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New Yorkers fume over illegal car washers taking hydrants, hogging parking

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What a mess. 

Outraged New Yorkers say they’re getting hosed by illegal car washers, who clog parking spaces, use fire hydrants and mooch taxpayer utilities.

The black-market cleaners, who charge anywhere from $20 to $35 a wash, commandeer stretches of roadways like Webster Avenue in The Bronx, signaling their services with red and blue signs reading “car wash” and “auto detail.”

From morning to evening, the rogue cleaners spray dirt-caked vehicles with multicolored cleaning chemicals and hoses hooked up to water tanks filled using the hydrants.

“Parking is already scarce in New York City, so having people that’s taking up space, it doesn’t work,” said Cliff Jones, 53, lives on Webster Avenue and has to spend up to an hour looking for parking some days. 

“It’s a lot of people that go through the nonsense, real hard working people that are [living] here,” he said, noting that space along the thoroughfare was already limited due to a slew of trucks parking on the block.

Complaints about unlicensed car washers have jumped 22% this year, to 419 as of June 30 compared to 341 during the same period in 2022, according to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, which licenses car wash operators.


car washer on a break
The brazen car washers, including this one taking a break, use water from hydrants.
J.C. Rice

Matt Cruz, district manager for Bronx Community Board 10 in the Bronx, said that residents regularly badger his office about the cleaners, with many concerned about the illicit operations blocking off the hydrants or siphoning water from them.

“We’re wasting water on an illegal outfit, and …once they finish using the water, they leave the hydrant running unintended. That can be for hours,” Cruz said. 

A new bill introduced by City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. (D-Bronx) aims to crack down on the scofflaw car washers by educating them about getting licensed with DCWP — but empowering the city’s Sanitation Department to fine the illicit mobile cleaners and tow and remove any vehicles or equipment used to spray down vehicles.


cliff jones
Cliff Jones, 53, said the illegal car washers are taking up space when “parking is already scarce in New York City.”
J.C. Rice

“They’re using the city’s water to perform their business, they’re not paying back into the city fund and who knows what chemicals they’re using that are going down through our sewer system,” Salamanca said. 

“If you go in my district between Brook Avenue and St. Ann’s you have about eight of them in one block. It’s insane.” 

Many of the sweat-covered cleaners along Webster Avenue, however, brushed off their critics, arguing that they simply are trying to make a living by scrubbing down nine or 10 cars a day. 

“We’re just trying to make money to support our families, to pay rent, to afford to eat,” unlicensed car washer Freddie Silvestre, 50, said in Spanish. “We’re not hurting anyone.”

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