The Complete Guide to Running a Thriving Car Wash in a Pandemic

July 23, 2020 | Todd Davy

As the coronavirus pandemic marches on, there’s little doubt that what seemed to be a temporary inconvenience is now truly a “new normal.”

Fortunately, the car wash industry is in a unique position to navigate this situation better than a lot of businesses. As SUDS President Jason Baumgartner likes to say, we’re in the business of clean, and that’s a great business to be in right now.

But even in the business of clean, the coronavirus has presented new challenges…and opportunities. You are tasked with keeping customers and employees safe while still generating income. Let’s look at some ways you can accomplish these directives.










Photo Credit: Sgt. Clean's Car Wash

Keep It Clean

You undoubtedly have sanitizing protocols in place, but it’s worth discussing the proper ways to clean your equipment. It’s important to regularly sanitize pay stations in a way that will not cause damage to the machines.

We have the following recommendations to sanitize and keep the your pay stations clean:

  • Wipe pay stations and touchscreen terminals repeatedly throughout the day with a cloth or paper towel dampened with a solution of 30% water and 70% Isopropyl alcohol. If Isopropyl alcohol is not available, you can use water and mild dish soap. Don’t allow liquid to saturate or pool on equipment.
  • Commercially available disinfectant wipes that use 70% isopropyl alcohol are ok, but they must not include bleach.
  • Nitrile gloves can be worn by employees and will interact fine with the touchscreens.
  • A stylus that is compatible with p-cap (projected capacitive) or capacitive touchscreens may be used.

Be sure you check with your POS provider for instructions specific to your equipment.

Employee Guidelines

Of course, you’ll want to enforce social distancing, requiring employees to keep 6-feet of distance between them and customers and other employees. You may consider requiring masks. Depending on where you’re located, it may be a requirement. The plus side is that masks can be imprinted with your logo, creating a new branding opportunity.

You may also want to take employees’ temperatures when they arrive to work. If you usually have employees posted at pay stations, you may want to consider removing them for the time being or at least ensure they are practicing social distancing.

Contactless Transactions

One of the unique advantages car washes have over other businesses during the coronavirus pandemic is the ability to create low contact or even completely contactless transactions. It allows people to do something that makes them feel normal, good and safe.

Here are some tools you can use to reduce the touchpoints at your car wash:

Wash Plans

Wash plan members are typically identified by RFID or license plate recognition, so once they’ve purchased a plan, they don’t even have to roll down their window to get their car washed. There are multiple types of wash plans you can employ:

  • Unlimited monthly wash plans – Members are automatically charged for the plan they chose monthly, and they can wash as often as they want.
  • Prepaid plan – The member purchases a certain number of washes (typically five to 10). Their credit card is automatically charged for another set of washes once they’ve used all their credits.
  • Single wash plans - The customer automatically gets charged for the same wash every time they visit.

Incidentally, wash plans are also a great insurance policy for your business in uncertain times. As discussed in a recent Numbers Guy blog post, car wash sites with unlimited wash plans weathered the first wave of the pandemic much better than those without. In fact, DRB operators with unlimited wash plans washed 239% more cars during the first months of the pandemic that those without them.


License Plate Recognition (LPR)

LPR has an edge over RFID because RFID requires an attendant to put a sticker inside the customer’s vehicle. With LPR, the member is recognized by the license plate that was scanned by the LPR cameras when they drove up to the pay station. If license plate recognition isn’t feasible at this time, you can also utilize RFID stickers that are placed on the outside of the vehicle.

drb tablet touchscreen tablet








Photo Credit:DRB Tablet Touchscreen Terminal™

Online Purchasing

If you’re like me, you’ve discovered ways to order food and products online so you don’t have to hand someone your credit card or touch a machine. Mobile wash apps and online stores allow customers to buy washes, wash plans, gift cards, etc., from their device and then redeem them by scanning a code at the car wash payment terminal.  If you have LPR, customers can attach their license plate number to their wash plan purchase so they are automatically recognized and accepted when they arrive at the wash. 

Pay stations

If someone makes a purchase via your mobile app, a pay station with a barcode reader allows them to redeem that purchase without touching the pay station. Likewise, a touchscreen tablet terminal can scan barcodes at sites that don’t have pay stations.

Adjusting Your Business Model

If you’re a full-serve site that has ever considered going express, now is a great time. The express exterior model allows you to significantly reduce employee interaction with customers.

If you can’t immediately make the time and financial investment required to install pay stations, tablet terminals can help you make a more immediate transition. It allows attendants to walk the line of cars , create a sale and swipe the credit card on the tablet terminal, allowing for minimal touchpoints and proper social distancing.

Remote Management

If you are working from home more during the pandemic, you need to be able to manage and monitor your wash effectively. You want to be sure you have a point-of-sale system that allows you to make any changes to pricing, plans, wash packages, etc.

Your system should also alert you of any problems so you can respond quickly. You also need remote access to daily metrics and extensive data about your business so you can make informed decisions from a distance.

Seize Opportunities

This pandemic has undoubtedly presented challenges, but it also provides growth opportunities:

  • New “Ant Trails” – The pandemic has taken people out of their routines. Many are working from home, so they may be visiting grocery stores closer to home or frequenting restaurants for takeout more often. Take advantage of these new “ant trails.” Catch their attention with signage, special deals, events, etc. This is a great way to recapture unlimited wash membership counts you may have lost due to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
  • Engage Ridesharing Drivers – Now more than ever, it’s critical that rideshare (Lyft, Uber, etc.) vehicles are clean. Consider offering an unlimited plan tailored specifically for these drivers. With their visibility, these vehicles can be great advertising for your car wash. Their drivers may even be willing to pass out fliers for your wash to their passengers.
  • Tap into Local Sentiment – The pandemic has given the “buy local” movement some extra steam. You can leverage that by showing your support for the community. One great way we’ve seen car washers do this is by offering free or discounted washes to customers who present a receipt from locally-owned restaurants. You can also hold canned food or clothing drives or run fundraisers for local organizations.

Car Wash Strong

The car wash industry is resilient, and there’s little doubt that it will emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. You can keep employees and customers safe and still run a thriving car wash.

To learn more about how we can help, watch the replay of our webinar Social Distancing: Safe Car Wash Transactions or contact us at 800.336.6338.

About Todd Davy

As the Senior Vice President of Sales for DRB Tunnel Solutions, Todd empowers the sales team to drive growth for car wash operators. He joined DRB in 1996 and has worked in various capacities ranging from support to R&D, gaining invaluable car wash industry knowledge that informs our sales strategies and relationships with our customers. Connect with Todd on LinkedIn

More posts by Todd

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