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Just how much water does a single car wash use?

A timely question that seriously needs to be answered

Ever thought about all the water being used up just to make your vehicle look good? PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

They say you only realize the value of something once it’s gone. You know…time, money, the love of your life. Or water.

Last weekend, this simple truth hit us like a Joe Frazier uppercut when the faucet in our office stopped dispensing water. All of a sudden, small things like flushing the toilet or brushing our teeth—things we used to take for granted—mattered. Oh, what we’d give for a pail of water.

Now that Metro Manila is going through a serious water crisis, it’s time to really evaluate the things we use water for/on. And that includes the car wash, which we now discourage people from doing if they can help it. We wish the myth that a car wash always results in a rainfall were true, but the reality is that having our vehicles cleaned requires a lot of water and helps deplete precious water supply for everyone.

So now we ask: Just how much water is needed to wash just one vehicle?

Pressure washers are more efficient, but they still waste water we all desperately need. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

We went to a car-wash shop a few blocks from our office in Kapitolyo—a barangay in Pasig City that is severely affected by the ongoing water crisis—and asked the supervisor.

“About 50L,” he said.

And how many cars do you wash in a day?

“About 60 cars.”

That single shop, in other words, consumes 3,000L of water every day.

We also asked the owner of a higher-end car-wash facility in San Juan City. His answers?

“Ten gallons (38L) per car, and 20 cars a day on average.” So that’s 760L for his business’s daily water requirement.

The figures we got from these local car-wash shops are consistent with those in the United States. In fact, a shop in San Diego, California, has this table on its website showing its water usage estimate:

Nine to 15 gallons is equivalent to 34L to 57L. TABLE FROM SAN DIEGO CAR CARE

Admittedly, modern pressure washers are more efficient than the crude hoses car-wash shops employed two decades ago. The above-mentioned shop that uses 50L of water per car has pressure washers, but many roadside shops still use the manual bucket system, which wastes even more water. And there are many, many such shops around Metro Manila and around the country, with young and carefree workers who playfully douse each other with water like their employers own a bottomless reservoir.

In any case, ask yourself this: Are you at peace with throwing away 40-50L of water just to have your car cleaned (and doing so while countless people can’t even take a bath or wash their clothes)?

If your answer is an honest no, you can definitely do something about it. We’ve already shared with you an alternative if you must really keep your vehicle spotless. If your answer is yes, may your household faucet teach you an eye-opening lesson you can never ignore.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.