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2020 Not Scary Enough? Try A Haunted Car Wash

A menacing scarecrow approaches the driver's side as what looks like bloody bubbles slide down the window at a haunted car wash in Birmingham, Ala.
Melanie Peeples NPR
A menacing scarecrow approaches the driver's side as what looks like bloody bubbles slide down the window at a haunted car wash in Birmingham, Ala.

It's just a few days until Halloween, and with coronavirus infection rates climbing again, the prospect of trick-or-treating is looking more and more grim for kids with cautious parents, or those taking advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the old Halloween standby — the haunted house — which is a scary place any year, doesn't feel safe to many people this year, even with a mask. But there is one type of business providing a frighteningly good good time for everyone: The drive through car wash.

In cities across the country, car wash owners have embraced the idea. It's not exactly a new thing, and while no one is officially keeping track, "There are definitely more this year, " says Rich DiPaolo, associate publisher at Professional Carwashing & Detailing Magazine.


"I love Halloween," said Prashant Patel, who owns the Wash Doctor Carwash, in Birmingham, Ala., as as hundreds of cars lined up last weekend to get spooked. "We're gonna give everyone an option for Halloween this year."

"Haunted car wash tunnels are COVID- friendly," Patel's wife and co-owner Mittel Patel added. "You know, nobody's actually coming to touch you, grab you, or anything. You're in your car, throughout the whole process, you're sitting in your car."

Unless, of course, your window is open.

"Now our staff, if you roll your windows down, will, you know, try to reach in and grab you, but they won't pull you out or anything."

The Patel's car wash has strobe lights, signs, and creepy clowns and characters walking around and in between cars waiting to go through the tunnel. There is Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King's book and movie It, Jason from Friday the 13th, and, of course Michael Myers, from the movie Halloween. Not to mention someone in a bunny head wielding a chainsaw.


Once a driver edges into the tunnel and puts the car in neutral, the car wash mechanism takes over and the driver must surrender all control to the haunted car wash. The red neon lights make the water falling down look like blood, as it mixes with the soap and creates a crimson foam, that slides down the windshield like a scene in a horror movie.

The Patels promise a free shampoo for anyone who wets their seat.

Becoming scary is a way for car wash businesses to recoup some of the money lost earlier this year when the shutdown began. The Patels say they are lucky. Theirs is a family-run business and they didn't have to let any employees go. They're donating some of the proceeds to charity. But just giving Halloween fans a new option for celebrating this year could be considered worthy, in and of itself.

And, customers drive away with a clean car.

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