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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Freeing Your Car From Winter's Grit

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If there were a patron saint of clean cars in Moscow, it would be St. Jude -- the saint of lost causes.

Should the inevitable winter buildup of grime prompt you to find your machine a little TLC, your trip to the local car wash will likely produce an encounter with an amiable fellow who will charge you 150 rubles to 200 rubles ($5.40 to $7.20) to have his subordinates whip your beast into shape. Then he will see you off, watching smugly as your sparkling automobile is immediately splattered by an unyielding trolleybus.

In March 1996, Mayor Yury Luzhkov implemented a clean car initiative, which instructed the traffic police to stop and fine drivers of grubby cars in the hope of improving the city's image.

As it was -- and still is -- technically illegal to wash your car yourself, and with the free market economy taking root, many avtomoiki sprouted up around Moscow.

For the car wash entrepreneur, Moscow provides rich pickings. The ever-increasing volume of traffic, populated with more foreign brands year after year, reliably accumulates the kind of mud deposits you would struggle to find at a tractor pull.

This scenario undoubtedly plays into the hands of both car wash owners and those looking to get their vehicles scrubbed, due to the increased number of options available.

Near Prospekt Mira, a worker at Avtomoika Na Olimpiiskom Prospekte explained that the change in season would bring in 20 percent to 30 percent more cars, as the drier weather means that once a car is clean, its chances of staying that way are higher.

He works on a manual production line, where mostly luxury cars stand individually in one of three drive-through garages, getting soaked with lukewarm soapy water followed by a bracing blast from a rinsing hose.

Each car that rolls through seems to occupy the attention of several workers at a time: A couple of guys shoot the belly of the car with water from pressure hoses, while colleagues polish and wax the hood.

Special treatment like that does not come cheap. The car wash, like most in the capital, operates a three-tier system whereby you are charged more the more expensive your car is -- what economists would call the "kinked demand curve" system.

Cleaning basic foreign makes and Russian models, such as Volgas and Nivas, costs 500 rubles ($18), including a vacuuming and waxing; Mercedes, BMWs and the like are 600 rubles; and SUVs and GAZels are 650 rubles. But if you care for just an external wash, the charges drop to 200 rubles, 250 rubles and 300 rubles, respectively.

And while your beloved automobile is being caressed with sponges the size of basketballs, you get a chance to kick back with a coffee and check out the Discovery Channel in the adjacent waiting room.

While his company car was in for a wash, Sergei, a businessman and loyal customer, explained that it was necessary to get any dirt off the moment it appeared, and that the expenses were met by the company.

"I come here every day," he said. "As soon as you drive on the streets for a couple of hours, the car is already dirty."

But this is the upper end of the market. People of more modest means can call on any number of registered car washes in the city, like Avtomoika na Timiryazevskoi Ulitse.

The same three-tiered pricing system is in place there, but the charges begin at 150 rubles, rising through 200 rubles to 250 rubles for bigger and more expensive vehicles.

A couple of lower-end options are opening around Moscow, and rumors are swirling that you can get a car wash for less than 100 rubles.

A manager at Avtomoika Na Olimpiiskom Prospekte, Andrei Devyukov, said that the best time to come if you did not want to wait in line for half an hour was early in the morning, before 8 a.m., or after 10 p.m., when the rush hour traffic dies down.

"And on dry days, when the sun is out, we have many, many clients, so it is good to come just after it's been raining," he added.

To find your local car wash, do a search for "avtomoika" at the Russian-language web site www.yellowpages.ru. A list as long as your arm will inform you of the possibilities.