Clark Howard

Are Car Wash Memberships Worth It?

Back in the day, car washes used to cost a few dollars and typically were done by teenagers looking to raise money for a school trip or something similar. It's big business now, eclipsing the $33 billion mark in the United States.

Thanks to some innovative pricing in the industry, car washes are becoming a thing again.

Would You Pay a Monthly Subscription To Wash Your Car?

"Car washes are in, in, in," says money expert Clark Howard. "It's growing exponentially," he says, referring to the car wash business. "What led to this is whoever the brainiac was who came up with the idea of a monthly subscription for car washes, following the model of a fitness center."'

In this article, we will cover whether it makes sense to purchase a car wash subscription. Clark will also share some advice on how to make it worth it for your wallet.

Clark says much of the success of car washes today can be attributed to its pricing model.

“What happened with the model for car washes is that the industry raised the cost of a single car wash. If you remember, when we ended up with what the marketplace would consider to be too many car wash locations, the price of a single car wash started to go down, down, down,” Clark says. “A lot of places went down to $3 or $5 for an automatic car wash.”

What Is the Average Cost of a Car Wash?

According to Rain Storm Car Washes, a car wash can cost anywhere from $3 to $20, depending on whether it's a do-it-yourself wash or an automatic wash. Full-service washes range from $20 to $50 and detailing could range into the hundreds of dollars.

It’s safe to say that for the most basic car wash, you may pay about $10 or so, Clark says.

“Why is it $10? They use this as a sales tool to try to get you into a monthly subscription,” Clark says. “And there are people, just as with a fitness center, who are the gym rats – they’re there day after day after day – but most people seem to forget that they’ve even joined the gym.”

Is a Car Wash Subscription Worth It for You?

If you’re considering buying a car wash subscription, here are some things to consider:

How Many Times a Month Are You Going To Go To the Car Wash?

Clark saw a car wash at an intersection that was $5.99 a month for unlimited car washes for two months. Then after the $5.99 two-month promo period ended, it would go to $20 a month. If you wanted a single wash, it was $10.

If we use the scenario Clark cited as an example, here’s the math:

  • $10 per car wash without a subscription.
  • $20 a month for unlimited washes with a subscription.

For this to be worth it, you'd have to go to the car wash at least three times a month. If you only go to the car wash twice a month, a subscription would not be necessary.

So, when you make your calculations at your local car wash, think long and hard about how many times a month you’ll actually get your car washed.

Are You Prepared for a Price Increase Once You Subscribe?

After you sign up for a car wash subscription, Clark says you’ll also want to brace yourself to pay higher monthly prices after a while.

“Know that with these car wash locations proliferating, at some point there will be price wars. But the price wars are only useful to you if the rate doesn’t escalate,” Clark says.

Let’s say the car wash offers you a subscription for $14.99 a month. How long does that stay in effect?

“As the cable monsters have learned, offer someone a deal for a period of time, then have the rate escalate, and people will, just as a force of habit, keep paying the higher rate,” Clark says.

Clark wants you to go into this with your eyes wide open: Be prepared for the subscription price to increase at some point. When that happens, you may be able to bail, or you may be stuck in the terms of the subscription until it expires.

Bottom Line

Do you like to get your car washed every week? If so, then a subscription may make sense to you. But you'd better do the math and get your car washed faithfully.

“Because the car wash business is opening up like crazy just to sell monthly subscriptions that most people never use,” Clark says.

“And if you know yourself – that you’ll get that car washed enough to make it work for you – then fine, but if you find that you’re not using it, go through the process to discontinue,” he says.

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