“Goodnight Mama.” “Goodnight Ben.” “Goodnight Jim Bob.” “Goodnight Daddy.” “Goodnight children.” “Goodnight John Boy.” Many of you remember this sequence of goodnight banter from the television show, “The Waltons.” It was an important part of their family’s end-of-day routine. Each show ended with a similar routine and the fans expected the sequence each time they tuned in. The show last aired in 1981, yet I still remember it vividly to this day.

Much like the goodnight routine of “The Waltons,” your car wash business needs an opening and closing routine to help keep it successful. One of the most important aspects of any successful business is a trusting but professional relationship between you, the owner, and your employees. One of the best ways to establish this relationship is through opening and closing checklists and procedures. These checklists and procedures set out the owner’s wishes, desired procedures, and expectations, thus clearing up any possible confusion and avoiding future issues. They also create a structured process, which any employee can follow to successfully open and close the car wash for daily business.


Every car wash will have it’s own unique set of opening and closing procedures based on the type of wash, location, climate, technology, etc. Here are a few categories to consider when developing your opening checklist.


The safety of your employees and customers is one of the most important aspects of your opening checklist. An injury to an employee or customer could ruin many lives and result in the end of your business operations. I have my managers conduct a daily walkthrough at each location, checking for out-of the-ordinary items that could create a safety issue in both employee and customer areas. For example, I once had an employee leave a ladder on the backside of one of the wraps in one of my tunnels. Imagine what could have happened if the wrap had turned on and “gently” placed the ladder on an unsuspecting customer’s windshield. It wouldn’t have been a good day. An even more disconcerting incident, which another operator shared with me, involved a “bolt-infused paint stripper.” A disgruntled ex-employee decided to break into the operator’s tunnel after hours and tie nuts and bolts to the wraps. The manager didn’t complete a morning walkthrough of the tunnel and the first six cars that went through the next morning were completely destroyed before the employees figured out what was going on. Ouch! Fortunately, no bodily injury was suffered.

Site Appearance

The Methodist Reverend John Wesley said it best back in 1778, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” We run car washes. If your location is dirty and in disarray, how do potential customers perceive you? A few examples of items that I have my managers check daily include: landscaping, trash areas, building appearance,interior and exterior walls/ceiling cleanliness, lighting, etc.


If you don’t have employee uniforms, I suggest you at least have a dress code. I pulled up to one of my locations recently and one of my employees had so many holes in his uniform pants that a customer would have mistaken him for a hobo from the movies in the 1920s. I nicely asked him to go home and change his pants. According to the movies from the 20s, hobos attract other hobos.

The last time I checked, hobos ask for money; they don’t dole it out for car washes. On a serious note, refer back to the John Wesley quote about cleanliness.

Equipment Operation

If your equipment doesn’t operate properly you lose money. As part of their morning opening routine, I have my employees check the basic functionality of each piece of equipment to make sure it is working properly. They also check things such as water softness and TDS levels of the spot-free water. After they go through their equipment checklist they wash their personal car as a test. If they see anything out of the ordinary they make the necessary adjustments before opening up the wash. Each equipment manufacturer will have a recommended daily checklist for equipment operation. I suggest you incorporate their recommendations into your daily opening routine.


I have established a recommended inventory for each one of my locations. As part of their morning routines, the location managers check items in four different categories. Operational, employee use, customer use, and retail.
• Operational – A partial list of items checked on a daily basis include chemical levels, salt for water softeners, etc.
• Employee use – A partial list of items checked on a daily basis are towels, hand cleaners, bathroom toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc.
• Customer use – This category varies at each location. Example: If you have a customer-use bathroom, I would recommend checking paper towels, toilet paper, hand soap, etc.
• Retail – In this category I establish a recommended level of retail inventory for each location. Managers place orders for retail items as needed. Retail items are defined as any item for sale to customers.

Customer Areas

This part of the morning opening routine varies by location. Basically all areas where customers will visit through the operating hours are checked to make sure they are satisfactory.

Entrances and Driveways

Are customers able to get on and off of your lot? If not, remove the obstacle and open up for business.


As stated earlier, each car wash will have it’s own unique set of opening and closing procedures based on the type of wash, location, climate, technology, etc. Here are a few categories to consider when developing your closing checklist.

Site Appearance

I like to have the majority of the cleaning and light mechanical jobs completed at the end of the day. Items vary at each location based on layout and equipment setup. Examples: Wash down bay walls, floors, and ceilings. Blow off or sweep parking areas and driveways. Clean vacuum dustbins. Empty trash. Clean customer areas, etc. Once again, refer back to the quote from John Wesley.

End of Day Accounting

This varies by location and wash type. The money has to balance. I recommend you check this on a daily basis. If there are any issues, you want to know about it immediately.

Equipment Power Down

This varies by location, wash type, climate, etc. Examples: Turn off the “OPEN” sign. Make sure the weep is operating and the floor heat is on in the winter when it is below freezing.

Security Check

Anything with a lock on it needs to be checked. This varies by location and wash type. After all the locks are checked, the alarm is set and the last and final item must be completed. See the next step.

Do the “Happy Dance”

Another successful day has concluded. We are in the best business in the world. Celebrate and do the “Happy Dance.”


Your car wash business will indeed operate more efficiently if you have a set daily routine with checklists and procedures, and continually update and revise these guidelines as equipment, technology, or business operations shift over time. This structured process will also streamline employee training and empower your staff with the knowledge to best fulfill their duties each day, and, most importantly, ensure that your customers have the best possible experience each time they visit your car wash.

Wash on!


Bobby Willis has been in the car wash business for over 20 years. He owns and operates Cool Wave Car Washes in Virginia. He can be reached at bwillis@coolwavecarwash.com.