For some time, there has been reporting about new-car dealerships adding full-size conveyor car washes to their operations. In some instances, these facilities are for in-house use only, providing a wash for cars that have just been serviced. In more generous cases, free car washes are offered for a set period of time to new-car buyers. Other dealers have noted the income a wash could potentially generate and have given the general public paid access. This, of course, adds another slice to the car wash market pie.

I recently took my car to the dealership for a minor repair. I did not expect them to wash the car once they were done — and they did not. I don’t even know whether there is a car wash on site. However, I was nevertheless afforded the opportunity to have the car washed for free. At checkout I was handed, along with the paperwork, a coupon from a local car wash chain for a free basic wash or $6 off a wash package of my choice. This struck me as a win-win-win situation: The dealership gets to pamper its customers with a free wash without making any investment, the car wash gets to introduce its services to a potential customer, and I get a free wash.

It took several weeks, but I finally made use of that coupon. I know one of this wash chain’s dozen locations well — an express exterior. I pass by it virtually every week, but have never ventured onto the site because access is a bit of a challenge. Entry to the wash is possible only from one street and then only from south-flowing traffic. Motivated by a $6 coupon, I passed the wash travelling north, made a U-turn at the next traffic light, and headed for the entrance. Seriously, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to compare this wash to my favorite express, which is considerably further from my home.

First impressions count. There were no lines, so I had the pick of three pay stations. An attendant was immediately on hand, personable, helpful, and wearing a mask. I handed over the coupon and asked for the top wash but, probably because of my own mask muffling my voice, the attendant misunderstood and entered a basic wash. When I pointed this out, he upgraded the wash without hesitation and declined my offer to pay the difference. Needless to say, that was a good experience.

At both washes I received a presentation on the benefits of a subscription plan.

The top wash, which includes “ceramic sealant,” costs the same at both. The tunnel experience from one to the other is virtually indistinguishable — all foam and color. Oh, so many colors. The central vacuum systems are equally efficient, and compressed air is provided at each stall. Courtesy towels are provided — in each vacuum stall at my favorite, centrally near the tunnel exit at the “new” wash. The end product in each instance: excellent. If I had to quibble, it would be that my favorite produced a dryer car.

So, how do the two washes compare? Aside from location, there is really no significant difference. A year ago, in this space, we referred to the commoditization of car washing. When washes start going up a mile or two from one another, location loses its meaning as a differential. What remains, other than price?