BEST CAR WASH (1998)
The test: A 4-year-old Toyota Paseo that was last washed as it departed the dealership where it met its owner. The time: 15 minutes before closing, just when we thought car-wash workers would be least interested in scrubbing traces of Big Gulp off the dash or picking cat hair out of the back seat. The result: For less than $15, our test vehicle was scrubbed of the residue of several winters' worth of salt, waxed, clear-coated, vacuumed, and wiped down from the control panels to the insides of the windows. OK, so there's a little schmutz left in the tiny holes housing the heater controls and they didn't get to the ledge under the back window. But in fairness, what this car needed wasn't Mermaid's $14.39 "Car Care Package": It was the three-and-a-half-hour, $119.95 "Treasure Chest," which Mr. I. Drive Stinky was too cheap to pop for. For that kind of change, they "extractor clean" your seats and floor mats, scrub off the insides of the doors, and even Rain-X your windshield. Getting ready to sell your tarnished chariot? Invest in the $99.95 "Showroom Groom." Located a few feet north of I-394's Louisiana exit, Mermaid offers three different grades of everyday washes--all completed while your car rolls through a kid-friendly windowed tunnel of suds--as well as six different detailing packages.