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It’s what’s on the outside that counts: RAC Cars uncovers Britain’s ‘superficial society’ of motorists

Press release   •   Jul 15, 2016 11:54 BST

Keeping up appearances is king when it comes to car cleaning as research from RAC Cars* reveals three-quarters of Brits (73%) would rather go the extra mile to make the outside of their motor gleam than tackling the inside (27%) where the filth is allowed to flourish.

Among those that admitted to cleaning their cars in the last seven days, more opted to wash the outside (24%) rather than do away with the dirt inside (14%), with two-fifths (39%) saying they think it's “important to have a clean-looking car from the outside” – suggesting we live in a ‘superficial society’ where it’s what’s on the outside that counts.

If you only had time to clean the inside or wash the outside of the vehicle you drive most regularly, which would you do?

Clean inside Wash outside
National average 27% National average 73%
1 North West 34% London 83%
2 South West 34% North East 80%
3 Wales 32% West Midlands 77%
4 East Midlands 31% East of England 77%
5 Scotland 27% South East 77%
6 Yorkshire & Humberside 25% Yorkshire & Humberside 75%
7 West Midlands 23% Scotland 73%
8 East of England 23% East Midlands 69%
9 South East 23% Wales 68%
10 North East 20% North West 66%
11 London 17% South West 66%

Shockingly though, 9% of those surveyed said they hadn’t cleaned their cars in more than six months, which combined with the 2% who never clean theirs at all, means there are 3.3m* TLC-neglected motors on Britain’s roads.

When was the last time the outside of the vehicle you drive most regularly washed?

Over six months ago Never
National average 6% National average 1%
1 East Midlands 10% 1 Scotland 4%
2 North East 7% 2 East Midlands 3%
3 Yorkshire & Humberside 7% 3 North West 2%
4 London 7% 4 Yorkshire & Humberside 2%
5 East of England 6% 5 East of England 2%
6 South East 6% 6 South West 1%
7 Wales 6% 7 South East 1%
8 North West 5% 8 North East 0%
9 South West 4% 9 West Midlands 0%
10 Scotland 4% 10 London 0%
11 West Midlands 3% 11 Wales 0%

Strangely, both sexes agree nothing beats a DIY clean, with the RAC Cars research showing most motorists (48%) prefer to wash the outside of their cars themselves, followed by 29% who opt to have the dirt wiped away by a hand-wash expert. And, it appears the automated carwash may be going down the drain as just seven per cent say it’s their top choice for a regular rinse. Asked to compare the quality of their own handiwork to an automated car wash, three in 10 (29%) said their cleaning was equivalent to a gold or executive standard whereas more than a third (35%) admitted it was really only bronze level.

How would you describe the results of the last time you cleaned the vehicles you drive most regularly, in automatic car wash terms?

Gold / Executive Bronze / Basic
National average 29% National average 35%
1 West Midlands 41% 1 North West 46%
2 London 41% 2 Wales 42%
3 Scotland 36% 3 North East 38%
4 North West 32% 4 South East 38%
5 Yorkshire & Humberside 30% 5 South West 37%
6 East Midlands 30% 6 East of England 36%
7 North East 29% 7 East Midlands 30%
8 East of England 29% 8 Scotland 30%
9 South West 23% 9 West Midlands 29%
10 South East 22% 10 Yorkshire & Humberside 28%
11 Wales 22% 11 London 24%

The devil is in the detail when it comes to car washing, wiping or waxing as almost half of motorists (47%) say they do it to make their cars feel brand new again. Some do it for love by cleaning their motors before going on a date (2%) and just five per cent feel pressured into washing their vehicles if they’re giving a colleague a lift.

RAC Cars spokesman Pete Williams said: “The importance of cleaning the car clearly varies from household to household but our research has found much greater preference for washing the outside as opposed to vacuuming and dusting the inside. We suspect the reason for this is not wanting to be seen driving around in a filthy-looking car which means if there’s only limited time to give the car some TLC, the outside takes precedence.

“Unless you give friends or colleagues lifts, not many people get to see the inside of your car so you can get away with it not being that clean. And, interestingly, despite the prevalence of automatic car washes and independent car cleaning companies, the DIY clean was still preferred by many.

“Clearly, some people just don’t prioritise cleaning their cars at all as 1% say they never have and 6% haven’t done so in more than six months. Those that do, have varying standards with a healthy amount (29%) saying their work was a good as a gold or executive automatic car wash.

“But the best motivation for getting the car cleaning equipment out has to be having a nice new motor to take pride in, whether that’s a brand new model straight out of the showroom or a ‘new to you’ used vehicle from a dealer or private seller. RAC Cars gives buyers the chance to find their perfect four-wheel match together with the buying confidence the RAC name brings.”

Notes to Editors

For all media enquiries, please contact the RAC press office team on +44 (0)1454 664 123. The line is manned by an on-call press officer outside office hours.

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* RAC Opinion Panel surveyed 1,226 motorists.

** 3.3 million figure based on 30.3 million cars on the road – nine per cent of survey respondents said they had not cleaned their car at all for six months or more and two per cent said they had never done so.

About the RAC

With more than eight million members, the RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists. Whether it's roadside assistance, insurance, buying a used car, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information – the RAC offers a solution for all motoring needs. The RAC is committed to making motoring easier, safer, more affordable and more enjoyable for drivers and road users.

The RAC is the motorist’s champion and campaigns to support the interests of its members and UK motorists at a national level. This includes voicing concerns about the increasing cost of motoring, particularly the price of fuel and the high level of tax levied on it, advancing levels of road safety, and supporting the needs of all drivers, from young to old.

The RAC’s annual Report on Motoring – first published in 1989 – provides a clear insight into the concerns and issues facing today’s motorists.

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