Is Your Car Wash Pay Station an Easy Target for Theft?

November 13, 2019 | Richard Carpenter

When you think about pay station security at your car wash, the first thought that likely comes to your mind is cybersecurity. Certainly, that's a major concern, but don’t overlook the potential danger of good, old-fashioned break-ins and physical theft.

If you operate a car wash, you’ll likely experience an attempted theft at one time or another. Fortunately, there are several ways to guard against this and protect your hard-earned money.

damaged car wash pay station The XPT at Wash Me Express sustained significant damage during an attempted break-in, but the vandals were unable to access the cash inside.

The Right Pay Station Makes All the Difference

Pay stations inherently are more secure than other payment methods because they remove human intervention and the potential for employee theft. Some car washers even depend on outside companies such as Brinks to change out cash cartridges.

Cash is also being used increasingly less at pay stations. Monthly wash plans are processed via credit card. The use of coins is way down, leading most operators to select a coinless pay station.

Still, most car wash pay stations still process some cash. Anytime cash is present, there is the potential for theft. Selecting the right pay station can make all the difference.

Ben Goldthwaite, lead installer AutoShine of New England, saw that firsthand when a DRB® Xpress Pay Terminal® at one of his customers’ sites was the victim of an attempted break-in.

“They were there for three hours with a sledgehammer, ax and a crowbar,” Goldthwaite said. “They never got into it.”

The machine was destroyed, but the would-be thieves never got to the money inside.

When vandals hit Wash Me Express in the Nashville area, they caused significant damage to the screen and the decals on the XPT®, but the rest of the machine was undamaged, said IT Administrator Ed McGuire. Like Godthwaite’s customer, they didn’t lose any money from inside the machine.

“They tried but they didn’t get very far,” McGuire said.

Finding a Secure Pay Station

Security features may not be the most exciting part of pay station selection, but the examples above illustrate how important those features are.

Here are some things you want to look for to select the most secure pay station possible:

  • Heavy doors. You want your doors to be thick and strong enough so that if someone beats on your pay station for three hours as the wash above experienced, they won’t gain access. Look for a pay station with a heavy gauge stainless steel door and security bar.
  • Separate cash access. Any pay station will, of course, have a locked door, but ideally, you want a system where the cash access is secured through a separately keyed door. That way, even if someone successfully gets the main door open, they will have a difficult time getting to the cash. This is also an important safeguard against employee theft, allowing employees to replace receipt paper without having access to the cash.
  • Integrated alarm. Your pay station should have an internal alarm that sounds if the main door is opened without it being unlocked. The alarm should work even if the software isn’t running and the power is turned off. You’ll also want to ask if it can be integrated with your wash’s overall security system.
  • Surveillance camera. Look for a machine that includes or has the option to add a wide-angle surveillance camera so you can catch the perpetrators in action.
  • Reporting. Make sure the point-of-sale software records when money is added and removed from the pay station and that there are reports that audit those activities.

Consider EMV

EMV (which stands for Europay, Mastercard and Visa) chips are the tiny square computer chips embedded on your credit or debit card. They can create a one-of-a-kind transaction code for every purchase. They were designed to protect consumers and business owners from fraudulent activity. 

EMV is becoming the norm with 92% of all card-present transactions conducted globally used EMV Chip Technology between July 2021 and June 2022. Besides helping to secure credit transactions, EMV can help you avoid liabilities and fees and increase customer convenience.

Additional Security Measures

There are additional measures you can take to further protect your cash and deter attempted break-ins:

  • Secure the pay station in concrete with rebar or brick it in to make it nearly impossible to remove it from the site.
  • Install bright lighting and check often that all lights are working.
  • Make pay stations visible from the street.
  • Attach metal grates or panels over the surface.
  • Install motion-sensing lighting and video surveillance cameras at car wash site.
  • Consider removing cash altogether with a cashless pay station.

In addition to securing the cash at your pay station, you also want to check your credit card readers to ensure they haven't been tampered with. Consider using security tape so you can tell if someone has tried to install skimming equipment.

Your distributor is a great resource that may be able to recommend other ways to increase security at your wash. Basically, you want to do whatever you can to make your wash an unattractive target. Thieves want an easy buck, so make it as difficult for them as you can.

Is Your Site Secure?

Theft happens, but it doesn’t have to happen to your car wash. By following the tips above, you can reduce your risk and the safety of your location in general.

About Richard Carpenter

Rich has spent his career bridging the gap between customers and product development. He works closely with car wash operators, C-Stores, distributors and manufacturers to help DRB develop powerful solutions to meet their needs and drive ROI. LinkedIn

More posts by Richard

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