A Discussion on the On-Going Industry War Between Mobile Carwashes and Fixed Carwashes

Back in the late 80s and early 90s I ran a mobile car wash business and little did I know, I would find myself involved in the very beginning of a multiple decade war between mobile and fixed site car washes – a battle against the established status quo and the new mobile car washing sector. Obviously they didn’t want me driving around in the business districts and washing cars for all the employees at all the different corporations because that meant I took business away.

Of course being a young buck and highly competitive, I figured I was up for a fight, and that’s exactly what I got. Although this was the first major battle of fixed site car washes versus mobile Carwash subscription, it would play out nation-wide, and it still goes on today. You see, car wash owners have a huge investment, often over a million dollars including building, equipment, and the land underneath, they need to protect their investment, and get a decent return on investment, thus, mobile car washing is a threat to their bottom line.

Typically what happens is the carwash local owners get together and complain to the local municipality, and complain that the mobile washers are polluting by putting used wash water on the ground and it will drain off into rivers, lakes, or the ocean, calling it an environmental issue. The reality is that mobile carwash systems use very little amounts of water, and mostly clean regular customer’s cars that are not that dirty from the prior week. Also they barely use any soap because it takes more water to rinse and they must bring the water with them, which is always in scarce supply.

Meanwhile, the fixed sit carwashes spray up underneath the cars, and they have a reclaim system, but as the cars drive off of the carwash lot the cars would drip water from their undercarriage onto the ground, and that water has grease and oil in it, thus, also an environmental issue. It is interesting that today, that little local war which I was involved with goes on still today in cities across America. Still, the history of why is particularly important to how these local car wash wars play out today.

Interestingly enough, the carwash owner who was most adamant about removing me as a competitor in the marketplace way back in the 1980s also happened to be a board member at the International Carwash Association (ICA), and this association representing a $13 Billion year industry and some 80,000 fixed site car washes in the US today, certainly doesn’t want any threats in the marketplace, especially now in during a recession. Well, if you are wondering how come this controversy in the industry persists today, it does make sense to understand its history.

Ever since that time the fixed site operators have often gone after mobile car washers, and even to this day they work very hard in getting environmental regulatory bodies to put them out of business. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.