Are you the type who likes getting your car washed every week or two? If so, a monthly unlimited program might seem tempting…but is it worth it? Unlimited plans for washing your car—typically anywhere from $20 to $50 monthly subscription to match—may not be a good investment if you know how to keep your car protected.
To be clear, these subscription-based car wash membership services we’re discussing fall into the tunnel wash category, not any type of contract a local auto detailer may offer.
These washes are usually no-touch or semi-touch (meaning someone may wipe the car down).
While I’m not a huge fan of car wash membership plans, they can be beneficial in certain situations. In this post, you’ll learn about some pros and cons to make the best decision possible.
Why unlimited car wash clubs can be bad
It depends. You shouldn’t need to wash a well-protected vehicle (either by hand or an automatic wash) more than a couple of times each month. Overwashing can lead to premature wear and tear on your clear coat and increases the chances of swirl marks.
We recommend applying a ceramic coating if you’re having trouble keeping dirt off your vehicle and feel the need to wash it every few days. Check out our post on ceramic coatings for beginners if you’re new to coatings.
Reasons to consider an unlimited car wash club
While we’re always pro-handwashing, car wash memberships can be useful in certain circumstances. Here are a few reasons:
1. As a last resort during winter months
If you have no other options, monthly plans with no long-term commitments can help you remove salt in the winter. Sometimes it’s cold…and using a touch-free tunnel wash is better than nothing at all.
Again, I want to stress unlimited conveyer-style wash programs aren’t a great idea long-term; sometimes the chemicals used can be harsh and they don’t always wash off completely.
Any time you repeatedly force water into small gaps in metal over and over and over…premature corrosion can occur. For older vehicles, this tends to be more of an issue.
That’s not to say washing with a hose is a bad thing, but taking time to properly dry your vehicle by hand is always ideal.
2. To keep fleet vehicles clean
An unlimited club can be a good option if you own a fleet-based business. Some clubs may offer a discounted price based on vehicle count.
For service-based businesses where brand image is everything, a fleet washing service will likely be more cost effective.
3. For interior detailing services
A monthly membership program specific to interior detailing can be a good value, especially if you’re the type that spends a ton of time in your vehicle like I do.
Based on my research, it can be difficult to find a monthly car wash club that only offers interior services, but it’s worth asking about. Even if you skip the conveyor wash, keeping the interior clean can be worth it if you have the time on your lunch break for a quick interior detail.
What to expect with a car wash club membership
1. Club member lanes with RFID scanning
Some unlimited wash programs use RFID tags to open and close the gates. Many companies will issue a simple RFID sticker for your windshield that will open the gate to enter the wash.
With unlimited programs, you also usually have a dedicated members-only lane which is great for busy days when there is a huge line of cars waiting in line at the other gates.
Some washes like Tommy-Express can use your license plate number as verification, opening the gate after a successful match.
2. Expect a per-vehicle cost
With most unlimited wash programs I’ve seen, the monthly rate includes one designated vehicle only…not the entire family fleet!
Some car wash companies may offer discounts if you sign up for more than one vehicle, usually $5-$10 off the monthly price for the second vehicle.
3. Full service and express package options
Most express packages start at around $20 per month and include a basic conveyor wash with no interior detailing services.
Other monthly unlimited packages may include basic interior services like vacuuming, wiping down mats and seats, and hand drying the exterior.
Unlimited full-service packages (including interior detailing) can be worth it if work out of your car, or drive for a ride-sharing company.
Assuming your use case for owning the vehicle is strictly utility and not to keep it looking brand new…unlimited clubs can be fine.
4. Month-to-month billing
Most of the unlimited programs I have seen don’t require an annual contract, so you can cancel at any time if you are unsatisfied.
Are unlimited car wash clubs really worth it?
Unlimited car wash clubs can be worth it based on the purpose of your vehicle and your preferences. If you want to maintain a blemish-free exterior, we recommend hand washing as the better option.
If you’re looking to protect an older vehicle or drive for a ride-sharing company, I do think unlimited clubs can be beneficial in certain months and circumstances.
Tunnel washes do save a lot of time and are convenient…even though it’s not the best way to wash.
Weigh the cost of touchless and automatic washes
The per-wash cost of a traditional tunnel wash generally falls in the $10-$25 range for a base package. Membership clubs range from about $20 to $35. However, if you decide to go the membership route, your monthly fees may not save you as much as you think!
In some months you forget to go, in other months you may visit 3-4 times. For me, I typically end up canceling a lot of ‘unlimited’ programs after getting excited about the cost savings for the first few months.
It all depends on the membership you purchase, but be sure to do the math before purchasing an unlimited monthly plan.
Professional detailing services vs car wash clubs
Car wash clubs don’t compare with getting your vehicle professionally detailed inside and out. Think of detailing like surgery—where every detail is scrutinized with a high level of care. A tunnel wash is like a trip to the drugstore. You can feel better and see results, but you won’t fix underlying problems without seeing a specialist..
Learn how to wash your vehicle like a pro
If you’re tired of paying for sub-par tunnel washes, consider our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners. We walk you through several hours of classroom instruction on how to think about washing the exterior and detailing the interior of a vehicle.
If you’re still on the fence, check out my post 5 Convincing Reasons Why Having Your Car Detailed Is Worth It if you’ve never had your vehicle detailed regularly. Good luck!