5 Car Wash Trends to Adopt in 2021 and Beyond

Car washes evolve as technology changes, but business owners’ goals hardly change — you want the best car wash technology that generates a high return on investment (ROI). To stay competitive in your industry and attract local car owners, you’ll need to keep up with car wash trends and standards. Here, we’ll walk through past car wash trends and the projected 2021 trends that will keep your business busy for years.

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History of Car Wash Trends

Professional car washes surfaced in the early 1900s, around the time cars became normalized. The original date is subject to debate, but the International Carwash Association (ICA) celebrated its 100-year car washing anniversary in 2014.

In the beginning, cars rolled through an assembly line of employees. Each employee worked on a designated task, like applying soap, rinsing the soap off and drying the car. Car washes didn’t become automatic until the ’50s when the Anderson brothers established a car wash outfitted with a conveyer, soap and water nozzles, automated brushes and a 50 horsepower dryer.

Thirty years later, car owners wanted flexibility when it came to car washing. Some people were willing to spend more money on fully automatic car washes, while some preferred saving money and washing their cars themselves. By the 2000s, car washes were completely automated with pay stations, free vacuums and convenience-oriented features.

Types of Car Washes

There are many types of car washes. Although we don’t see assembly line car washes like in the early 1900s, we do see more modern car wash types, like:

  • Manual: Some people prefer to hand-wash their cars themselves. Manual car washes supply car owners with a place to do so, outfitted with hoses, soaps, vacuums and more.
  • Automatic: A more popular type of machinery is automatic machinery, which relies on technology to do the cleaning rather than the car owner.
  • In-bay: In an in-bay car washing structure, vehicles are stationary as the automatic machinery maneuvers to wash the car.
  • Tunnel: Compared to an in-bay structure, a tunnel structure moves the car through an assembly line of car washing equipment, typically a conveyor belt.
  • Touchless: Touchless washing methods, as the name might suggest, don’t involve physical contact with the car during washing. They typically use high-pressure water to clean.
  • Friction: Friction cleaning methods make contact with the car during washing, like with spinning brushes. High-pressure water may still be used.

The most common types of car washes are automatic in-bays, accounting for almost 29,000 car washes in the U.S. Comparatively, there are around 17,500 conveyors and 16,000 self-service car washes. Customers will use all types of car washes. More recently, customers are willing to spend more money on a better, hassle-free clean. As technology, cars and spending behaviors change, so do car wash trends.

The Health of the Car Wash Industry

The U.S. car wash industry is a growing billion-dollar industry. Throughout the last decade, the car wash and auto detailing market grew from $9 billion to over $10 billion in market value. As in other industries, 2020’s coronavirus outbreak did halt this growth. The car wash industry is expected to continue upward growth once the market stabilizes and as the auto industry grows.

Competition Within the Car Wash Industry

The car wash industry is growing. More competitors are moving to your area, and more investors are looking to invest in competitive businesses.

If you’re an existing car wash business, don’t fret too much about incoming competitors. You have the advantage that people already know your business and you’ve established some long-lasting relationships. To stay competitive and attract investors, upgrade your current technology to a full-service car wash.

Comparatively, if you’re thinking of establishing a car wash, do your research. Find an area that isn’t overpopulated with existing car washes and build a competitive, full-service car wash.

Car Wash Trends 2021

In 2021, car owners are looking for convenience. This may mean upgrading some of your outdated systems. Embrace 2021 car washing trends to improve your ROI, including trends like the following:

1. Paid Vacuum Center Systems Replacing Free Vacuums

Car wash owners installed free vacuums to compete with other full-service competitors. More people used manual car washes, and free vacuums were great ways to attract those customers. However, modern-day customers are more willing to pay someone — or something, like an automatic car washer — to do the cleaning for them.

Free vacuums are high-maintenance, high-cost and don’t record a clear ROI. Replace your free vacuums with a credit card or membership alternative to account for this cultural shift and generate a clear, positive ROI. Bundling vacuum centers with a cleaning or membership cost is also an incentive for customers to pay more for services.

2. Interior Cleaning Services

Free vacuums allowed car owners to get a decent clean in their car’s interior. But, to achieve a good or great clean, it required some elbow grease and creative maneuvering. Some car owners want to ditch free vacuums altogether for interior cleaning services.

Car owners are more willing to pay for interior cleaning services, which includes:

  • Cleaning control knobs, steering wheels, dashboard and more
  • Using soft detail brushes for hard-to-reach crevices
  • Gently cleaning leather with proper leather cleaner
  • Vacuuming every inch and hard-to-reach spaces, including the trunk

In 2021, expect to see a shift from manual labor to flex car washing models. A flex car wash model is an express exterior and full-service interior wash. It’s more expensive for car owners, but they’re more willing to pay the price tag to maintain their high-tech car’s integrity and appearance.

3. Changing Automotive Technology

Technology is advancing quickly. Some of the most recent cars look like they’re straight out of a futuristic movie. Most newer models have electronic parking breaks and automatic emergency braking systems. These braking systems automatically engage when tires roll or when an incoming object is detected, which interferes with the technology in many car washes.

