A large car wash installs a payment machine kiosk at the front of their conveyor wash system. The attractive, functional pay station draws customers’ attention, and soon it becomes a normal part of their operations. The wash (and pay station) proves so popular, in fact, that its under-sized cash drawer must be emptied twice a day.

One day, the store manager receives an e-mail alerting her to a full cash drawer. She goes to the car wash entrance, opens the pay station, and removes a six-inch-thick wad of bills. On the way back to her office, a customer asks her about a vacuum that is not working. The manager, ever mindful of her customer service training, stops to help the customer.

As she fishes for her keys and answers the customer’s questions, the manager absent-mindedly sets the stack of cash from the kiosk on a nearby machine. She finds her keys and turns back to the customer, leaving the cash unguarded for only a split second.

This is a real-life case study, one that highlights the importance of incorporating the right security components and processes into a cash-handling pay station or kiosk.

Managing cash is not easy; it is specialized work, and taking shortcuts around manufacturing, transaction recordkeeping, or cash collection processes will simply bite you.


The parts of a self-service deployment that handle and secure cash sit at the frontline of a conflict between very old (hard currency) and cutting-edge (self-service) technologies. The bill counter/handler, safe, and cash tracking sensors have a lot of responsibilities.

Any time that there’s money involved in a business, there’s a legacy process you need to port with the money. A good cash-handling kiosk installation takes the best security practices from the traditional retail checkout counter and moves them into a hands-off environment.

Cash fraud has evolved with the times. Cash acceptors, for example, have to incorporate basic fraud prevention, such as shutters that stop the old-fashioned coin-on-a-string trick, as well as countermeasures for modern, sophisticated fraud. Thirty years ago, for someone to copy a [monetary] note was difficult. Now, it’s very easy to take currency and make something that physically looks like a cash note. In fact, any school-grade child could make counterfeit currency using a scanner and printer that would far surpass the work of any counterfeiter just 15 years ago. Cash fraud is an ongoing race that never ends.

Millions of dollars are spent annually in research and development specifically to try and stay ahead of people creating fraudulent notes and coins.


That ongoing R&D has turned modern cash-handling components into sophisticated devices that can measure everything from the UV signature of a bill’s ink to the specific density of a coin.

We now have the knowledge that allows us to validate all features of a bill or coin. Sensors in the company’s bill acceptors, for example, can detect several features of a metallic strip placed in most American bills. The strip’s position in the bill, its metallic makeup, and even the level of electromagnetic field it generates all help the bill acceptor separate legitimate money from counterfeit bills. Those are only the measures that are known to the public. Many other measures remain top secret and not revealed for public knowledge.

Once money is accepted into a kiosk or pay station, the safe that protects it often uses its own list of technology features to do its job. Safes have been developed that can be accessed only by entering a security code on the pay station’s touchscreen. That step sends a message to the car wash’s accounting and security network, logging exactly who opened the pay station, when the action occurred, and exactly how much money was in the pay station safe when it happened.

A well-designed pay station or kiosk can operate in a “closed loop” management system: Money is counted as it enters a cash-handling cartridge in the pay station’s safe. When the cartridge is full, a store employee logs into the pay station and replaces it with an empty cartridge, then logs the full cartridge into the store’s main safe. The online logs track every step of the process, so management can precisely know which employees moved how much money to what location. If done right, this process keeps employees from touching cash and can speed up accounting processes.

When the cash is removed, it’s already been counted. The pay station is going to add operational value from the back end. The timesavings can be significant.

Note: When installing a new pay station or change machine, remember a well-lit area is one of your best defenses against vandalism and theft.


While technology plays an important role in the success of a cash-handling system, planning and proper component selection are just as important to a deployment’s success.

If you do not have a scalable and a secure plan around your cash handling, you will be in trouble. Many operators focus first on the marketing/branding value of a sleek pay station, then consider the operational value of the deployment. Often, security is a tertiary consideration.

If you don’t bring loss prevention with you, it’s almost like forgetting the seat belt in a sports car, the oversight might not kill you, but it certainly ups the risk.

The most common misconception is that one size fits all. A high-security system designed to handle thousands of dollars a day with no human contact would be overkill for a pay station positioned at a low-volume wash operation. Since cash-handling components vary in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per unit, the proper selection can affect ROI as much as security.

Security is a holistic issue, rather than one that can just be addressed by one or two components. An operator must consider every step in the path money follows from the customer’s hand to the corporate account.

• Are there risks?

• Who, internally or externally, has opportunities to remove money during this sequence?

The wise use of technology is the best route to take when filling the gaps in a self-service deployment’s security plan.

Note: Sometimes something as simple as a decal on the kiosk, noting that cash is removed daily, can prevent fraud or theft.


There will be several areas of concern that should be addressed with an agent fully versed in insuring car wash operations and the risks associated with payment and change making kiosks.

Money and Security Coverage

Crime coverage is provided on a limited basis on most Business Insurance Policies (BOPs). However, the base limits are generally quite low for “any loss resulting directly from theft, disappearance, or destruction” of money and/or securities. Speak with your agent to assess the limits that would be required for your operations.

Property Coverage

Any pay station or change machine that is not a part of your main wash operations will most likely need to be scheduled and valued separately on your property insurance coverage form. Speak with your agent about deductibles and any specific exclusions or requirements that your current carrier may have.

Cyber Coverage

If your pay station or change machine accepts credit cards you should consider cyber insurance. A cyber insurance policy, also referred to as “cyber risk insurance,” is a financial product that enables businesses to transfer the costs involved with recovery from a cyber-related security breach or similar events.

In many cases, the policy can also provide access to a panel of top-tier breach coaches and other service providers. Speak with your agent and/or kiosk provider about your specific operations to determine if you may need to purchase this coverage separately.

As you can see, it is critically important that you have a team of highly qualified professionals at every step to assist in making proper decisions for the right equipment, establishing and implementing safety and loss control measures, and in determining the insurance needs for your wash operations.

Now go slay a dragon!

Dan Tharp, CIC, RWCS, is licensed in all states (except Alaska and Hawaii) and is the vice president of business insurance lines for Pearl Insurance. Dan has been assisting business owners protect their operations, customers, and employees for over 25 years. For questions regarding this article or any other insurance matter, he can be reached at; (800) 447-4982, e-mail dan.tharp@pearlinsurance.com, or visit the company website at pearlinsurance.com/automotive.