Are You Paying Way Too Much at the Car Wash?
If you had to guess, what cities would you say spend the most on their cars annually?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the West and the Northeast spent the most on vehicular upkeep (costs aside from gas), averaging $2,623 and $2,785 per household respectively in 2010. Over the past decade, these regions have run neck and neck for the Car Fretful Crown.
It should also be noted these two regions are the richest (and more expensive) parts of the country, so it would make sense that both would spend consistently higher than the South or Midwest, where consumers averaged $2,285 and $2,315 in 2010 respectively.
Neither the West nor Northeast can claim any specific topographical or meteorological attributes that would explain these consistent disparities, so it’s safe to assume the difference in car care costs are purely economical.
But that’s not the whole story.
These car numbers supplied by the government are supported by Bundle’s data culled from aggregated, anonymous data of more than 20 million credit card transactions. For example, we separated the top ten US cities that spend the most on car washes and detailing per household. Notice that they are all in the West and Northeast (with the exception of Honolulu and DC):
- Los Angeles, CA
- Honolulu, HI
- New York, NY
- Seattle, WA
- Oakland, CA
- San Jose, CA
- San Francisco, CA
- Sacramento, CA
- Washington, DC
- Boston, MA
Angelinos are particularly devoted to their car’s needs, spending $243.02 per household on their car’s appearance as compared to $135.67 per household for the next highest on the list, Honolulu.
This makes sense as LA has both a robust car culture and a relatively high cost of living. The same goes for second-ranked Honolulu whose island-ness makes car upkeep—and living in general—more expensive.
You may be surprised to see New York City on the list. We were. Life in the dense urban jungles of Gotham tends to discourage car ownership. According to the website StreetsBlog, only 46% of NYC households own cars. This is by far the lowest percentage of car ownership of any city (the next two on that list being the NYC-satellite cities of Newark and Jersey City). So, how does this decidedly un-motored town manage to be number three on the list with $112.19 per-household spent on pampering their cars?
The answer probably has to do with the schizophrenic nature of the city itself.
New York is a strange place in that brand new condo buildings with million-dollar units (and private garage access) are literally down the block from decades-old public housing complexes. The dearth of acreage makes for strange neighbors in this city. So, while there are indeed people who own cars in NYC, these car owners—specifically those in Manhattan—tend towards higher incomes and are therefore catered to by a high-end service industry.
Rough math: if you look at our top 15 car wash joints in NYC (determined by our Bundle algorithm, which takes into account factors such as loyalty and popularity), the average total spend at these locations is $26.50 (for the purpose of this piece, we factored out the $169 average check at Gleason’s as an outlier, as they also do car repair). This is very rough math, as we're not able to separate any other services paid for at these locations. However, if we compare this to the top 15 car wash spots in, say, Tampa, Florida, we find the average total check is only $18.86.
So, the cost of just going to a car wash, like most things, is far more expensive in NYC. A similar pattern holds true for the average total spent at car washes in Boston ($22.54 car wash average, outliers aside) and San Francisco ($23.22, outliers aside)—cities that made the top-pampered-car list, but are not known for their automotive ways.
However, our data can also show us which cities get their cars washed or detailed most often. And this data paints a completely different story than who spends the most. Below are the top 10 most-often-washed-car cities:
- Wichita, KS
- Oklahoma City, OK
- Colorado Springs, CO
- Kansas City, MO
- Dallas, TX
- Tulsa, OK
- Nashville, TN
- Fort Worth, TX
- Omaha, NE
- Long Beach, CA
With a few exceptions, it’s a big ol’ Midwest fest. And the reason these car-crazy cities didn’t make our most-expensive car cities has to do with regional economics. When we average the total check that people spent per cleaning in top car-washy Wichita, we find the average is only $13.64. And that number includes the $52 total average at Knipp’s Car Wash (a probable outlier). A more typical Wichita cleaning is around $9 such as you would find at Panther Carwash in nearby Derby, KS.
So, while the initial data may show that New Yorkers—or the Northeast in general—love their cars because they're willing to spend so much, the truth of the matter is, they just don’t really have a choice in the matter.
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