Automatic car washes dying out as the hand car wash cleans up

Car wash

The number of mechanical car washes has halved over the last 15 years

A Saharan dust cloud is expected to hit the UK on Thursday. Brits on the east coast are being warned to expect warm weather and high pollution levels as unseasonable temperatures hit us. But if the dust does make it and your car is covered, how will you clean it off? According to a new report, the days of the mechanical car wash could be numbered.

The growing popularity of hand car washes has prompted the decline in so-called ‘rollover machines’. Now the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) claims the number of automated car washes has halved over the past 15 years. It says that since 2000, the mechanical car washes on UK garage forecourts have plunged from 9000 to 4200 this year.

Why are hand car washes becoming so popular?

A report from five years ago by researcher Datamonitor revealed that the UK spends £523m a year on car washes. But according to the PRA, mechanical car washes are increasingly standing idle because hand car washes are so competitively priced. Brian Madderson, chairman of the PRA said: “Over the last 10 years, this has almost killed off the mechanical rollover car wash. About 70 per cent of all retail washes are now done by hand and the great majority of these people are completely unregulated.”

Don’t car washes damage your paintwork?

It’s true that some mechanical car washes do use abrasive brushes that can cause minute scratches on a car’s bodywork. However, many have now been replaced with ‘touchless’ systems which is like having your car cleaned by an enormous jet wash. They simply blast the dirt away as you do with the jet wash at the garage.

How can a ‘human’ car wash be cheaper than a machine?

According to the Car Wash Association (CWA), the rise of the hand car wash is linked to increasing immigration from eastern Europe in the mid-2000s. Incoming workers take up low paid, unskilled jobs that local people don’t want. The CWA says around 50 per cent of the hand car wash sites around the UK are unregulated. This means that they may not be charging VAT for their service and may not be paying corporation tax either. The benefit to consumers is cheap car washes. The PRA claims the Government is missing out on around £200m a year through unpaid taxes. Nonetheless the Car Wash Association says its industry contributes £800m a year to the UK economy.

What about the environmental impact?

The beauty of the mechanical car washes is that they’re remarkably environmentally friendly compared to the alternative. The CWA claims: “Even a car wash that uses around 120 litres of water per wash (this is high usage) still consumes only a quarter of the water used by a person at home washing their car with a hosepipe (480 litres). It is for this reason that the washing of a car at home is banned in other countries, such as Germany.”

Mechanical car washes, like regulated hand car washes, also properly dispose of the detergents they use to clean your car. That’s not always the case with unregulated hand car washes. Brian Madderson from the PRA said: “They’re using all kinds of horrible chemicals, particularly to clean alloy wheels, and there’s very little done to stop this stuff just being flushed into the local waterways.”

Here’s how you should wash your car to clean off the Saharan dustHere’s how you should wash your car to clean off the Saharan dust

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