Touchless Car Wash Isn’t

Bottom line: Touchless car wash scratches a car again.

For those of you unfamiliar with these places here in San Francisco–the idea is that you can get your car hand-washed in about ten minutes for $20 or so. Many people don’t use the mechanical car washes because they’ve been led to believe that the brushes on these machines will scratch the paint or will eventually wear down some of the coatings on various trim parts. The problem, of course, is that the human element of the hand-wash businesses comes into play, and at least some of the dozen or so hands that will touch your car do so perfunctorily. So Twilight Zone admonitions be damned, the machines here seem to have the upper hand–they do not succumb to indolence or apathy, as the towel-wielders at Touchless Car Wash seem to.

A scratch on a car is not as simple or small as it might seem. A scratch will at some point take at least a few hundred dollars out of your pocket. If you try to sell your car, the prospective buyer will most likely look for any scratch or ding to deduct from the price. A pro buyer may even pass on your car, as s/he knows it won’t even be saleable. If you take your car to a body shop to get it fixed or estimated, you’ll most likely be looking at least $200 to paint over just one scratch. So yeah, scratches are a big deal. And don’t even mention getting your car keyed–that could be a thousand-dollar assault.

The first time it happpened at Touchless, we complained. The manager said he’d “look into it” and check the video tape they take of all the cars that come through their car wash on Divisadero. I was thinking that that was not a great plan for the manager to follow, as the person who videotapes the cars does so perfunctorily and at a distance, so the video would seem to almost always err in favor of the customer. I was wondering how they would wiggle out of this, as the mere existence of the tape would likely prove that we were right. To my surprise, the manager simply said that there was no tape of the car, so there was no way for him to look into it.

My friend took the car into the body shop and had the scratches repaired. The insurance paid part of it, but not nearly all of it. It was quite expensive to repair. I could’ve ordered the entire line of the current iPods for less than the deductible. 😉

Now fast forward a couple of months to car-wash time. We take the car in again. I’m pretty picky about making sure that businesses uphold their end of the bargain, and I almost always inspect the car before giving and before picking up at local valets. In the last few weeks, I’ve inspected the car and haven’t seen any scratches at all. The car has shiny black paint, so all scratches are noticeable. We get the car back this time, and it has scratches in the telltale pattern–on the sides of the car, the three or four scratches are more or less aligned parallel to the ground. But worse, there is a scratch that is nearly a gash on the hood, near the hood emblem.

No, this time we didn’t see the manager. We gave up. We didn’t think anything would happen. When was the last time you were in such a situation and the manager said My goodness, somebody must’ve scratched your car. Send me the estimate, and I’ll cut you a check.?

Yes, I’m sure such a busy car wash must receive its share of locos, but since they are targeting the high end (I assume) of consumers, a little customer service would be in order. My friend, after all, will most likely end up spending quite a bit of money to fix that scratch.

For those of you wondering why we returned–it was simple inertia and willingness to give the benefit of the doubt. But at this point, I’m starting to believe they are actually dangerous.

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