Year 2017: The Day I Became Car Wash Centre Worker

car wash

(This is probably the worst car wash ever. But the true horror is seeing your loved vehicles being man-handled at the car wash centres and being blasted with cheap detergents & shampoos that can rust the car body and wash half done properly and you still need to pay for it. This was one thing that we decided not to do when and if we decided to open our own car wash centre)

The dreaded GST came into effect from 1 April 2015 and one have to admit that while it has saved the Government’s hide for more than one occasions (especially when the price of oil went down), it, however, had brought a cascading impact on the country’s economy.

The consumer has ended paying more for basic goods and services – in some cases, with an unnecessary spike in price even by those small traders who now have to pass on GST charges in their prices because the bigger traders have done the same. Guess who gets whacked left, right and centre in the end?

On the positive side of the GST is that we have been forced to relook into the items we buy or consume on a monthly basis and start to eliminate luxury items away. We end up scrutinizing our needs and then buying things that we really need for daily consumption and opt for more home-cooked food than going for expensive menus at some fancy restaurants (and sadly that included our favourite Sushi restaurant). And soon, this list included McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Kenny Rogers. Nowadays our go-to-place is our local Mamak restaurant.

2015 was a bad year and even though things started to “stabilise” in 2016, it was not a good year as well.

One day in 2015, I got a call from my cousin who was retrenched when his company decided to downsize the staff. Despite his good experience and skills, he was not retained and it was bad timing indeed as his wife was also retrenched from her company almost the same time (but later found a position opened in the same organisation).

My cousin after considering whether to go back to his 9 to 5 routine with another company decided instead to go into business with his friend. Together they opened a car wash centre near to a car workshop. The business was slow on the weekends especially because the centre was not next to the main road (where there are other car wash centres) and as most offices in the vicinity were closed.

I would occasionally bring my car to his car wash as well – I know he would do a good job and at the same time, I was able to support his business as well.

My cousin, however, was always on the lookout for a better place for the car wash – one that fronts the main road where it is easily seen by potential customers. And one day he called me saying that he got the right spot – when I visited him, it was a good place indeed although he was not alone to provide car washing services in the area, there was another 2 – 3 car wash centres in the vicinity.

The first day at his place, I asked him to polish my car – it was cheaper than other places I often go and having my own cousin doing the polish works alone is a good reason to have the polish done here and not elsewhere. But then I saw his problem – he was doing the work all alone (another cousin joins in occasionally).

Related: Know Your Car Basics: Washing Sport Rims Effectively

Then when he was free, we had a chat – one thing I noticed he looked healthier (a bit darker but healthier). He slimmed down a lot as well (compared to the time when he was working in an air-conditioned, cosy office). And because he was his own boss, he looked less stressful as well – he had time to kill this time around.

Considering that he could use extra help especially on the weekends and since I don’t have much to do on the weekends (other than eating, sleeping and watching TV), I decided to join in to help him – I had always wanted to help him for all the things he had done when I first started to date my wife (back then he had already married, so although I am elder than him, in a way he was a “senior” than me when it comes to relationships, haha).

I did not much money to spare for his business (good thing, he had other “investors” coming in) but I had the time and myself to help him. After discussing with him and getting his green light from my HEO, I came over on fine Saturday morning, wearing an old T-shirt and my short pants.

No pay for the work done, which was ok for me as money was not the reason I joined him.

I have washed my own car many times before this but I found out that it is a whole different ball game when it comes to washing someone’s else car. Firstly some of the cars that come in are clearly not driven by humans. Yes, I repeat it – not humans.

Vomits, chips, spilled milk, dog furs, mud, black oil and dust is just a small part of things that you will discover in some of the cars (especially, sorry to say, women drivers). It is amazing that there are humans out there who are willing to be driving on a daily basis in a car covered with those things.

Secondly, some of the drivers who came in for the car wash are simply too impatient before we get the car all done. I noticed this mainly from the lady drivers, the male drivers, on the other hand, don’t mind the extra time taken to clean their cars.

