Most of us at the carwash are usually thinking about our grocery list or what we have to get afterwards, etc. but have you ever stopped to think how big the carwash industry actually is?

Well, it’s big. In fact, the car wash industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Facilities and sites vary from the car wash drive-thru at the gas station to the mobile car wash crew detailing cars in the parking lot. To find out more about this surprise finding, we cover the industry, from its current state, the types of facilities, to challenges faced by business owners and how technology may be the answer to some of them. 

Today’s Car Wash Industry

A car wash, also spelled “carwash”, is considered as some sort of facility used to clean the exterior of a car or similar motor vehicle. Some also allow the cleaning of the vehicle’s interiors, too.

There are many different forms of car washing and carwash sites:

  • Hand car wash facilities, where employees wash the vehicle.
  • Self-service car washes, where the customer manually washes their car using provided equipment like low pressure brushes.
  • In-bay automatics car wash systems, as the name implies, use an automatic washing machine that rolls back and forth over the parked vehicle.
  • Conveyor or tunnel car washes use a conveyor belt to move the car through a series of fixed cleaning machines.
  • Mobile car washes, as per their name, are independent businesses that go out to customers’ locations to clean their vehicles. Their cleaning equipment is mounted on trailers, on trucks, or in vans. This may include a generator to run a shop vacuum, buffers, and other tools; pressure washers; and plastic water tanks. Many mobile car wash businesses offer car detailing services.
  • A car wash lift is a facility where cars are raised on a lift platform to allow washing under the vehicle.
  • Touch-free or touchless car washing technology uses high pressure jets to clean the vehicle. No brushes or cloth strips are used.  

Did You Know?

The first professional car wash is considered to be Automobile Laundry. Located in Detroit, Michigan, USA, the site opened for business in 1914.

Automobile Laundry was not automated. In fact, the cars of the time were cleaned using “pail-and-sponge” like many schools and organizations use today for fundraising. Vehicles were manually pushed down a line where three men would be waiting. They would soap it up, rinse it, then dry the vehicle. It would be decades later, in the Fifties, when the first truly automated car washes came into being.

Growing Car Wash Market 

The car wash market is enormous, especially in the US. The US Census Bureau states there were 16,976 car washes sites with paid employees. The International Car Wash Association (ICA), though, posts a much bigger figure at 62,668. The much greater number is based on the total of major car wash types, namely, self-service, in-bay automatic, and conveyor / tunnel. 

The US car wash industry, as a whole, has seen a long period of growth with steadily increasing demand. In 1994, less than half of all drivers reported having their car last cleaned at a professional car wash facility. That number had climbed to 77 percent by 2019. Around 66 percent reported having their vehicles washed between one to two times per month, resulting in 13 washes per year.

The global car wash services market was valued at $29.3 billion in 2021. By 2030, it is expected to reach $38.6 billion. That is a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.1 percent during the forecast period.  

Car Wash Challenges and Tech Solutions 

It’s a challenge to start a new business of any kind. Nearly 20 percent of small businesses on average fail in the first 12 months, with almost half closing their doors within the first five years. 

The car wash industry is no exception. Some businesses still fail despite demand steadily increasing. Reasons include: 

  1. Bad Location
  2. Poor Design
  3. Misunderstanding Your Audience
  4. Neglected Equipment
  5. Poor Processing
  6. Lack of Motivation
  7. Poor Marketing
  8. Burnout
  9. Lack of Financial Planning
  10. Not Standing Out Against the Competition

To deal with some of the above, car wash companies are turning to technology. The following are three such challenges and how technology is being used to possibly solve them. 

Proper Processing Power

In any business, processing refers to the customer experience and the details of each customer transaction. Car wash companies are turning to computer systems to make each wash a rapid and thorough experience, while providing easy and convenient ways for customers to purchase their wash (example: kiosks located further down the lineup area). 

Other ways to deal with processing include:

  • Make sure the car wash computer system is PCI (payment card industry) -compliant and has a good track record. Car washes dealing with a lot of account and fleet service vehicles should especially be taking a close look at prospective systems to make sure it can be integrated with current equipment and provide accurate, up-to-date tracking.
  • Allow thorough and precise time-clock management for all employees and management. 
  • Check into Internet accessibility and cybersecurity protocols to make sure they’re secure.

Effective Equipment Usage

In the modern car wash industry, specialized equipment is a big part of the business. Starting up requires a large investment upfront for quality equipment alone. This makes it important to protect the investment. Equipment that’s neglected, not properly maintained or damaged equipment will turn off customers which means a loss of business. 

Manufacturers of car wash equipment fall under this same umbrella. Sonny’s Direct is a manufacturer of car wash equipment. The company sold whole turn-key solutions to car wash businesses. It incorporated an industrial mini PC as an equipment controller. This allowed it to handle reliably adverse conditions at the car wash which could range from being located in desert climes to high-humidity areas. A rugged tablet made it easy for staff to process waiting customers which included printing receipts on a mobile printer.

Improved Marketing through Artificial intelligence

Businesses won’t draw in many customers if they don’t even know it exists. While new and even established car wash companies continue to use flyers, TV ads, and other means to advertise, several are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to increase sales. They hope to high value customers with data based on vehicle type, make, model, visit history, etc. Using this intel, they can be targeted to customized promotions and real time notifications of any specials.

Closing Comment 

The car wash industry is a multi-billion dollar business which sees growth as car owners increasingly prefer to get their vehicles cleaned by professionals. To deal with the challenge, new and veteran car wash owners are turning to technology to deal with issues from processing customers quickly to marketing.

Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re involved in the car wash industry and are looking at how industrial computers can help address any issues and challenges.

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