As a child, I was always attracted to the hot wax sign you could see flashing though the hallway observation glass of the wash tunnel  “Is our car getting this?” I asked my dad. Of course, this is the purpose of bright flashing lights: to create a heightened emotional state.

            Obviously, exterior lighting has a big influence on store attraction rate. Good lighting and clean, brightly lit wash bays tell motorists the car wash is open for business.

            According to suppliers, the clean white light produced by LEDs gives off a modern appearance that makes

customers feel welcomed and secure at any hour. Furthermore, suppliers say switching from traditional lighting to LEDs can appeal to a larger environmentally conscious crowd that will drive further to frequent a wash.

            LED lights consume about 1/3 of the energy as compared to metal halide lights and about half the energy as compared to fluorescent bulbs. Typical payback from switching to LEDs is between two and three years for most projects.

            Most studies suggest that lighting does in fact have an impact on product perception. For example, researchers find lighting can affect price and quality perception with reference to store image and store atmospherics.

            However, car washing is now mostly a drive-thru business where the customer remains inside the vehicle for the entire process. To entertain customers during this time, some conveyor operators have taken lighting to atmospheric levels. Even in-bay owners have gotten into the game,

            Car wash lighting isn’t inexpensive. For example, the estimated cost to outfit a 100’ tunnel with basic lighting elements for a recent project was more than $23,000.

            According to conveyor operators that have invested in custom industrial lighting as shown above, it’s possible to spend twice this amount to have a setup that can withstand the harsh car wash environment.

            Light shows have been further amped-up with programmable systems that light up each component used as the car passes through and changes color corresponding to the wash package.

            What about these claims?

            LED lights will cause environmentally conscious consumers to drive further distances to patronize a wash.

            Customers need to be entertained during the three-minute wash process and a color and light display is the best way to accomplish this.

            LEDs and a light show can increase sales levels and improve customer loyalty.

            LEDs provide better quality light and are more energy efficient than traditional lights.

            Except for energy efficiency and less maintenance, I found little quantitative information to support the former claims. For example, in my case, the novelty of the “show” has worn off.

            Now I fiddle with my phone during the wash looking up occasionally at the exit end to ensure I don’t smash into the back end of the car in front. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

            Nevertheless, experience has shown that a well-lit car wash can create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere that attracts the customer’s attention.

            The show must go on.

Bob Roman is a car wash consultant. You can reach Bob via e-mail at or by visiting