Businesses around the world are adjusting their operations to survive the COVID-19 crisis and create a safe environment for their customers, but how can car washes adapt?

How can car washes adjust their operations to adapt to the COVID-19 global pandemic and create a safe environment for their customers?Depending on the type of operation, car washes have a range of labor needs and require different levels of change based on how many employees they have as well as how they physically interact with customers.

There are a number of changes that will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic:
• Stricter safety and sanitation protocols
• Increased use of license plate recognition, even for non-unlimited members
• More demand for e-commerce and mobile apps
• Increased investment in point-of-sale (POS) technology at new sites and through retrofits/replacements at existing sites

And all of these factors will have an impact on the car wash point-of-sale experience.

At hand washes, express tunnels, full service sites, and detailing businesses, there is an immediate need for streamlined operations, “windows up” customer experiences, and a reduction in staff interactions. It’s not only a potential health risk for customers visiting the business, but it represents a work hazard for car wash employees interacting with the public during every transaction.


Car wash owners have been forced to adjust their practices and follow safety protocols to prove to their local government that it’s safe for them to open. As more states reopen, consumer behavior has also changed as a result of public health concerns. It will take time for consumers to return to their usual routines, and businesses have to prove their safety through consistent precautions and low-touch customer experiences.

There are various sanitation practices that can help car washes disinfect surfaces, and social distancing is an important adjustment as well, but how can a transaction take place from 6 feet away? Some businesses only accept credit cards now, eliminating cash and its suspected risk of carrying the virus. But this still requires a physical exchange between the customer and a staff member, with the exception of pay station transactions.

Many car wash sites have a staff member standing next to the pay station to walk customers through each transaction, something that is no longer advisable since it violates social distancing guidelines. Even in situations where there is no attendant, consumers might be concerned about touching a screen or buttons on the kiosk since every customer has to make contact to complete the transaction (with the exception of unlimited members).


So when alcohol wipes and rubber gloves are not enough, how can car wash owners take action to secure their business and protect everyone involved? Thanks to fast moving developments in the POS industry, there are now options to pay by plate, use mobile apps, and remove the need for physical interaction altogether.

RFID tags and license plate recognition (LPR) allow unlimited members to pass through without rolling down their window, so how can car wash owners offer this same experience to every visitor? Redemption by license plate is a great way to automate transactions through pre-selling and it provides non-members with a “windows-up” experience. LPR has proven consistency in terms of read rates and allows for unique identification of every vehicle (people typically swap RFID tags but rarely license plates). There’s also no need to apply an RFID tag to the car, which eliminates contact between staff and customers. LPR works differently with each provider. One program allows customers to use a mobile app to add their license plate to the system and redeem washes. Car washes can communicate this easy-to-use system on social media, through e-mails, or through on-site signage so customers can learn more about the contactless system.

Customers just download the app, add their license plate to the account, and then they can purchase and redeem wash books from their plate. So the next time they drive up to the car wash, the camera will read the plate, redeem the prepaid wash book, and lift the gate. Car wash owners have already been using this new process at their sites around the country and the fast moving response has been met with praise from their concerned customers. A fully windows-up transaction allows nervous customers to visit without making contact, and it provides a faster customer experience overall.

A pay station is a great solution for the current climate but it also represents a long-term solution to increasing wages and other changes. Reduction in labor is quickly becoming the clear economic choice in response to minimum wage increases around the country. This is creating a transition from full serve to express at some sites and staff reductions at others. While automation at the point-of-sale might seem like a temporary demand, it’s a long-term solution for rising labor costs.


A similar transition has been seen in the restaurant industry, which was severely impacted by COVID-19. There was a trend towards digital ordering at kiosks or on tablets (unattended by staff) in order to increase order throughput, decrease labor needs, and provide a consistent customer experience. Social distancing and public health requirements forced this trend to grow rapidly. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of restaurants had to transition their POS experience to online ordering. Walking up to a cashier to order a burger is a thing of the past. Patrons can order ahead using a website, a mobile app, or by calling the restaurant and then picking up their food. While no one is going to call ahead for a car wash, e-commerce and mobile apps are more important than ever.

Digital sales and unlimited memberships have made e-commerce and a mobile app must have items on many car wash owners’ POS checklist. Online sales of wash books and gift cards can bring money through the door; days, weeks, or months before the customerredeems them for a service. As we know, some people never get around to using their gift cards, providing direct profit to the car wash. With many consumers making an effort to limit their time outside of the house, online spending is increasing. Car wash owners should be aware of this shift in behavior and make it easy to buy wash books, gift cards, and even sign up for an unlimited program online.


Despite the economic downturn, certain segments of the economy are maintaining and in some cases, growing. I believe the reason behind the ongoing investment in car washing is simple: it’s not going anywhere. As owners plan for what their business will look like when things go back to normal, new equipment is a big part of that vision. We have found that car wash owners around the country have used the forced shutdown as an opportunity to swap out aging hardware and revamp their business. Rather than a decrease in POS sales, we have more and more owners reaching out to get a new system. Construction will always have some delays, but many new sites have continued to move forward as planned. Although there have been obvious setbacks, operators will continue to invest in new components for their car wash in order to improve customer experience and grow their business.

In short, a demand for streamlined, low contact transactions will accelerate investment in POS hardware, drive more e-commerce, increase the adoption rate of LPR and lead to a better customer experience overall. For car wash owners, this will increase throughput, reduce labor expenses, and potentially boost unlimited membership programs.

Greg Snow is the marketing manager at Washify. For sales inquiries or more information about the Washify system, contact Matt D’Souza at 855-927-4439 or visit