To keep your car looking its best, it’s wise to wash it regularly. However, there are many methods available for cleaning your car, so you have some choices to make. How much does a car wash cost and which method should you choose?
A car wash can cost anywhere from $5 to $150 or more, depending on what type of services you opt for. If you wash the car yourself, you will only need to pay for the supplies. On the other end of the spectrum, a full detail could increase the cost substantially.
In this guide, we evaluate the different expenses you could face while getting a car wash. We also look at ways to save on the cost, so you can take care of your vehicle on a budget.
What Affects Car Wash Cost?
1. Vehicle Type
The type of vehicle you drive has a profound effect on the cost of a wash. Not only will you need more supplies for a bigger vehicle, but a professional car wash might charge more because of the additional labor involved.
When looking at detailing prices, you also see a profound change based on whether the car is compact or larger. While you may only pay a small fee to have a sports car detailed, you can expect to pay much more on your full-size truck or SUV.
2. Car Wash Type
There are huge cost differences based on what car wash you opt for. For example, you might spend the least amount washing the car by hand, especially if you have all of the supplies at home.
On the other hand, the detail can be the most expensive overall, but also provides the highest level of quality. We review each type of car wash in a few minutes.
You can get a very basic, cheap car wash to keep the cost to a minimum. However, this car wash is just going to involve spraying water and soap on the vehicle.
If you want anything extra, be prepared to pay for it. Some examples include Rain-X protection, undercarriage washes, wax, tire shine or hand drying.
Unless you are going through an automatic car wash without attendants, you should factor in the cost of a tip. At any hand wash or full-service car wash, a tip is customary.
The amount you tip depends on what type of work was done. On average, you should offer 10-15% of the service price to show how much you appreciate the work. If one of the worker’s hand dries the vehicle, you want to tip them another $2-3.
Cost to Wash Car at Home
The most inexpensive way to get your car clean is to wash it at home. If you have enough time, you can do just as well as a professional detailer would.
If you have all of the supplies, there’s no upfront cost at all. However, even after you purchase everything needed, you might only be spending $5-10 per wash.
Cost to Wash Car at Self-Service Bay
If you want to wash your vehicle yourself but don’t have the equipment or the space, consider visiting a local self-service establishment. For these services, you pay for the amount of time using the equipment.
On average, you might spend $5-20 at the self-service car wash, depending on how much you need to get accomplished and how long you are there.
During the wash, you will be able to rinse the car, soap it and rinse it off. You will also be able to take advantage of the heavy-duty sponge, pre-soak settings and high-pressure jets.
Cost to Wash Car at Gas Station
Many local gas stations have an automatic car wash that you can run the vehicle through. On average, you can expect to spend $5-15 on a basic car wash and air dry.
However, some gas stations offer a promo that could save you a ton of money. If you fill up the tank with fuel, you might be able to get a free or heavily-reduced car wash price.
Cost for Touchless Car Wash
With the touchless car wash, you put your vehicle inside the bay and it gets washed without the use of any sponges or materials touching the vehicle. These are a good option if you are worried about scratches or damage to the car.
On average, expect to pay $10-20 for the touchless car wash. However, this cost only covers the basic wash. If you want any add-ons, such as tire shine, wax, clear coat or undercarriage wash, you will need to pay more.
Cost for Automatic Car Wash
The automatic car wash is very similar to the touchless, except this one will have materials that touch your vehicle. Still, there is no one hand-washing the car, so you are simply running it through some equipment.
On average, you can expect to pay $10-30 for the automatic car wash. If you want to add on other services, these will all be extra. If you aren’t careful, you could find yourself spending far more on these options than if you had the vehicle detailed. However, some establishments run loyalty programs where you can get a discounted rate if you visit often or pre-pay.
Cost for Hand Car Wash
If you are concerned with the paint of your vehicle remaining in good shape, you might want to avoid automated washes. That’s where the hand wash comes in. You won’t have as many swirl marks and scratches in the paint when it is done.
The hand car wash is going to take much longer than the automated options. Plus, employees have to wash your car manually, which is why it could cost $25-40 for a single wash.
Cost for Full-Service Car Wash
If you want the entire car washed and detailed, it’s best to visit a full-service shop. It’s going to take some time for the wash to be done, so bring along a book to read or work to do.
On average, you might spend $100-200, depending on how big your vehicle is and what you want to be serviced. For most people, this wash and detailing is something that is only done occasionally to pamper the vehicle. It’s seen as an investment, not only because it helps protect the exterior and interior of the vehicle, but it will also help you get the highest resale value possible when you go to sell. You might consider splurging on this service yearly or every six months.
Car Wash Vs. Car Detail
The terms car wash and car detail are often used interchangeably, but they mean two different things. The procedures are completely different and the cost is also something to consider. However, both methods are going to clean your car, it’s just a matter of how well.
During a typical car wash, the exterior of the vehicle gets hosed down and washed, although the methods can vary. This procedure is relatively quick, especially if you are going through an automatic machine. You can opt for more than a simple wash by adding a wax, tire shine or more.
On the other hand, detailing the car is going to be much more intensive. In total, you could spend hours getting the vehicle detailed. The workers will start by washing the car, but they will use advanced equipment to get the job done. Additionally, the entire interior is going to be cared for, with a vacuuming, dusting and protectant applied.
After the detailing is done, the car will appear as it did in the showroom. This process requires not only more time but also more money. It might be best to have a complete detail once a year or more frequently if you are planning to sell the vehicle in the future. By maintaining the vehicle, you can ensure a higher resale value.
Save Money on Car Wash
If you want to reduce your car wash expenses, there are a few steps you can take.
- Purchase the supplies and wash the car at home. While this won’t save you money at first, you won’t be paying for each car wash.
- Sign up for a car wash subscription. Many of the hand wash and automatic wash locations offer a monthly subscription or loyalty plan. If you pay a certain amount for the month, you can get unlimited washes or save on some once you pay for so many. Talk to your local establishment to find out what’s offered.
- Use a coupon. Ask the establishment if there are coupons that can be used. You can also check local directory booklets, savings mailers and on their website. In some cases, the car wash will even accept competitors’ coupons, so be sure to ask.
If you want to get your money’s worth out of a car wash, make sure you keep the vehicle clean. The more often you wash it, the better the service will perform because there’s less grime and dirt to remove.