My car is what I consider to be an average college mode of transportation, sporting rust spots and questionable mechanical features. It also has an omnipresent film of grime covering its true silver nature — the kind that tempts even the most mature of adults to draw smiley faces — proving my aversion to commercial car washes.
To be fair, I learned how to drive on backcountry roads that rendered the washing of my vehicle obsolete. Car washes were never on my checklist of car maintenance unless my parents tasked me with washing all of our cars by hand. It wasn’t until I started noticing how often my friends would go through the car wash, that I learned how normal it was to spend more than a few dollars a month on a shiny vehicular exterior. I could not and will not spend time and money on using more resources to clean my carbon dioxide-pumping machine.
The purpose of washing a car is not exclusively aesthetics. During winter months in states that use salt to melt ice from roadways, car washes keep vehicles from rusting. A vehicle’s undercarriage and parts can be clogged with tar, dirt and grime that could cause damage later on in its lifetime.
Instead of going through a car wash, consider rinsing the car with a hose instead — though be mindful of the amount of water used. Since I bought my car secondhand, my vehicle already displayed a few rusty spots around the rims and hood. It came to me rusty, and it will die with me rusty. If one day I decide the salt bothers me on my car, I can use it for a salted martini rim. Alternatively, a person could perform their own rendition of The Notebook with the love interest being their vehicle — rain can make anything romantic with the right imaginative mindset.
Many commercial car washes in the United States are mindful of the wastewater they produce, filtering it to remove toxins. However, the chemicals splashed and scrubbed onto a vehicle are not biodegradable. Some of the chemicals used in the average “car shampoo” are sodium lauryl sulfate, coco diethanolamide and isopropyl alcohol. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, coco diethanolamide is a foaming agent and is a possible carcinogen, meaning it has the potential to cause cancer.
Biodegradable and eco-friendly soaps mitigate the environmental impact when washing a car in the driveway. Soaps should not contain chlorine, phosphates, petroleum-based ingredients and fragrance. To filter the wastewater even further, position the vehicle over a lawn so the water can be naturally filtered before it reaches a storm drain.
An average car wash costs $7 to $15 that I, as a full-time college student, do not have lying around. Personally, the dust and grime does not bother me, and it should not bother others either. A car wash is a way to maintain a vehicle, which is the only reason it should be done. However, rain water works just as well, if not better. As South Dakotans, we should consider the carbon footprint our cars leave on our environment, and car washing contributes to another frivolous use of limited resources.