Express Exterior Car Wash with Free Vacuums • Typical “S” Layout

You can overcome many bad decisions while developing a car wash, but you cannot overcome a bad location and layout. To succeed in these aspects of the development process, apply the following key criteria.

• Traffic count over a 24-hour period to exceed 30,000 cars in both directions.
• Easy site ingress and egress and preferably at two different entrance/exit locations.
• Visibility in both directions (ability to see signage at a distance of at least 300 feet).
• Site location in and around retail traffic and retail businesses surrounded by residential. The higher the density of residential, the better.
• An income level per household to fit the demographics of the car wash model (full service, flex serve, exterior, express exterior, and/or self-serve). Full serve and flex serve require higher income.
• Like-model competition to be a minimum of three miles away from the site, although there are instances where they could be closer if there is a traffic divider between the two such as a freeway, a river, etc.
• Traffic speed should be as slow as possible. Either a corner site for some of the models or a slightly off-corner location is preferable, but not more than three sites off corner. This will help slow the traffic and create more visibility.
• The “go-home” side of the road seems to be better than the “go-to-work” side of the road, but this depends on the availability of land that is zoned correctly.
• Use towers or some type of fascia to increase the building’s height. It makes it easier to see and allows for an area on the building to dress with signage, neon, and other eye-catching enhancements.
• Once the site is selected, a survey is extremely important to determine the building setback lines and utility easements, which affect the extent of useable property.


• The next step is site layout. Turning radius, traffic flow, and the ability for the motoring public to recognize where to go (the entrance), are all extremely important. Customers need to easily understand how to move about on the property. Lots of space and good signage make it easier for them to figure it out — wide traffic lanes, plenty of stacking, and some type of introduction to the tunnel like an archway or a canopy will give them the guidance they need.
• Try to create a traffic flow on site that does not create cross traffic; in other words, an “S” type (see site plan on page 44).
• It is ideal to drive onto the conveyor making a left-hand turn. The turning radius is shorter, and customers do not have to look across the hood of the vehicle as they would need to if it were a right-hand turn.
• It is better to have the driveway feeding the conveyor straightening out after the turn so the vehicle is aligned before loading onto the conveyor. A slight downward slope onto the conveyor makes it easier to load. Motorists control the break more easily than they control the accelerator.
• Good signage and directions from an attendant smiling and communicating with the customer is always a plus.
• A clean, well-lit tunnel is inviting and less claustrophobic. It also helps to have a separator wall between the wet environment and dry environment of the tunnel where the blowers are located (to minimize the blowers picking up mist).
• Exiting the conveyor, a slight downward slope in the paving makes it easier and more apparent to the customer that we want them to move forward.

Squid scrubbers.


Employ a brightly colored guide rail (yellow/orange) to designate the location of the conveyor, which makes it easier for the customer/loader. In addition to flat top conveyors, non-skid conveyor pit covers reduce slipping hazards. Generally, we use cloth wash media for fixed side wheels and cloth mitter curtains with the newly introduced squid scrubbers and foam wash media for top wheels and wraparounds.

Wheel and tire cleaning can be safely achieved with chemistry and high-pressure water (800 to 1,000 psi). Blower and positioning of the nozzles have improved resulting in a dryer vehicle. LED lights and grand arches with multiple premium products have added to the customer experience and end results.

Squid scrubber closeup.


We do not recommend the use of any hydro-fluoric acid or similar products because of safety issues with employees and customers. Biodegradable soaps, waxes, and premium products are available today to assist in achieving the desired results. A chemical safety program is highly recommended along with the safety equipment necessary for the program (i.e., eye wash center, appropriate clothing, boots, safety manuals, etc.).

A general safety program which consists of manuals, videos, and personal instruction is also recommended.

A first report-of-injury form should be filled out immediately upon any personal injuries and should be part of the safety manual.

In conclusion, I have never found a perfect site; there are always some types of sacrifices or compromises to be made. Try to minimize them and make it easy for your customer to understand your business, the traffic flow, and how to use the facility.

Ralph Nasca is an industry veteran and manager of Lewisville, TX-based Pro-Tech Service Company LLC. You can visit the company on the web at