Workin' at the car wash - pondering the ins and outs of keeping your car clean

If you're the kind of driver who has been spending more and more on car washes in the last few years, you may be thinking of cutting back on all that expensive detailing now that money is tight. I talked with a few car wash experts about what you really need and what really pays off in car washing.

The average car gets washed four times a year, says Mark Thorsby, executive director of the International Carwash Association, which, to no one's surprise, recommends a more frequent cleaning of once or twice a month. Car owners have always had a wide range of what they consider the acceptable level of cleanliness and care for their cars.

Many mix-up the at-home and professional cleaning, depending on the season and occasion. They may get the car cleaned after winter or before a wedding. And a few only begrudgingly go only as often as they take themselves to the dentist or doctor-once a year.

"On the other extreme, we have customers in the real estate business who are washing the car every day because they're picking clients up," says Bruce Milen, owner of Jax Kar Wash, a collection of Detroit area car washes that his family started in 1950, with a downtown car wash that was open 24-hours and cost $1. His operation offers a kind of frequent washer program for these obsessive cleaners: for a flat yearly fee they get unlimited washes.