In theory, drivers could disarm these brakes, but the process is lengthy, complex and may lead to liability, which no business owner wants. Because of these technological trends, it’s safe to assume all car washes that interfere with these new car-technology norms should be replaced. If you need to upgrade your car wash, you may want to consider a dual belt conveyor. Making this upgrade is an investment, usually around $100,000, but it allows you to reach more of your target demographic and stay competitive in the long run.

4. In-Bay and Rollover Wash Conversion

Does your business use an automatic in-bay car wash, or something similar? Then, you may be missing out on potential growth and profit. An in-bay car wash washes one car at a time. Per hour, they can wash around eight cars.

Say a single in-bay car wash costs $7 for customers to use — that’s about $56 per hour. In-bay carwashes can be readily upgraded to a conveyorized, short tunnel car wash. Making this upgrade can process upwards of 40 cars per hour. That’s $280 per hour, which is five times the amount of revenue than an in-bay car wash.

The upgrading process will include removing the flooring, re-pouring the conveyor and installing the necessary equipment. With the right marketing and customer reach, the investment will pay for itself.

5. New Scheduling and Payment Methods

The overarching trend for 2021 car washes is convenience. Most modern payment methods stray away from cash and focus on credit card payments via chip reader or another digital source.

As a business owner, you want to take advantage of a point-of-sale system (POS). A POS is a cloud-based system with intelligent management features. You can see where your customers are spending money, how much, which marketing efforts are working, how they schedule appointments and more. It can also help you manage your employees and collect consumer data from your existing customers.

Consider your POS system as your complete management hub. One of the biggest payment and scheduling methods that will benefit your business is mobile smartphone apps. On the app, your consumers can easily explore your memberships, costs, available times and other convenient information. When they’re ready to book an appointment or pay for a membership, they can conveniently pay from the app. This information can sync with your POS, strengthening your scheduling and payment system.

How Can You Adopt These Trends?

Knowing the 2021 car wash trends is the first step. Now, how do you adopt them into your business? Stay educated by attending the annual International Car Wash Show, which offers exhibits and learning material for current and aspiring car wash business owners. Here are five things we learned about staying relevant in 2021:

1. Tear Down and Rebuild

If you have an outdated car wash, strongly consider upgrading. New technology is right at the end of your fingertips — so use it! An upgrade is an investment. It’s going to cost money, labor and time, but it will result in a long-lasting, competitive car wash.

People may not want to use an outdated car wash when they can just as easily go to a modern, more efficient one. Modern car washes are automatic and can accommodate many vehicles. They also have a self-service section for people who still prefer to do the cleaning themselves, outfitted with pay-to-use vacuums and other cleaners.

Upgrading your car wash is more than rebranding. Strip your outdated buildings and machines, and rebuild completely new automatic tunnels and self-service stations.

2. Have a Multi-Activity Car Wash

Many full-service car washes require owners to leave their vehicles. Build a complete experience with a multi-activity car wash. A multi-activity car wash gives customers something to do while they wait for their vehicle.

Some examples of activities you can build for your guests include:

  • A play area for children
  • A seating area outfitted with televisions and reading material
  • Free Wi-Fi for guests
  • A miniature kitchen with drinks and snacks
  • A viewing area where guests can watch their cars move through the conveyor tunnel

The little details will make your full-service experience seem greater. When people have a positive perception of your brand, they’re more likely to return to your services in the future.

3. Build One-On-One Relationships

A big part of marketing for any industry is relationship-building. When your customers use your car wash, tailor their experience from the very beginning. Do this by giving them options.

Do you have a customer who is looking for a place to occasionally vacuum their car and wipe the dust off their dashboard and leather seats? Then, supply them with a self-serving car wash outfitted with everything they need. Do you have another customer who wants a full-service clean without having to do any work themselves? Give them a membership that meets those needs.

Build a relationship with your customers by meeting their needs and going beyond expectations. Your customers will be more likely to return to your car wash if they know they’re valued and can trust your services.

4. Offer Tiered Memberships

As we outlined before, not everyone will want the same thing from a car wash. Some people still prefer older trends of self-service vacuums and cleanings, while others want a full-service interior and exterior cleaning. You don’t have to choose one customer over the other. Rather, supply tiered memberships that meet each type of customer’s needs.

5. Use the Best Products

A successful car wash revolves around the little details. You can have the best looking car wash with the latest technology, but if you aren’t using the best products, you may be falling short.

Finding the right soaps and products for your car wash can be challenging. No car that goes through your car wash is the same — one can have minor dirt buildup around the tire rims, and the next car can be caked in mud and other debris. You want products that are versatile and provide great results every time.

Impress Your Customers With Leading Car Wash Supplies From JBS Industries

When you’re looking for ways to improve your car wash and stand out against competitors, rely on JBS Industries’ car wash products. We create high-quality cleaners for a variety of industries. Our specialty lies in car washes — we have exactly what you need to run a successful car wash in today’s market.

Our journey started in 1979. We grew as the car wash industry grew, and we’ve steadily produced reliable products for our clients. Now, we offer a variety of products for automatic, touchless, friction and self-serve car washes, among others. Not sure which products you need? Contact us today for help.


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