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Johnny's Car Wash has changed ownership over the years, but it is still committed to making cars sparkle after 60 years.

Image: Rick Morgan

Johnny’s Car Wash opened in 1957 and has been making cars sparkle in Sarasota ever since. Though Johnny's ownership has changed and washing techniques have improved, the sight of workers hand-washing your car with water at their feet has stayed the same. 

John Anderson launched Johnny’s 60 years ago. It started as a gas station/car wash hybrid before focusing on just car washing. Then, in 2013, Randy Nychyk purchased Johnny’s. Despite the change in ownership, Nychyk cares about the 60-year legacy of Johnny’s. He is a Florida native and comes from a family of farmers; in fact, he was a fourth-generation farmer before moving into the car wash business in 2002. And he'd established a relationship with the Andersons because he sold equipment to them.

“It was kind of a natural fit,” Nychyk says. “Johnny’s is an icon in the car wash business. [The owners] personally contacted us to see if we might be interested in it. There’s quite a bit of nostalgia there and it's honor to carry forward. Some people look at the age of Johnny's as a discount. We looked at it as an asset.” 

The ownership might be new, but many faces from way back remain at Johnny’s. David Dean has worked at Johnny’s for 44 years, and MaryAnn Gaines has worked her way from cashier to manager over 27 years. Ronnie McKinnon Jr. is a 25-year staple. His father retired after 47 years at Johnny’s.

Johnny’s focuses on maintaining the value of a car, not just making it sparkle out of the lot that day. Nychyk believes Johnny’s fits into the larger scheme of Americans becoming more specialized and using services instead of doing things on their own. He points out that most people enjoy going out to eat and having others care for their yards, and Johnny’s is a service much the same. Plus, as car values continue to rise, the ability to protect them becomes more important. Outside elements like bug residue and sap can damage paint if left on a car.

“You wouldn’t wait once a week to take a shower,” Nychyk says. “At home, you don’t have to use some fancy soap. But you do have to jump through the shower every once in a while.”

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The staff at Johnny's only uses 11-15 gallons of water per wash. 

Image: Rick Morgan 

A basic car wash at Johnny’s includes hand washing from the staff in addition to the wash tunnel. The hand washing cleans tough spots (both outside and inside) that a gas station car wash would miss, and it also eliminates water spots left by the wash tunnel. You can also have your car waxed, which Nychyk equates to applying sunscreen. Johnny’s stresses environmentally friendly washing as well. The soaps are biodegradable, and an average wash only uses 11-15 gallons of water. (For comparison, an average wash at home uses about 110 gallons.)

But if you can't bring your car to the car wash every week, here are some tips from Nychyk on what you can do at home to keep your car looking shiny.

Do use car wash soap—not dish soap!

Dish soap strips oil and grease, which is good if you’re cleaning up after dinner. But on a car, it can cause irreparable damage by stripping old wax off your car. Nychyk doesn’t have a favorite brand, but he says to make sure your soap is designed for cars and not dishes.

Don’t wash your car in the street.

When you wash your car in the street, the runoff goes into the drain and pollutes local waterways. Park on the grass instead, and the water and soap will just end up there, which helps to keep our water clean.

Do wash frequently. 

The most important part of home car care is taking the time to regularly wash your car. Nychyk says you should ideally wash your car once a week, but he knows this usually isn't realistic for most people. So shoot for a couple times a month, and don’t forget to clean the inside while you're at it. Dirt and grime on the inside can damage the upholstery.

Do check your water. 

Water is a big cost at Johnny’s, which is part of why the staff uses so little water on each car. Try to be the same way when you wash at home. Don’t leave the hose running when you don’t need to, and try to conserve as much water as possible.

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