Why are car washes in New York City open 24 hours?
April 3, 2013 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know why so many of the car washes in New York City (all boroughs) are open for 24 hours?

Most businesses, obviously, are not open around the clock. Is this also true in other cities, that car washes are, like some diners and convenience stores, open 24/7?

Does anyone know why they are allowed to do so, and/or what purpose it serves? All I have been able to come up with is that taxis, car services, etc., use the washes after normal business hours... but at 3am?
posted by RajahKing to Law & Government (16 answers total)
 
Taxis are typically rented out to drivers by the owner of the medallion. If the cab is coming off shift and is dirty (or someone puked in the back seat), that come's out of the driver's hide. The car washes cater to this.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:03 AM on April 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Takes fewer people to staff an automatic car wash compared to a diner. Even a few cars per hour would seem to cover the overhead.
posted by Pomo at 8:09 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've ridden in several cabs in NYC at 2-5AM over the years, passing car washes on the way home, and they always had customers at those times that were generally other cabs.
posted by wondermouse at 8:16 AM on April 3, 2013


As for why they're "allowed" to do so, it's because there's no law against it. Some cities have laws about shutting down businesses at certain times, either because they're afraid that noise or light may disturb people's sleep or because certain kinds of businesses, such as bars, are thought (rightly or wrongly) to cause crime and disorder late at night. New York doesn't have many laws limiting late-night light and noise because everyone expects and accepts a certain degree of light and noise at night as part of the experience of living in a 24-hour city with a lot going on. And there's no one arguing that overnight car washes are hotbeds of criminal activity. So there's no reason to pass a law barring them from operating overnight. So, if a business makes enough money at night to justify keeping the lights on, that's what it'll do.
posted by decathecting at 8:35 AM on April 3, 2013


There's also the element of predictability - once a few businesses in a certain class go 24/7, it pushes many others to do the same. Customers tend to go places they know will be open vs. those they think might be open, even if they prefer the latter.

Most of the costs of a carwash are either sunk (rent, heat, lights, insurance) or scale with use (supplies, water.) The only variable that would be malleable would be labour, for which an 8 hour shift at near minimum wage would not take a lot of volume to offset.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:50 AM on April 3, 2013


As for other cities - I've seen a couple 24-hours car washes in Hollywood. I haven't noticed any in other areas of Los Angeles, but I don't really pay attention, so there might be.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:06 AM on April 3, 2013


small-city midwest, we have 24-hour carwashes (and we don't have a lot of cabs). They're usually in pretty commercial areas that aren't near residential areas, but some of them are open 24 hours, yes. They're virtually all attached to gas stations here, and it just takes the one dude to staff the 24-hour gas station and car wash, so why not keep the car wash open? It's a minority of places -- most carwashes aren't open overnight -- but google turns up 3 within city limits, both automatic and self-serve.

There's one I sometimes drive by late at night, near the downtown and right by a freeway exit and a couple 24-hour fast food places, a self-serve place, and there's usually a couple guys there washing their cars. I assume some of them are shiftworkers coming off an evening shift (at either the hospital or a 3-shift factory that are both very close to there) and it's convenient. (I don't think I've ever seen women washing their cars there at all, definitely not late at night.)

At little towns clustered along freeway exits you see a lot of 24-hour carwashes as well, attached to big service-center-style gas stations/minimarts/donut shops, sometimes with truck services and showers and so forth. Again I assume that you're staffing the gas station anyway, so why not keep the car wash open? There must be at least some demand for it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 AM on April 3, 2013


In LA, coin-operated car washes are sometimes open 24 hours/day. I'm not sure how the hell those places are staffed - I haven't been to one in a long time.

Are you talking about drive-through automatic car washes (the kind in which you drive through big spongy things) or the coin operated ones with a hose?

Or is New York City really weird in that it has 24 hour hand car washes?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2013


I have stopped at the one on the West Side Highway across from the Intrepid several times on the way home late at night. The prices actually drop after a certain time (11pm?). They had two people behind the counter and maybe 2 or 3 more on the line. The fact I have done it more than once says they do a decent job for the money. The only reason to keep it open 24 hours is because there is sufficient demand to offset cost.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:08 AM on April 3, 2013


Here we have several different kinds of car washes. Not sure which type you are talking about.
- Car wash that is part of the gas station, where you drive it through the wash: These are open 24x7, just like the gas station itself.
- Car wash where your car is partly or entirely washed by people: These close roughly at dark.
- Car wash where you manually wash your own car, and the car wash area provide hoses and soaps: These are open 24x7.

So generally, our car washes are open 24x7 unless employees actually do the washing. Many people drive through the gas station car washes when they get gas, so that's why those handy and profitable to have open at night. And the ones where it's basically a hose, well, that costs nothing to keep open and in fact there's no way to close them (everything is coin-operated).

In fact, I think it's strange that they are not open in NYC at night. Do you mean ones that are staffed with people to do the washing?
posted by Houstonian at 10:13 AM on April 3, 2013


There are probably more taxis in New York City than the more "typical" American model of family car used for everyday commuting, which is relatively exotic there.

Especially when you consider that most civilians who have cars in NYC either garage them (in which case they probably need to be washed far less often than the average car) or park them on the street full time and aren't overly worried about keeping their car pristine.
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2013


In LA, coin-operated car washes are sometimes open 24 hours/day. I'm not sure how the hell those places are staffed

Most I've known are unstaffed and unattended -- like a laundromat, there's not much for an attendant to do. I've never seen one of those in Manhattan.
posted by Rash at 11:25 AM on April 3, 2013


LOTS of stuff in New York is open 24 hours. Diners, convenience stores, laundry mats.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 7:11 PM on April 3, 2013


Taxis.
posted by walla at 9:43 PM on April 3, 2013


I should have been more specific - I mean staffed car washes, open 24/7.

I think most of the above answers above still stand, though I can't imagine a lot of car washes make big bucks being open all night, even if its a skeleton crew of 2-3, but maybe its still worth it with demand from taxis and car services.
posted by RajahKing at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2013


Again, keep in mind that the bulk of the business these car washes see is taxis, car services, and other commercial vehicles. Very few New Yorkers own their own vehicles which they use as their main method of getting around.

Most of the car washes I've been to in New York are surrounded by taxis, in neighborhoods where people who drive taxis spend time, and offer special rates for taxis.

They operate their businesses according to the needs of taxi drivers, and thus being open 24/7 is profitable in a way it probably wouldn't be in Los Angeles, where the vast majority of people who want their car washed are in bed at 4 in the morning, not just coming off shift.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on April 4, 2013


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