Car wash gone mobile

San Diego's best mobile auto-detailing companies

‘Shaggy and Scooby must be jealous,” Patrick said when Bernice pulled her bright yellow Dodge Sprinter down our driveway. The Sprinter has 12 seats, just like our Chevy Express, but it rides about two feet higher — over nine feet. “I love being able to look down on jacked-up pickups,” grinned Bernice, “but it comes at a price. Drive-thrus and parking garages are off-limits. And the worst part is finding a place to wash the thing.”

“We wash motorhomes, RVs, box trucks, motorcycles...really, anything on wheels,” said Robert Salas. Together with his business partner Joseph Seals, Salas is owner of the SoCal Way (888-932-6632; thesocalway.com), a mobile auto-detailing company. “I’ve done Sprinters before. We consider them extra-large vehicles, so the price for a full-service wash would be $45. That includes washing the windows, inside and out, rims, tires, doorjambs, and a wipedown and vacuum of the interior. We come to you. We’re completely self-contained: we bring our own water and electricity. We use a pressure washer and an air compressor” — the latter to blow out dust from hard-to-reach places. “It has nozzles and brushes for getting into the vents. We also bring ladders and long brushes, so that we can scrub the roof with soap and water. The car will be rinsed and hand-dried.” Salas cleans the glass with a product known as Invisible Glass. “It’s a two-towel process. One towel to apply the product and then a dry microfiber towel to buff it out.”

For vehicles larger than Bernice’s, Salas charges by the foot: $3.50 per. “Something like the Sprinter should be done in about an hour,” he said.

Josh Vanderwaall, owner of Detail Green (800-828-9291; detailgreenusa.com), also offers a mobile washing service — with an eco-friendly aspect. “We have a concentrate that we mix with a small amount of water. It’s basically an emulsifying product, and we spray it onto the car. It lifts the dirt away and leaves a layer of lubrication. We wipe the dirt away, then use a microfiber towel to buff out the car so that there are no streaks and no runoff. We can also use a high-pressure steam-cleaner, which does the same thing with steam. Again, there is no runoff.”

Vanderwaall noted his company used to stick with steam alone because the chemical emulsifier tended to mar automobile paint jobs. But the products have improved to the point where he feels safe rubbing them onto the most expensive cars out there. “I did a Lexus LFA last week. That’s a $400,000 supercar. The majority of stuff we do is very high end.” He added that his company was insured, “so that if anything did happen to your car while we were cleaning it, it would be covered. Also, we don’t use high-speed buffers. They’re fine if you’re trying to remove deep scratches, but they can create an uneven surface on your car’s clear coat. Instead, we use dual-action polishers that mimic the action of the hand at a really high rate.”

Detail Green often needs a couple of days’ advance notice for your wash, said Vanderwaall. “The basic package includes an interior vacuum and a wipedown of all major compartments. We clean the wheels, dress the tires, and wash the windows inside and out. The cost is $65. We can also do a wax coat for an additional $35, as well as other services. Depending on what you choose, the job can take from 90 minutes to five hours.”

In the self-serve department, I found Happy Cow Car Wash in El Cajon (619-922-5966; happycowcarwash.com). Bernice couldn’t fit the Sprinter on their automated wash track, but she could take it into their self-service wash bays. “They’re 16 feet tall,” said employee Mark, “and they have concrete platforms alongside so you can reach the top of your vehicle. The bays include foam soap, brushes, clear-coat polish protectant, high-pressure hoses, tire-bug-engine cleaner, and a blow-dry system. The machines take credit cards, debit cards, bills, and coins; cost is $3 for five minutes or a cash price of $5 for ten minutes. We have a vacuum in an alleyway where you can vacuum the Sprinter — there’s no awning there. The vacuum is $2 for five minutes, but it’s a turbo vacuum — it sucks really hard.”

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