By ANNA WELLS, Executive Editor, Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation (IMPO)
When it’s summer and the sun is shining, there are a few things that bump up on my priority list. One is managing my free time to include lots of outdoor walks and runs, and then DVR-ing anything that interferes with Brewers games. Another is keeping my freezer stocked with various frozen treats… or at least re-routing home so I can swing by Sonic for a fresh fruit slush.
Last but not least: when it comes to spring and summer, I start washing my car again. Once the brown crust of snow accumulation is gone, my motivation to keep my vehicle shiny and gleaming skyrockets. And this is not to mention the bugs and birds… if it’s not one ugly smear of non-descript matter on your windshield or bumper, it’s another.
So when a recent trip up North left my poor white car smeared with bug guts, I headed out Saturday morning to my neighborhood Mobil station and sat impatiently in the U-shaped line of idling frustration, waiting to swipe my credit card and enter the foam dungeon of the touchless car wash.
I’ll admit: To me, there is something soothing about the darkness and noise of the gas station wash; an exoskeletal scrubbing, while settled dry and comfortably sheltered. I also like the Magical Mystery Tour vibe that comes from the multi-colored protective coating that showers the car, pre-wax, when springing for the $9 package titled “The Works.”
But this brief reverie is as good as it gets, and each time I sit cocooned in metal during my touchless wash, I inevitably stare at the eye level insect corpse—the one stubbornly clinging to the pane of my front windshield—and resign myself to the fact that the quality of this wash hasn’t changed: That bug, and most of its friends, aren’t going anywhere. You see, over the years I’ve learned that the word “touchless” actually just means “terrible.”
So why am I here yet another Saturday morning? Because the real problem is not the carwash, it’s me; I’m simply too cheap and lazy to trek the 6 miles to the professional place. Instead, I still just zip down the street with my $9, all the while secretly knowing that I will leave the wash and spend the next 15 minutes flicking soaked and soapy bugs onto my garage floor, and buffing out water spots because the drying time isn’t long enough. In this case, I am paying for convenience where convenience evades me. Why do I pay a machine to do a job that can’t be done adequately by this particular machine? It makes me think about all the other moments throughout the day where I cut corners on tasks, only to wind up re-doing them completely. So despite saving time or money in the short term, I wind up paying for it later.
It’s interesting in our “throwaway” culture how we’ve become accustomed to products and services that are just OK. Product Design & Development editor David Mantey recently wrote an article  about his quest for recompense after purchasing a cheap, faulty WalMart DVD player. The response from customer service? You get what you pay for, sir, and some things just aren’t worth the receipt they’re printed on.
Luckily, cutting corners on the car wash leaves little in the way of consequence. It’s when the BPs of the world cut corners that there are more pronounced damages than soapy, stuck-on bugs and water spots. But just because the scale is smaller, doesn’t mean that spending money on an incomplete, inaccurate, or valueless solution is justified—especially when I already know what I get with “The Works:” $9 worth of dark solitude and not much else.
Do you consistently cut the same corners, despite knowing the outcome? What types of investments have you made where the quality was truly worth the price? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .