As LED lighting has become widely available and affordable, the technology has made strong inroads into the car wash industry. Virtually every major car wash manufacturer incorporates some type of LED lighting into their product offerings due to its dramatically improved light quality, long-lasting durability, and cost-effectiveness. And, unlike conventional HID lighting technology, which hasn’t seen a substantial technological innovation in decades, LED technology continues to advance every year, with improved performance and design enhancements.

Unfortunately, rapid technology changes makes it challenging to keep up to date on improvements in the LED lighting field. Here are four tips to ensure your next LED lighting investment is incorporating the latest trends in the industry.


Lighting for car washes has always been important. A well-illuminated car wash attracts potential customers’ eyes, promotes a safe environment, and allows customers to see dirty spots on their vehicles at night. Historically, the decision on the amount of light needed was balanced with the perceived nighttime washing activity in each location. The first LED light conversions usually matched the light output of metal halide lights keeping light levels the same.

Today, operators are dramatically increasing the light provided to attract more customers, keep customers on the site longer, and improve the overall wash experience. Consult with a lighting designer who can prepare a photometric plan showing, numerically in foot candles, the light produced by fixtures across the interior and exterior of your facility. Many companies offer complementary photometric planning to their customers.

Shown above is a 3D image of a 120-foot car wash tunnel with arch lighting and pole light lighting for entrances and exits.

Additional numerical foot-candle plans can and should be provided for any new site build or larger retrofit installation.


LED light has traditionally followed the form factor of HID lights. Single fixtures that offer very bright light spread over areas. Fixtures measuring 4 feet or 8 feet, designed to replace fluorescent fixtures, have become popular due to the light distribution benefits of a larger fixture.

The LED lighting industry is evolving to enable even further customization to enhance marketing appeal. New custom designed lights that are not limited to the size of the fixture, but can be custom designed to run the length of a tunnel, seamlessly wrap an arch (vacuum or chemical), and appear to be integrated into the equipment vs. mounted to the equipment. If you have a 25-foot bay or a 140-foot tunnel, new customized lighting can now match your needs.

Improvements in LED heat dissipation and efficacy make this new design affordable. Some operators may choose to have custom fit LED systems to help differentiate the car wash from its competition.

The photo above depicts a seamless, single-light installation down an 80-foot tunnel. The seamless light design creates a runway effect.


Lighting fixture design is not the only way to differentiate your car wash. Color lights are being used to enhance the look of tunnels, bays, and vacuum arches. This adds an artistic appeal and improved customer experiences in addition to area light.

LED lights can also be incorporated to communicate with the tunnel and in-bay automatic controllers, turn on a single color to highlight some chemicals, or to change colors and create vibrant shows based on the level of the wash package.

Color lights enhance the look of tunnels, bays, and vacuum arches.


With the innovative placement of LED lights into the car wash experience, lighting products must be designed to withstand rough conditions inside car wash facilities. Three things to look for in lighting for industrial environments are resistance to water, chemicals, oil, and dust; protection against impact and vibration; and temperature protection mechanisms to ensure the light performs safely and effectively even in high heat.

Water Resistance

Along with other kinds of electrical equipment, lights can be rated based on Ingress Protection (IP) Code designations. Lights rated IP65 and IP66 can handle some damp applications and are best used in equipment and detail room areas. IP67 and above are dust and water resistant (can withstand temporary immersion in water), making them the main choice for machine lighting and overhead bay/tunnel environments. Lights rated IP68g are resistant to oil and water penetration and can be mounted safely to chemical application arches.


Dust and water resistance is important, but lighting fixtures in car wash environments may also need to withstand vibration. Incandescent and fluorescent technologies use glass enclosures that can shatter, exposing workers and customers to risk. Constant vibration can also reduce the lifetime of some lighting solutions, especially those with fine filaments and other delicate components. On the other hand, LED lights do not use glass enclosures or filaments, and are therefore extremely resistant to vibration and impact.

Temperature Protection

Car washes are also subject to extreme changes in temperatures. While LEDs perform better in cold conditions compared with traditional technologies, the LED fixture housing must be strong, durable, and substantial to handle hot wash spray on a cold winter day. Look for LED fixtures designed to operate in any range of temperatures, using high-grade housing materials that dissipate heat.

Looking ahead to 2019 and beyond, continued evolution of LED lighting is inevitable. However, these basic tips haven’t changed and likely won’t change for the foreseeable future. Use LED lights to properly light your car wash with a photometric plan, choose the lighting fixture design that helps you differentiate your car wash, use color lights to enhance your customer experience, and ensure you choose a durable product made for the car wash industry.

Michael Call is vice president of Colorado-based Mile High LED Systems. To learn more about trends and to ensure your lighting upgrades can meet the latest in technology and innovative uses, contact Michael for a free consultation. He can be reached at or at (303) 257-1195.