Porcelain tile is practically impervious and can be installed
on exterior walls over most existing finishes.

Renovating or upgrading your car wash presents many challenges — but offers numerous benefits. A major plus is that it provides a fresh and up-to-date look that should bring in new customers. With new, competing car washes being built close by, there is a need to look just as flashy and new. There are several issues owners can focus on to increase curb appeal including exterior finishes, lighting, landscape, and signage.


The exterior finish and colors of an older building can date a car wash. One of the options for exterior finishes is large-format porcelain tile. Porcelain tile is practically impervious and can be installed on exterior walls over most existing finishes. The size of tile has changed considerably from a maximum 12” x 12” to 24” x 48” and even larger. The finish can be smooth, stone-face, or polished. The automotive dealership industry has been using tile for years and now, with the larger sizes and economical cost, they can dress up an older car wash building quickly.

The exterior colors of a car wash building can dramatically change the appeal as well. The sun is a killer on bright colors, and over time reds become pink, blues become grey, and yellows turn white. New metal fascias and trims can brighten up the site. Look for metallic finishes that will provide some sparkle. A good paint job with a lighter color over older masonry can brighten the appearance. If your site has bollards, install plastic covers over them for a quick fix.

Don’t overuse primary colors as this starts to look confusing and tacky. Many operators want to use as much color as possible everywhere on the site, thinking customers will not see them without it. Newer washes are more selective in providing the correct amount of color visibility without going overboard and looking like a box of crayo

Metallic finishes can provide some sparkle.

Adding an architectural element to an existing wash allows the chance to change the design of the facility entirely. Adding a tower element on the front of a wash building or as a standalone structure can give an existing site greater visibility, and allow a new location to place signage.


Lighting can warm and brighten a site quickly and inexpensively. Evening hours can be a very busy time for washing cars. A new car wash will typically have bright site and building lighting, which gives a sense of quality and security. Many customers will not use a car wash that is poorly lit during the evening. The growth of LED lighting has made significant progress in the car wash industry, and owners can install many fixtures and systems themselves. Tube LEDs are easy to install and can light up a wash bay or tunnel very well. Exterior wall and pole lighting with LEDs are readily available and inexpensive. Be aware of any glare from new light fixtures to avoid blinding drivers when driving around and using the site.


Fresh landscaping can help a site look new and inviting. Many older car washes were built with little landscape requirements and seem to be mostly concrete. Look for areas of concrete that can be cut out and replaced with small trees and shrubs. Focus on annual beds along the front of the site and by any driveways and entrances the customer may use. If concrete cannot be removed, install large planter pots to act as lane dividers and to protect equipment or building corners.

Adding a tower element provides an existing
site greater visibility.

Build small wood trellises around customer seating areas and maybe pipe in some soft music. Provide quality seating for customers or their children. Add WiFi accessibility if you provide detailing or flex services. Everyone is online these days and connection to a strong signal is very beneficial.

One of the biggest challenges with a remodel is having a large enough site to allow for better site circulation, additional landscaping, and amenities like seating areas. Creating additional room on a site for these items might require modification of existing detail, vacuum, and parking areas.


Signage can provide great visibility. Over time, building and pole signage fades and gets dated. Providing fresh sign panels is inexpensive and quick to change. New signage in backlit channel letters is the current trend. This gives an upscale look and is not overly bold. If your signage is not back or front lighted, provide new lighting to allow it to be easily read in the evening and at night. Signage can stay illuminated 24 hours to keep your business presence front and center even when you are not open.


Once you’ve taken care of the curb appeal, be sure to bring the same attention to the interior spaces that customers will occupy or drive through. Wash tunnels or bays need to be as clean and bright as your customers want their cars to be. If your tunnel is dark and doesn’t allow much daylight to enter, add a healthy dose of LED lighting.

Brighten the walls with new white PVC liner panels. Some liner panels are now available in colors, but stick to white so the tunnel is as bright as possible. Clean the walls and floors often, and keep them clean. If you have wall or ceiling space that will allow adding daylight, consider these options. A concrete block or brick wall can be cut out and reinforced to provide new window locations. Most ceiling/roof areas can be penetrated as well to allow for skylights. Lighting from above is beneficial, as it doesn’t take much of a hole to provide a lot of light. Skylights usually don’t take much maintenance to keep clean on the inside. A word of caution, though: Don’t locate skylights over any top brushes or equipment that will throw water and soap up high.

Lighting can warm and brighten a site.


If you have interior customer areas and restrooms, upgrade these spaces with new tile, paint, and ceiling treatments. Don’t allow a customer to wait in a dingy and dated room while their car is being pampered in an attractive day-lit space. A nice clean restroom is a must in any car wash location. Provide the latest in interior finishes and an attractive countertop or lavatory. Keep it well equipped and make sure it smells fresh. This room must be constantly maintained and monitored. A dirty restroom can offend customers and cause them to choose another wash location regardless of the quality of service.


How much is this going to cost? For every operator, that’s the first question that comes to mind. The budget will depend on how much owners can afforded and how much they are willing to spend to gain or maintain a competitive edge. A $50,000 to $100,000 budget will cover some paint, signage, landscape, and lighting. A $1 million budget could include all of the above in a high-quality finish. When investors are spending between $3 million and $5 million on a new car wash site, existing owners need to realize the need to spend good money on a great remodel design with high-quality, up-to-date finishes.

Brighten the tunnel with additional daylight.

Many older car washes are being remodeled to compete with the new flashy washes in their market. The older washes have the advantage of being established and not having to spend millions on a site and building, not to mention spending a year or more to get the wash approved and built. Capitalizing on this advantage and upgrading before it is necessary could steer new washes further away from your site. Thinking first and acting fast could be the saving grace for an older wash in this competitive market.

Trent Clark is the founder and lead architect with A Plus Design Group, a multi-state-registered firm located in Flower Mound, TX. You can visit the firm on the web at www.apdg.us.