If you are the type of person that gets tired of paying $10 to wash your car every week, then you may want to look into a monthly unlimited program. I know some of you like to wash your own cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles which I always recommend over these types of unlimited programs.
That being said, unlimited wash programs do serve a purpose if you are the type of person who values convenience, doesn’t drive an exotic or luxury vehicle, or just may not want to spend each Saturday with a wash mitt and bucket.
If you live in the city and don’t have time to get your car detailed by a professional detailer, automatic ‘touchless car washes’ or even the occasional full-service tunnel wash can be a good alternative.
However, these options can get expensive if you use them without thinking (like I have in the past). It’s not uncommon to spend $60-$70 per month per vehicle each month.
In this post, I’ll break down unlimited car wash programs and their benefits, so you can decide if it financially makes sense for you.
The true cost of automatic or hand wash options
The main reason to go with an unlimited wash program is the amount of money you’re likely to spend on just keeping your vehicle relatively clean. In each of these three scenarios, I’ll assume that a driver only wants his or her car washed once a week.
The cost of touchless and automatic washes
Based on my experience and research, most automatic car wash base packages start out at around $7-8 per wash, which can really add up especially in spring/summer months when there is a lot of grass, debris, and dirt flying around. Not to mention the winter, when road salt is an issue.
To really maintain a clean vehicle, it would cost me around $40-50 at a minimum per month based on the touchless washes in my area. And that doesn’t include the $15 package with waxes or coatings.
Most underbody packages also usually start at around $10, and something that is usually a standard option for these unlimited programs –perfect for road salt in the winter.
The cost of handwashing and full-service options
If you ever use a self-service bay, it’s at least a 20 to 45-minute job if I want to do it correctly, including any vacuuming or wiping. The change machine is generally a pain to deal with, and you normally don’t have enough time to be thorough before you must deposit more money.
To simply wash the exterior, expect to spend at least $5-10 plus whatever your time is worth. Again, this can get costly and time-consuming if done right and will cost you at least $50 plus any
Any time you pay for a full-service wash you’re typically looking at around $20 to $30.
What to expect with an unlimited wash program
In terms of unlimited programs, most of these are just like automatic car washes you normally visit, although some may be conveyer-driven where an attendant will align your vehicle on a conveyer at the entrance.
Unlimited wash clubs are pretty common at most car wash franchises (with employees) and are a great option that usually only applies to exterior washing.
In other words, don’t expect free unlimited interior detailing, but you can typically receive discounts on interior detailing services as a member.
Cost savings example
At Mr. Car Wash in Maryland (for example) for $50 a month, you can receive unlimited platinum full serve washes, as opposed to $37 per wash otherwise. Within two washes, you’re already saving!
Club member lanes with RFID scanning
Oftentimes, these unlimited wash programs will utilize a simple RFID sticker on your windshield that will open the gate for you.
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 will simply use your license plate as verification, opening the gate after a successful match.
Most unlimited car washes operate on a per vehicle subscription model
With pretty much all unlimited wash programs I’ve seen, you pay per vehicle you own, but not as many vehicles as you want per month.
Some of these car wash companies do offer discounts if you sign up for more than one vehicle, usually $5-$10 off the monthly price for the second vehicle.
Full service vs. express packages for unlimited programs
Most of the time with unlimited wash programs, pricing starts at around $20 per month which includes your most basic wash with no interior detailing services. This usually includes a basic touchless wash, followed by hand drying by a staff member.
Other monthly unlimited packages also include staff members vacuuming the interior, wiping down mats and seats, and other interior detailing services.
These packages usually range from about $50 to $75 per month but are great if you are constantly on the road and desire a clean car inside and out.
These unlimited full-service packages (including interior detailing) are great if you work out of your car, eat in your car, or drive for a ride-sharing company and need to keep everything presentable.
Billing and contracts for unlimited car wash programs
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. Billing is typically month to month, like most subscription services you’re probably familiar with
So, are unlimited car wash programs worth it?
The truth of the matter is unlimited car wash programs can be worth it if you wash your vehicle more than once or twice a month.
Unlimited wash programs are relatively hard to find where I live but are a great value if (a) you like the convenience of a tunnel wash and (b) don’t have a very high-end vehicle you’re worried about.
Detailing, on the other hand, I definitely recommend since washing vs detailing are completely different things.
Check out my post 5 Convincing Reason Why Having Your Car Detailed Is Worth It to find out why.
That said, unlimited programs are great but not for everyone, especially if you are concerned about swirl marks or the possibility of micro-scratches.
If your car is past the point of looking absolutely factory perfect on the outside, they are a good option if you are on a busy schedule, and a lot cheaper than hiring a mobile detailer.
You don’t want to wash your car too often (like every day), as this can lead to an increased risk of wearing through your car’s clear coat, leaving scratches, and fading trim pieces.
However, unlimited membership programs when used a few times per month can usually save you several hundred bucks per year.