Sometimes it is the other way around – too many cars lined up and very less time to get the car washed up and we often get too impatient to clear them.

At first, I follow the so-called “routine” – often looking for queues from my cousin and often limit myself to wiping down the car after it has gone through the snow wash. Then slowly I moved on to interior cleaning, vacuuming, tire polish and later on to shampooing the car (we did not use the cheap detergent but a proper car shampoo).

And we embarked on improving the quality of service, gradually – one that immediately sets us apart from our competitors. We decided to wash the cars, in the same manner, we wash our own car or rather how we want car wash centres to wash our cars. Yes, it takes longer to complete the washing but in the end, the effort taken is much appreciated by our customers – the car is a lot more cleaner and we included a small effort of detailing of the interiors.

Which car wash centres dusts off the specks of dust on your dashboard. the dial meters and the fingerprints on the mirrors and the old stain under the car plate number? Yes, we do all that. In fact, if we have time, we actually wipe and clean each strand of the tire rims to make it clean and shiny. Detailing is part of our services for no extra cost.

And once we have done all the washing and wiping and before we hand over the keys back to our customers, there is one final round of quality check. And our customers love that and so much that we often see them bring their cars, their wife’s car on a weekly basis and telling their friends & family members to visit us as well.

We got a lot of referrals and that pushed us to ensure quality is always maintained even though we have cars waiting to be washed. No rushed work as far as we are concerned. Surprisingly people wait for us – once a customer waited for 2 hours for my cousin to open shop. This is excluding those who are coming in for wax & polish (which took at least half a day to be done but we still had customers) and some to clean their headlights.

There were other developments as well – I started to meet my daily active minutes, consistently meeting it on the weekends when I am “working” at the car wash. And if there are enough cars to wash, I can easily clock in the minimum 10,000 steps.

I sweat a lot so much so I started to drink gallons of water – sometimes within minutes my large 1.5-litre water bottle would be empty and I have to replenish on a regular basis. Interestingly drinking a lot of water when I am at “work” did not mean a frequent visit to the toilet and in fact, all the days I was at the car wash, I did not once go to the toilet, no matter how much water I had been drinking the whole day.

I gather most of the water that I drank is dispensed when I sweat a lot. It was a good workout from morning until late evening and by the time I come back home with a very soaked T-shirt, I would be energy drained – just enough to take a light dinner (sometimes a burger near the car wash) and knock off for good night sleep.

Yes, I started to lose weight and feel healthier as well.

Business was good except when it rains – there were days when we hardly had any cars due to the heavy rain. We will sit at the sofa, waiting for customers to come in once the rain had stopped but never once there has been a dull moment at the car wash except maybe when the cats from the nearby workshop decided to mess up the place (you know I hate cats right?).

Related: Ilaiyaraja: Project “Then, Now & Forever”

No dull moments because I and my cousin share the same passion for old Tamil songs especially one from MSV and Illayaraja – we will fire up our smartphones and sit down to listen to the songs whilst waiting for the rain to stop. On other days, we will recall back our childhood and incidents such as the meet up at our Grandma’s house for Deepavali.

There were plenty of funny & interesting stories, some unknown to me from that “era” and we would end up laughing at those events. Usually, after the rain had stopped, we will see cars now muddied coming over for a good wash.

My stint at my cousin’s car wash was, however, a short one – just several months short.

My cousin soon found that despite good business and a string of loyal customers (ha, I even had one, coming in on the weekends for detailing), it was not enough to continue. He had other issues well to resolve – one had been manpower.

It is hard to expand with just one person handling the whole thing. So ended my weekly workout at the car wash – I was kind of sad to leave that active & fun environment but my wife was relieved to see me at home on the weekends. My cousin had moved on as well – he got busy with other work but both of us agreed that if we have the chance and opportunity, we would open a proper car wash centre but maintain the same level of commitment and quality.

Car wash centre is one kind of gym that gives you work and works you at the same time.

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