When we broached the subject of interior cleaning in this space in January this year, little did we know the significance it would take on within a few short months. The motivation then for enhanced cleaning was the advances in transportation as a service (TaaS) — i.e., ride sharing, ride hailing, and the prospect of autonomous vehicles — which involves several distinct users during the course of a given day. Consumers were expected to demand much stricter hygiene standards in those situations.

That’s how the year started — it ends on a very different note. Where once we had to worry merely about cooties or inadequate hygiene, our concern now is for life itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has upended the way we do our jobs and the way we live our lives. By March we were reporting on the cancellation of The Car Wash Show, the various stay-at-home orders, and restrictions on non-essential businesses. During summer, things started to look a little better. Fall brought a turn for the worse — the healthcare systems in several states hard-pressed to cope.

There is once again talk of business restrictions. In some areas, bars and indoor dining establishments are either operating with limited hours and capacity or are not operating at all. Schools just opened for in-person attendance are considering a return to remote instruction. Mask mandates are becoming more commonplace. Even that dreaded word, “lockdown,” is being spoken out loud. There is hope, though. In mid-November came word that two pharmaceutical companies had tested a vaccine, each shown to be more than 90 percent effective.

We have all adapted to the new circumstances brought about by the pandemic.

Full-service car washes probably needed to make the most adjustments. In some jurisdictions, these washes were able to continue operating, albeit with enhanced cleaning procedures; in others, employee involvement in the wash process was prohibited, necessitating a switch to hands-off exterior washing only. Having discovered the efficacy of the exterior format, how many of these full-service operators will revert to their previous M.O.?

As for those locations able to continue with interior cleaning, a new service level evolved: sanitizing. In all probability this service will have legs, remaining on car wash menus long after COVID-19 is history. Not that it is really all that new. As we pointed out in January, as far back as 2013, Matt & Jeff’s Car Wash in Novato, CA offered a sanitizing interior service called “Targeted Interior Germ Buster.”

While express-exterior washes were already set up for operating with minimal person-to-person contact and maximum social distancing, some adjustments were nevertheless called for. At some sites, every second self-serve vacuum bay was closed off to promote social distancing. The pandemic also pushed the adoption of contactless payment technology in car wash operations.

Starting on page 30 in this issue, you can read about consumer tends related to, and the technologies that drive, contactless payments.

The car wash industry was put to the test this year and showed itself to be resilient.

It came through the first wave of the pandemic, not unscathed, but in a far better position than most other consumer-facing businesses. With appropriate mitigating measures, the current spike in infections, too, shall pass. With a vaccine on the horizon, 2021 holds promise.