Cheap car washes in Houston

HOUSTON As the economy shrinks, high-end car washes have seen their businesses do the same, so many are cutting prices and some are even willing to negotiate a deal, proving that a car wash or wax isn't too expensive even during this time of recession.

The sun beats down on cars every day and rain in Houston this summer has been scarce. With time and money in short supply, keeping cars clean is tough.

At CARisma Car Wash on Kirby Road, washes start at just $4. There are no frills here. Drivers vacuum their cars themselves and drive through the wash. A price of $6 offers more cleaning action and the price is $10 for a wash that includes wheel cleaner and clear coat protectant.

And yet, even at this place there are discounts.

If the $10 wash is purchased, it is possible to mail in a rebate card and get $3 back -- and there's no catch.

"Keep the receipt and they're going to send you back $3 dollars, so you get a $10 car wash for just $7," Rory Prince, owner of CARisma car wash, said.

If a driver spends $50 on a pre-paid card at CARisma, he or she can get $55 worth of washes.

At Mister Car Wash, also on Kirby Road, it is possible to drive through the express wash for $7, and for $23 per month, vehicle owners can drive through as many times as they wish. Go once a week and that's less than $6 per wash. Coupons from their web site offer extras, like the express #2 wash for $7 instead of $10 -- that includes a tire dressing, hand drying and a conditioner.

At Regency Car Wash on South Main Street the basic drive-through wash costs $7. But, two months ago because of the economy, the owner started offering packages on his full service washes and higher end packages, "so that those that feel a little crunched right now, we can accommodate them," Mohammad Dosani, Regency Car Wash owner, said.

Just a word about membership cards -- some of them offer a good discount and some of them don't save drivers very much money. The best deals were found on prepaid packages. Some can save vehicle owners up to 40 percent off car washes.

Regency has a package of 4 full-service washes where they vacuum the car's interior for just $33. That comes out to just $8.25 a wash instead of the $13 normal price. Or, it is possible to buy eight of them for $59 dollars -- that's less than $8 a wash.

Also, don't throw those grocery receipts right away. Kroger and Fiesta receipts have coupons on the back that can save drivers $3 off the full service wash -- that's a $13 wash for $10. And, early birds get 10 percent off from 8 AM to 10 AM, a slow time for most washes. Ask about a similar deal at other car washes.

"They're very nice here, they take care of my car," Bubbles Hand Car Wash customer Steven Sax said.

Customers like Sax say they trust Bubbles Hand Car Wash, located on Kirby Road. He says the Porsche dealer even recommended the place to him when he bought his car.

"It's by hand and nothing touches the car," Sax said.

The basic wash at Bubbles is $14.95, but a book of pre-paid washes can knock that price down significantly to as little as $9 if many are purchased ahead of time.

Buy eight pre-paid washes and drivers receive two for free -- that's less than $11 per wash. With the 15 wash pre-paid package, vehicle owners receive five free, so 20 washes for $224.25 equals $9.71 per wash. Buy 35 and 15 washes are free, so $523.25 comes out to about $9 per wash, a savings of $195.

"We're the champagne of car washes and we pride ourselves on that in every car that we do," Kevin Paxton, store manager at Bubbles, said.

There are memberships that you have to pay for, but for free it is possible to register online with Bubbles and get their early bird special -- any Monday through Friday before 11 AM drivers receive $3 off their wash.

At South Beach Auto Spa on Farnham Street the wash is entirely by hand. Their basic wash with interior vacuum is $14 dollars, but Monday through Thursday it's 10 percent less, so $12.60 for the hand wash or $21.60 for the "Mercedes Benz of washes," the executive wash, which is normally $24.

"My car always looks great," South Beach customer Sandra Morgan said. "They do a wonderful job. They're very honest -- I forgot money under my seat [and] they gave it to me. They're very nice."

This car wash e-mails its customers special package discounts each month. Right now the hand car wax, normally $60, is $45 Sunday through Thursday. The local owners say drivers can negotiate with them to get the price they want for their services.

"These prices are not flat at all," Dustin Rosen, manager at South Beach, said. "We'll work with all of our prices."

That's something to keep in mind at any car wash, especially on days when business is slow.

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