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Why fun-loving urban socialites are flocking to the car salons in Kenya

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“On Friday night you are with your friends at the bar, then on Saturday you’re washing your car,” goes Atemi’s song Domestics. In the song, a distraught woman complains to her lover about the little time and attention she gets from him because he is either working, out with friends or having his car washed.

This song could not have better captured the emerging trend among the flamboyant urban men of hanging out at the car wash.

While they genuinely want their cars cleaned, they also use it as an excuse to escape the boredom of the house at the weekend to the bar.

And, seeing the business opportunity, car wash operators have established nyama choma and beer joints on the side to tap into the growing market.

The men drive in, toss the car keys to the gumboot and apron-clad cleaners and go off to sip their drinks and eat nyama choma as they compare notes on cars, ogle at their friends’ machines and talk about the newest models on the market.

The car wash is therefore the new hang-out joint in the estate. And, with technology, long gone are the days when washing a car involved grabbing powder soap, an old T-shirt and a bucket of water.

Losing appeal

The old school car wash at the petrol station or at that burst City Council water pipe in the estate is fast losing its appeal. The current car wash comes with extras.

While the majority have the hose there are those like Geco in Nairobi’s Lavington which have automated machines, sophisticated care on the car paint and upholstery, grooming and even perfuming.

And then there are those like the aptly named Car Wash Pub in Kasarani, where car owners enjoy their favourite tipple and a bite of succulent roast meat as they watch their vehicles cleaned and pampered.

This is fast becoming a weekend ritual. The pampering will usually cost anything between Sh200 and Sh3,000 depending on where the car wash is located and the services offered.

These include loud music from the powerful speakers and sports bars with huge flat screens beaming football matches in the afternoon or early evening. Amid cheering and hearty laughter the revellers sit around beer-laden tables on raised bar stools, their attention equally divided between the football match and their cars.

At the Car Wash Pub, for example, the cars are usually lined up like patients at a clinic, each awaiting its turn.

When it is due, the vehicle is driven to a shed where two or three men descend on it with pressurised water hoses, rugs and buckets full of foamy water. This is done methodically and quickly so that each car takes no more than 10 minutes before it is parked aside to dry.

Meanwhile, several dozen waiters in white overcoats serve nyama choma, fish and drinks to the hungry customers.

Elias Mwangi, who runs Car Wash Pub, says although they do a thorough job cleaning the cars, it is the extras – fish, beer and music – that keep their patrons coming back for more.

“First, if your car is washed well and at the same time you have a place to relax and have a beer, you feel comfortable,” says Mr Mwangi who has 51 employees. “We attract people from as far away as Ruiru and Jogoo Road.”

Mr Mwangi says the joint presents customers with an opportunity to meet friends, relax, listen to music or even strike business deals as their cars are washed. There are some car wash joints that cater for children’s entertainment in a bid to get families to go out together.

One such is Edsan Auto Garage in Roysambu, where car washing is a family affair. The steel gates of the premises open to a small outdoor restaurant and lounge complete with a large plasma TV set and a well stocked refrigerator. It is surrounded by well-tended potted plants.

Manager Jason Salat says the business is all about earning the trust of the customers and the extras are meant to provide comfort.

“You find people bringing wives and children here. They eat as they wait for their cars to be washed,” Mr Salat says.

In some upmarket areas of the city, the car wash includes a garage and a restaurant.

Once in a while, Quincy Wandera, 32, takes his Audi A4 to The Park in Westlands where, besides the car wash, restaurant, and garage there is a bouncing castle for children.

“It’s an inexpensive way to spend time,” says Mr Wandera, a TV producer.

But, as some men seek nyama choma and beer, there is another group who hang out at “car spas”, where their cars get a beauty treatment.

Carzspa Car Clinic in Kilimani is one of those. It has an electricity and propane-powered machine that releases low moisture and steam at 149 degrees Celsius and high pressure levels of 1,000 pounds per square inch. The cars leave the clinic clean and sleek.

A drive-through

At the city centre, Eclipse Motor Salon at the Nairobi Safari Club Annex on Koinange Street is a drive-through unit that washes and dries vehicles at the rate of 40 per hour.

A computer-controlled on-board rocker panel blaster and underbody wash help apply chemicals and clean five sides of a vehicle at a time. Later, when the washing is complete, the vehicle is transferred to a smart dryer. A wheel brush then cleans the tyres and wheel surfaces.

At Geco Car Wash in Lavington, the washing machines are also computer controlled.

First, the car is set in a pre-wash area where one of the employees applies an environment-friendly shampoo to remove the dust before the vehicle is driven into the washing machine.

The driver puts it into neutral gear and a conveyor takes it through different stages of a process that takes about 15 minutes.

When the machine wash is complete, the driver takes the vehicle to a designated area where employees manually carry out a 10-minute waxing and drying. The inside is also vacuumed and cleaned for an extra fee.

Lawrence Kuria, a regular customer who takes his four vehicles – two saloon cars and two pick-up trucks – to Geco says he drives all the way from Karen for the extra services that he could not get at petrol stations.

“I have been bringing my vehicles all the way from Karen. Before, I would take them to petrol stations but I was never satisfied,” he says.

Elijah Gachau, the manager, says Geco intends to open a cafeteria for their customers to have drinks and snacks.

But the car wash hang is largely a man’s thing. Terry Gachoka, a city businesswoman, says she only goes to the car wash when her car is dirty and does not have time to sit around.

Usually brief

Unless it is muddy, she says, she will simply clean her car at home and when she does make it to the car wash, it is usually brief. If there is a queue, she will leave it and pick it up later.

“I think hanging out at a car wash is a man’s thing,” she says, “I never spend any time there.”

“At the car wash where I take my car in Buru Buru, you’ll always find men talking about theirs and newer models. I leave mine there and, hours later when I come back, they are still pawing over the tiniest of scratches on theirs. Their cars even have names,” she says laughing.-Nation

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