Every wash operator has had to deal with vehicle damage claims in the past, and everyone will have to deal with them again in the future. They happen everywhere, all the time, and no facility is immune to their effects.

            But fortunately, today, there are more options to protect yourself against fraudulent charges than ever before. Below are the top 10 things to remember as you jump into the world of vehicle inspection and documentation.

1. Make Sure Cameras Are Visible

 Many operators think hidden cameras are amazing because you can catch people in the act, and they don’t even know they’re being watched. Don’t be one of those people! Do you really want something to happen and have to find the bad guys and prosecute them? Trust me; you don’t. Visible cameras are incredibly helpful. It’s like having multiple security guards on duty 24/7, and you only have to pay once! Bad guys look for cameras and a ton of the time they simply…walk away. Stopping vandalism and theft before it happens saves you downtime, money, equipment repairs, peace of mind, and so much more. This goes for customers trying to defraud your insurance company too.

2. Have Post-Tunnel Inspection

            Including a post-tunnel inspection system can save you from claims you otherwise couldn’t fight. Cameras at the entrance can prove or disprove a customer’s insurance claim — if they already have a giant scratch down the full length of the vehicle, you’ll be able to see it was there before your equipment even touched their vehicle. Same thing for missing hubcaps, antennas, trim, etc. But what if you can see their missing antenna in the pre-wash footage? What if there is no visible scratch? Proving their antenna was there before the wash means you’ll be paying their claim. But if you had a secondary set of inspection cameras at the exit, you could prove the antenna was still there, and there was no giant scratch down the side when they left the tunnel. Without a full vehicle condition system covering both sides of the wash, you can only disprove half the claims! Don’t be caught without enough coverage!

3. Buy From the Source

            Skip the middlemen and go right to the camera system manufacturer. They should be able to design a system just for you, supply all the necessary equipment, and answer any technical questions during installation. When you have your first incident — a customer blaming your wash for scratches that your equipment can’t physically make — you want to know you have someone only a phone call away to walk you through it step-by-step. Even better, find a company with videos on their website showing you how to do it all, and you can watch them over and over.

4. Buy Right, Or Buy Twice

            Higher-quality cameras can save you money in so many ways. You can disprove damage claims and capture license plates in the pre- and post-inspection areas with a system of six or more cameras. The bottom cameras on all inspection legs and arches should face the front and rear of each vehicle so that every plate is captured. This will help with false claims and help catch criminals that vandalize other areas of your property.  Your network video recorder (NVR) can catch vandalism in the act anywhere on the property. And with 24/7 access from your phone, the NVR can text or e-mail messages with pics if an alarm is tripped or motion is detected. You can log into your system and catch a break-in while it’s happening, call the police as you watch, and take screenshots or full video recordings as it’s happening live.

5. Get a Car Wash Specific System

            Camera systems available at bulk warehouse stores are super easy on your pocketbook, but they will not survive in a car wash for long. The environment of a car wash is harsh. It’s harsh in the tunnel, bays, equipment rooms, prep area, and post-inspection and drying areas. There is a ton of chemically laced moisture that can eat through everything and destroy a discount camera system. And good luck reaching anyone in tech support if you need assistance. Cheap is just that, cheap. Purchase from a camera manufacturer specializing in your car wash environment.

6. Get a Custom Solution

            Don’t buy a one size fits all solution. Every wash, tunnel, and operation is different. Every owner has different expectations and problem areas. Work with a camera manufacturer that creates a system specifically for you instead of convincing you their run-of-the-mill cameras can handle your wash. They can’t. The same cameras that work in a daycare or grocery store will not survive in a wash facility of any type.

7. You Can Start Small

            You don’t have to start with a giant system with 64 cameras if you don’t want to. When you buy a surveillance system for your wash, you can start with a set of six cameras for the pre-wash areas on a 32-channel NVR — make sure the NVR is large enough for what you ultimately want to end up with. Start smaller and add as you can. Make sure you have a few slots left at the end of installation for all the places you didn’t know needed a camera!

8. DIY Is Possible

            “Equipment like this has to be way too advanced for me, and I don’t want to pay double the price for someone else to install it.” We hear this constantly, and it’s simply not true anymore. While you should buy your system from a car wash-specific camera manufacturer, there are available plug-and-play systems that make installation a breeze. Plug-and-play harsh environment camera systems give operators the ease of simply connecting their cameras with a single network cable, and the camera and NVR do all the rest behind the scenes. DIYers can turn things on/off, have messages sent automatically, and have full remote access to alarms. Resolution on cameras is getting higher and higher and more affordable all the time. Only big scratches and large dents could be seen through vehicle documentation systems of old. Now you can see fine line scratches and sometimes even registration information, not to mention the plates of every vehicle that goes in the tunnel.

9. Quality Lighting Is Key

            Well-balanced lighting all around the wash is vital. In the world of cameras, light equals resolution — you might need to add some additional lighting all around your property so you can see everything, and your cameras can too. You do not need blinding lights that will glare off every vehicle surface and blind the camera with too much saturation. The best test you can do is get your eyeballs where your camera will be and park a vehicle where you want to capture the best footage. If you must block light with your hand because it’s too bright, your cameras will be out of luck, and you’ll get a washed-out picture. Most manufacturers recommend that all pre- and post-inspection coverage be done outside with good natural lighting.

10. Camera Placement Is Critical

            Place cameras at the entrance and exit to get the best views of every angle of the vehicle. Cameras should be a couple of feet from any building, and each camera leg should be around three feet from each side of the vehicle. The distance between the two legs of each system does not matter.

            The above 10 things to know when exploring a vehicle inspection and documentation system are just the beginning. There’s so much more that good quality systems can provide. The peace of mind that the property is being watched even when you’re not there is amazing, and capturing the license plates of everyone that enters the wash is now easier than ever.

            But also, a camera in the equipment room can show you a hose blew off one of your pumps or a tank broke, and hundreds of gallons of water are going down your relief drain. Cameras can save you thousands of dollars in ways you never knew, and your insurance company might even give you a break on your premium because you have cameras. The savings keep on generating year after year!

Jennifer Spears is a car wash owner and sales manager at CarWashCameras.com. She has more than 23 years of experience working with car washes, owning and running up to four washes at a time, and has planned more than 13,000 camera systems. Her sales staff welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at (866) 301-2288 and sales@carwashcameras.com.