Yet, most cars are so caked with salt and dirt they look like large motorized powdered doughnuts. That's because seconds after you get your car washed, it's dirty again. Sisyphus had his rock. We have our cars. Many motorists, sadly, think it's a waste of money. Though I worry about my doors getting frozen shut post car-spa experience, my fear over what the damage that salt and other anti-ice initiatives can cause outweighs this concern.
As a kid, we didn't go to the car wash. We did the deed in the driveway and it was a lot of fun. Home washes are now frowned upon (they waste water) and they're impossible in the winter. Though a brave few attempt it. "I see guys out at the coin-op self-serve," Goetz says. "And I don't get it."
I'm a regular car-wash customer. It's a rite I find both relaxing and invigorating. I'll use the hands-free car wash at the gas station, but I prefer the hand wash. There is something magical about the transformation: the car goes in filthy and comes out sparkling. If only humans were as easily spruced up. I would pay big money if a "#4 VIP Outside/Inside" treatment could be successfully applied to my personage.
In the United States, car washes can rival casinos. The Classic Car Wash in San Jose, Calif., for instance, resembles a Riverboat and has a gift shop offering items ranging from spooky china to California wine. It also has a pond filled with catfish. People often try to entice customers by offering topless car washes. There was the "Sexy Car Wash" in South America and the "T and A Car Wash" in Vaughan. In 2007, some New York State drivers paid for a "Topless Car Wash" only to find shirtless male firefighters.
Dear car-wash industry, how about a summertime topless car wash but one that allows drivers to doff their tops? I would love to sit out in the hot sun; my expansive flesh there for the world to see, watching my lovely minivan receive soapy rejuvenation.
I'm sure I'm not alone.
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