India and Germany occupy two ends of the car wash spectrum. Germany applies the machine-over-man technique – the country is after all the automation capital of the world. And India, with its vast human capital, the man-over-machine principle. Yes, I mean, literally, man-over-machine – the car washer clambers up and down the sides of the car to achieve the best 360-degree wash (MANually) possible.
Growing up in south India, I never gave much thought to the cleanliness of our family car. It was spotlessly clean, not just on the weekends but every day and every hour of the day even. That was because the maintenance of the car was primarily the concern of the driver. Self-driving in India is often a nightmare. So, it is common to employ drivers to get from place to place. Much like navigating the congested traffic and tricky road situations, the car’s tidiness is the driver’s onus.
Along with the car key handed over at the start of every workday, the car owners typically also make available three things to the employed driver: a bucket, a mop cloth or sponge that usually exemplifies frugality and antiquity, and a source of running water.
Be it a top-notch luxury sedan trimmed with leather seats and ultra-lush mahogany wood or a frail jalopy fitted with tacky faux wood plastic, that was all the cleaning paraphernalia for an automobile!
Armed with the bucket filled with water and the mop cloth, the conscientious driver tunes into his favorite radio station in the car’s audio system and sets out to clean the car – inside and outside, front to back and top to bottom, with muscle and zeal. Between the radio channel’s morning news roundup, prime time jingles and the rush hour playlist, the car gets an all-hand-custom-wash and is spic and span for the day’s use. An everyday ritual – come rain or shine. The Indian mantra for car care: hire a driver, and the wash comes free.
And then in my adult life, I arrive in Germany. Aber hallo! As a newcomer, little did I know how obsessed Germans were with car cleaning- I mean, Autoreinigung (somehow it doesn’t sound authentic until you say it in German). In general, the Germans are compulsive cleaners. They are obsessed with cleaning everything they own. But their Auto!? hmmm, is very close to their heart. If you imagine the German heart, one half of it would be family and pets and the other half, yes, you guessed right! Auto.
After a few reluctant trips to the automated car wash in the neighborhood, I embraced the ease and efficiency of giant robotic arms that cleaned our new car behind secured glass doors. It did take me a while though to grasp the minute differences between a Basis (basic) wash and a Schnell (fast) wash, or for that matter between a Rundum (all around) wash and a Premium wash. But soon I discerned the following sequence as a full-service car wash: intensive high-pressure pre-wash, washing, wheel wash, active foam, hot wax (no ladies, not the kind we use), under-floor washing, and fast drying. Which, for all you people who don’t wash your cars as thoroughly as the Germans do, just means the vehicle will be cleaned with soap from top-to-bottom and dried. Phew! I’m not exactly sure if it’s a marketing gimmick or a German penchant for details- every stage of the car wash is displayed in a brilliant electronic overhead signboard as it happens. Talk about real-time, up-to-date information – the Germans mastered it even before the digital era.
I remember my early days in Germany standing at the cashier at the Tankstelle (tank station) concealing my look of bewilderment. If the German language itself was not enough of a mystery to decode, here I was confronted by a set of car wash programs that paled the range of burgers at Burger King.
Over time and with the look of disapproval Germans reserve for unwashed cars, I became proficient at choosing from carwash menu options. Pretty soon I was even emphatic that automation was the way to champion regular chores and housekeeping (as in car keeping).
I drive our freshly washed car to the vacuum cleaner stations placed adjacent to the automated car wash for a quick clean of the interiors. Then a little disinfectant here, a leather spray there, a little swipe with the wet wipe and then another swipe with a dry cloth to absorb any moisture. That was my standard car interior cleaning drill. I was quite content with the results.
That is until I spotted a Sieben-teilig Autowasch set (a seven-piece car cleaning set!) neatly packed in a carry along kit in the local supermarket. I knew instantly that my car cleaning approach hitherto was flawed in the limited number of cleaning items I employed. Our family cars were alas not as clean as they could be, I realized.
Impelled by distress of having missed something significant and restless with curiosity, I walked over to our friendly neighbor who diligently cleans his car and camper van every Saturday – after frühstück- to probe him on the necessity of seven distinct items to clean a family car. I stood defiantly eliciting an answer that would convince me.
Our neighbor welcomed me into his garage and proudly showed me, with the same delight that I would my children’s artwork, a cupboard stocked with a variegated assortment of cleaning agents and a colorful melange of Putztücher (cleaning cloths). The cupboard contained about two and half dozen items in total. I asked him instead meekly, ‘sind die alle nur für das Auto?’ (are they all just for the car?) or perhaps it was for the house, car, garage, garden and camper van altogether. He laughed a little laugh and reaffirmed the obvious.
He explained with the acuity of a scientist, the different applications of each of the sprays, cans, bottles, sponges and the washcloths. The Schwammkissen cleans the inside of car windows. Wunderschwamm cleans stubborn dirt. The Staub tuch is to remove everyday dust. The Fenster tuch is only for the windows, he emphasized with a stern look, and the Universaltuch can be used with a cockpit spray to clean the dashboard.
And thus he explained the intricate art of Autoreinigung – Innenraum. (Innenraum? Yeah, Interior – Part B of car cleaning. Part A is the automated wash for the exterior!).
Meticulously, I made mental notes. And I even asked him intelligent questions to prove that I was a deserving pupil like if the Insektenschwamm is for ambushing insects. He stopped, heaved a sigh and said in a booming voice, zur Entfernung von Insekten und anderen hart anhaftenden Verschmutzungen von Glas, Lack und Kunststoff….ohne die Oberfläche zu verkratzen (to remove insect residues and other hard, sticky dirt from glass, paint and plastics….without leaving scratches).
Under the heavy weight of the newly acquired wisdom, I trudged back home – assimilating the advanced techniques of Autoreinigung – Innen- und Außenreinigung – the two-part-weekly-car-cleaning ritual in Germany that is undertaken typically on Saturday mornings. If I delved a bit deeper, I would have enough material for a doctoral thesis, I thought.
Who knew? I’ve been managing the interiors of our cars with just three items. Such a shame. I felt guilty that I hadn’t given our German cars the German hygiene standard they so deserved by birth. I resolved to make up for this unintended neglect. I was determined to prove that I can do it too.
So, I bought the seven-piece cleaning set, added a pair of gloves and a disinfectant, threw in some car deodorant for good measure and made it a ten-piece collection! I was living in a country that advocated the more the equipment, the better the hygiene, mantra. I seized that mantra and made it my own. I now strap the newly assembled and improved version of the seven-piece cleaning set to the deep interiors of our car’s boot and book a slot at Mr. Wash (a local car wash) where I outsource car cleaning to an enthusiastic MANual cleaner- while I edit my next blog post or update my Instagram account.
Car cleaning is neither my love nor a subject I want to excel in….