The constant flow of technological
advances in wash-system equipment and operation
can be the impetus that makes the most successful
wash site even more profitable

So, you decided five-plus years ago to build and operate a car wash. If you’re reading this today, congratulations, that likely means you’re still in business. That is actually a significant accomplishment, as studies show that most business startups are able to last for just a couple of years before insufficient operating revenues force them to close their doors.

Now, however, is not the time to kick back and put your feet up on the desk, figuring you’ve got the game beat. In fact, it’s just the opposite — it’s time to roll up your sleeves and, to borrow a football analogy, engage in some “self scouting.” This means you need to take a critical, unbiased look at your operation and identify the areas where you have excelled, as well as those where improvements can be made.


Car wash operators who are able to make an honest evaluation of their operations and are prepared to adjust where necessary are those who will celebrate a 10-year anniversary.

Since every car wash business is unique, there is no definitive or specific set of landmarks that can be considered when performing a self-evaluation. There are, however, a number of general questions that wash operators can ask themselves as they begin to gauge their site’s performance:
• What are the monthly revenue trends? Up, down, static?
• Have vehicle throughput rates risen, or at least stayed level? Or have they fallen, not enough to initially raise red flags, but enough to think a downward trend may be beginning?
• Have the incidents of service interruptions caused by wash system or backroom equipment breakdowns become more frequent?
• Have there been any demographic changes in your operating area?
• Have any new competitors moved into the neighborhood?
• Does the landscaping look as fresh and neat as it did the day you opened, or have weeds and trash started to dot the flowerbeds?
• Is your signage still attractive and effective? Or are there burned-out bulbs that need to be replaced?
• Which marketing initiatives have performed the best? Are there any new ones you should try?
• If you have a loyalty program in place, is it working to attract repeat customers?


Perhaps the most important question — and, arguably, the most difficult to easily get an answer to — is “Have there been any improvements in wash system technology?”

An expanded roster of revenue-generating options is available.

Technology is always churning, with manufacturers on a constant search for “the next big thing.” In 2014, smartphone users were spending the bulk of their spare time playing Angry Birds. Today, those birds have flown the coop, replaced by something “better” or more “exciting.” Heck, five years ago, people playing Angry Birds were probably doing it on an iPhone 5S. Since then, 13(!) different models of the iPhone have been released, with most now clamoring to acquire the new iPhone XR model.

The engineers and designers employed by car wash manufacturers are similarly pushing to improve existing wash technologies or develop new ones. While you may have grown comfortable with the equipment that began operating on day one and are completely satisfied with its performance, car wash manufacturers have been working tirelessly in that time to develop wash technologies that are more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly.

Here are specific examples for both friction and touchless wash systems:
• The manufacturers of next-generation friction-wash systems are now incorporating electronic variable frequency drive (VFD) technology that controls the movement and impact of the soft-foam brushes on the vehicle. Older systems use hydraulics and air cylinders to control component movement. This out-of-date technology is prone to leaks and breakdowns. In addition, hydraulics are unable to effectively sense the size and shape of the vehicle, resulting in higher incidents of vehicle damage. The ability of the VFD, on the other hand, to monitor all of the foam brushes so that they provide optimal vehicle contact, orientation, and wash speed will result in not only a cleaner vehicle, but also a safer and more cost-efficient wash experience for the driver and wash operator.
• New-era touchless systems feature a simple design that results in easy operation and lower equipment and maintenance costs for the operator. Touchless technology has advanced to the point that the wash bridges contain sensors that can “see” how the vehicle has been positioned in the wash bay and then have the capability to adjust the way the bridge travels so that a clean vehicle is produced in the most efficient manner possible. Additionally, the open-bay design of next-generation touchless systems eliminates the need for a floor treadle that must be driven onto in order to activate the wash. This simple feature will remove an area of concern for drivers who may be fearful that they won’t be able to align their vehicle properly.

To attract drivers requires a bit of showmanship.

The lifeblood of any car wash is vehicle throughput. New technologically advanced friction and touchless wash systems are capable of lowering average vehicle wash time, meaning that several more wash cycles can be completed in an hour. On those sunny Saturdays that are just perfect for a trip to the car wash, this equates to a constantly ringing cash register. A faster wash — that still delivers the expected level of cleaning — also means that drivers do not need to sit in line as long, which also helps improve their wash experience.

New wash technologies can also bring with them the availability of an expanded roster of revenue-generating options, such as colored and/or scented foams, enhanced wheel washers, more effective bug removal, etc. All of these capabilities can be leveraged into higher revenue-per-vehicle rates.

Most wash-system upgrades can be completed in less than two weeks, which results in limited wash downtime. The equipment upgrade can also be scheduled for just before the start of the busy wash season, allowing the wash operator to completely capitalize on his latest capital investment.


So, you’ve taken the leap and acquired the “steak” of an upgraded wash system. Now, how about some “sizzle?” The wash’s ability to reliably provide clean vehicles that result in happy customers is obviously of paramount importance for the operator. But, as mentioned, we live in an age where people want to be entertained. In short, there can be great benefit in building and marketing your wash as an attraction for drivers.

This requires a bit of “showmanship,” and car wash equipment manufacturers have responded with new, eye-catching wash-bay illumination systems. These systems have been designed to be a replacement for traditional static lighting systems, with an ultimate goal of increasing the entertainment value of the wash experience, along with a corresponding increase in wash revenues.

The key design feature of these new-age illumination systems is the incorporation of multi-color light bars that are able to display numerous color combinations, flashing patterns or constant illumination that can be formatted to match the wash’s brand image. The lights can also be used to illuminate the wash even when it is not in use, which can serve as a way to attract drivers to the site.

These lights use an integrated mounting system that enables them to be installed in multiple configurations on the wash bay’s walls, ceiling, or rails. They can also be integrated seamlessly into and controlled by the wash system’s operating software, creating an all-in-one washing and lighting solution.

If deployed properly, these eye-catching illumination systems can be the bait that draws drivers to your site, where you can then hook them through an upgraded wash system that provides a best-in-class wash experience in the most efficient manner. This combination of steak and sizzle can be the foundation on which you can build a loyal customer base.


Car wash operators who want to keep celebrating anniversaries would be wise to perform an annual (at the least) self-evaluation of their operation. They must also realize that the manufacturers of car wash systems and equipment are constantly looking to improve their product offerings. By recognizing the potential shortcomings or pitfalls in their operation, along with the many ways that manufacturers are working to assist them, savvy wash operators will be able to build a business that will one day be recognized as a true success story.

David Dougherty is the senior product manager for In-Bay Automatics at PDQ Manufacturing Inc., De Pere, WI, and can be reached at PDQ Manufacturing is a leader in vehicle wash systems, providing superior quality, outstanding support, and products that contribute to its customers’ profitability. PDQ is part of OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions, a business unit within Hamilton, OH-based OPW. For more information, visit or call (800) 227-3373.