Drivers spent £523 million on car washes last year – despite most thinking that washing their own vehicles achieved better results, according to

research by Datamonitor.

The independent business analyst found people were far more likely to pay for their car to be washed than do it themselves despite economic pressures, showing that it was a low cost luxury that people wouldn’t give up.

Each car in the UK was cleaned more than eight times in total last year – and drivers paid to get each car cleaned an average of five times, spending £15 on commercial car washing in the year.

Alex Jeater, analyst at Datamonitor, said: "Drivers are clearly prepared to spend cash on paying to have their car washed even during the height of the recession when this is something we could easily cut back on, particularly as our research shows that most car owners believe cars are cleaner when they do it themselves.

"When paying, it is hand car washes that are winning in the commercial sector. Although the jet wash and more traditional automatic car washes still have a firm future on forecourts in the UK, hand car washes, including those we see in our supermarket car parks, now account for 45% of the commercial wash market."

However, the report said forecourt car washes were fighting back. Operators have been highlighting the environmental benefits of using automatic machines over hand washing – a relevant issue, especially with water shortages and a hosepipe ban for much of the north west of England.