Washing by the Book
Sixty years is a long time to be in any business, let alone publishing. The fact that Auto Laundry News has been in print continuously since 1953 is testament to not only a dedicated staff, but also to an industry that has continued to thrive through six decades of ups and downs.
Our 50th anniversary issue covered the history of the car wash industry so it would be redundant to report on that again. However, I thought it might be fun to chronicle the passing years in another way. It seems that car manufacturers have been a step behind the industry for many years, often advising owners of their products to avoid car washes. I’ve been an old car enthusiast for more years than I care to say, so I thought taking a look at how a few owners’ manuals advised car owners on the upkeep of their vehicles, and comparing them with more recent ones, might be interesting.
Starting off with our first year of publication, the Jaguar owners’ manual for 1953, not surprisingly, makes no mention of commercial car washes. It does go into a fair amount of detail on the care of the interior and bodywork, much of which is applicable today. Soft brushes, sponges, and plenty of water are recommended for cleaning the “coachwork.” However, the owner is advised to use petrol (gasoline) for removing carpet stains, tar, and grease marks on leather!
In 1962, Aston Martin went so far as to add a one-page supplement to the owners’ manual, stating that, in the case of metallic paints, “the use of mechanical mops will permanently damage the paintwork.” Even better, page 36 of the leather-bound instruction book advises the owner not to “hose movable windows, as water will flood the inside of the doors and rust the winding mechanism.” Mind you, this is a car that cost a good $12,000 in the early ‘60s, about $95,000 in today’s money. I’m sure the manual that came with the Ford Falcon my mother bought the same year for something under $2,000 carried no such admonishment. Again, the driver is told to remove grease, oil, and tar with petrol, although it must be of the unleaded variety. If not readily available, a good quality lighter fluid will do.
Somewhere in the 1990s, owners’ manuals went from being useful digests that gave practical information on the care and maintenance of a vehicle to weighty tomes that border on being un-readable. The average number of pages seems to be between 300 and 400 yet little is devoted to having the car professionally washed.
In 2004, Audi committed 11 pages to vehicle care, much of which is dedicated to warnings, many of an environmental nature. Much to their credit, there are several paragraphs under the heading, “Automatic car wash.” They clearly proclaim at the beginning: “The vehicle can be washed in almost any modern automatic car wash.” The identical information is repeated in their 2012 manual. No harm done here.
Chevrolet was able to find eight pages in their 550-page-plus 2005 Silverado pickup manual to talk about “appearance care.” While they give some pretty useful information on removing stains caused by blood, urine, and vomit, little is mentioned about car washes. In this case, a little is too much as it is all negative. For instance, “High pressure car washes may cause water to enter the vehicle.” What, that’s it? No other mention of using a car wash? Oh, here’s something else in the wheel care section: “Never drive a vehicle equipped with aluminum or chrome-plated wheels through an automatic car wash that uses silicone carbide tire cleaning brushes.” Apparently the manufacturer thought this was so important, it is mentioned three times. It may have been good advice, but they could have made mention of what types of car washes are approved by GM instead of scaring the user away from having his vehicle professionally cleaned.
Our industry has come a long way in 60 years. Yet, as you can see, there is much left to be done, especially in the area of consumer education. I won’t try to predict what will happen in the next 60 or even 10 years, but I do know that car washes will continue to thrive, and those in the business are up to any challenge.