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The pathetic state of Philippine car wash

Filipino car owners deserve the best cleaning machines out there

Most Filipino car owners make do with the friendly neighborhood car wash. No choice. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

It’s fair to say that people around here love their cars. With the recent economic boom that brought vehicle ownership within easy reach of many more consumers who previously could never afford their own four wheels, owning a car is a really big deal and a subject of great pride. Days and weeks are often spent reading reviews and comparing prices on the path to picking the right car, but when it comes to maintaining that prized possession, Filipino drivers paradoxically seem to be much less demanding. I am talking about the state of the Philippine car wash.

You’re lucky if your car wash place has curtain dividers. Some don’t even have these. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Almost all car wash places around here seem to be set up the same way. A shed-like structure with a tin roof and space for two to five cars that is run by a bunch of young guys, with a radio blaring in the background and, if you’re lucky, a waiting area for customers, tastefully furnished with plastic chairs and an ashtray (true deluxe establishments also have some food vendor attached to them). There also never seems to be a real pressure washer in sight. Instead, tired-looking pumps mounted on the back wall suck water out of blue plastic drums before pushing it along ordinary garden hoses that are then used to rinse the vehicles. The watering can my wife uses for her flowers has more water pressure than this setup, and as a result the job of actually cleaning dirt off cars is not left to highly accelerated water molecules, but instead falls to a dirty old rag.

Why do we let these rags touch our car? Horrific. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

This mangy piece of fabric is usually dragged across the paint job with varying degrees of enthusiasm, with the holder often not shying away from leaning over the bodywork or standing on the tires to reach those hard-to-access areas. After another low-pressure rinse, it’s time for the drying-off process that is facilitated by means of another dirty old rag. At the end of it all, you are usually left with something that kind of resembles a clean car, but it’s not an ideal process. And while I would never want to knock the entrepreneurial spirit of car wash operators, I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be demanding better. After all, a car is the second-most expensive purchase most of us ever make, and there are some pretty tasty machines halfway across the globe that will keep your car nice and shiny.

This is how privately owned vehicles are pampered in Western countries. We like. PHOTOS FROM CHRIST WASH SYSTEMS

One of my earliest car-related childhood memories was the ritual of going to the car wash on a Saturday (in Germany, obviously). The place we always went to back in my Bavarian hometown was attached to a gasoline station, and my father would first fill up the car and then get it cleaned, leaving the family Merc (a yellow W123 300TD) sparkling in the warm morning sun. This wasn’t a normal car wash, though. This was an object of great wonder. An automated hulk of a machine that would pull your car through a foam- and brush-filled tunnel of cleanliness, where high-pressure water jets and rotating brushes attacked dirt with great vigor, before a massive blow dryer removed all the water without any human hand ever touching the paintwork. Here is a similar machine in action. Behold the Christ Indoor Express Car Wash Tunnel Evolution with twin-plate conveyor:

This was a fascinating machine for little me, and I wonder why we don’t have any of these things over here. Don’t tell me it’s because the Philippines is a Third World country and people don’t like to spend money. This country has countless Starbucks branches patronized by people who buy P150 caffeinated beverages just so they can get a stupid planner they will never really use. And let’s not even start with all the automotive expenditure you see around here. The amount of aftermarket parts installed on vehicles every day is enough evidence that Filipino car owners can very well afford to spend more than P100 for a car wash. All we need is someone to bring a few of those high-tech machines over.

Self-service car wash, anyone? Looks fun. PHOTO FROM CHRIST WASH SYSTEMS

The other thing that amazes me is the lack of places that offer self-service car wash. You might ask: Why on earth would someone want to go through all the trouble of cleaning a car himself if he could have someone else do it for some loose change? Well, washing your car is more than just removing the dirt that has accumulated on it over time. It’s a deeply therapeutic activity that allows you to unwind and think about the important things in life. Like which car-loving businessman do we need to contact and convince to bring a Christ Indoor Express Car Wash Tunnel Evolution to the Philippines?

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring.