Choosing Between Free vs. Paid Car Wash Vacuums

Full-service or self-serve pay vacuums used to be the norm for the car wash industry, but some locations are now offering free vacuums for their customers to use. As a car wash owner, you might be concerned about how installing free vacuums will affect your company’s revenue stream.

A car wash with a free vacuum can attract potential customers and give them a better first impression of your location. Explore the difference between paid and free car wash vacuums to help you decide how best to meet your customers’ needs.

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Paid Vacuums

Car wash owners often use self-serve paid vacuums as a supplement service for customers to clean the inside of their vehicles. Modern technology has made paid vacuums more convenient. As a result, they offer the following advantages for your business:

  • Extra revenue stream: A paid vacuum gives your company another way to make money. Pay stations previously only accepted coins or tokens to activate a paid vacuum. Modern pay stations allow customers to pay with coins, bills, credit cards and debit cards. As a result, you can provide service to customers who don’t carry cash with them, reaching a wider audience.
  • Potentially longer life span: Having a pay barrier can reduce wear and tear on a paid vacuum. A pay station protects the vacuum from excessive use that may cause it to break down prematurely. Having your customers pay to use your vacuum reduces the number of repairs needed, helping you save money on taking care of them.

Free Vacuums

Free vacuums may not cost the customer any money, but they can enhance your car wash business plan by increasing your location’s revenue in other ways. Consider the benefits a free self-service vacuum at your car wash offers:

  • Draw attention from the road: You can create an attractive car wash by putting free vacuums at the forefront of your business. Put up a large sign advertising your free vacuums so people driving by notice. Drivers might want to make a quick stop at your location to clean out their cars. Some might even consider investing in your car wash services to clean the whole vehicle.
  • Advertise your business: Your free vacuums can have your company’s name and colors on them to create a positive image among those who use them. After customers have used your free vacuums, they’ll begin to recognize your business as a reliable place to get their whole car clean.
  • Bring in traffic for your car wash: Free vacuums make your location look busier. When you continuously have traffic going in and out of your facility, it makes your business look more credible. Drivers passing by will notice how many people visit your car wash regularly and consider you a reputable company where they can get their vehicles cleaned in the future.
  • Create a repeat customer: A person who has an excellent experience using your free vacuum may return to your car wash the next time they need to clean their vehicle’s interior. They’ll potentially pay to have the exterior of their car cleaned if they come back enough.
  • Require less maintenance: Free vacuums function independently of pay stations you’d need to fix and clean regularly. Instead of being responsible for handling money or upgrading your pay station with modern features, you can install a complimentary vacuum unit for your customers to use.
  • Give customers plenty of time: Pay stations limit how long a customer can use the vacuum. As a result, the client might feel rushed and unwelcome at a location with paid vacuum units. Instead, you can install free vacuums that give visitors unlimited time to clean their cars. Customers can thoroughly remove the debris from their entire vehicle and enjoy the time they spend at your car wash.
  • Provide a satisfying experience: A car wash with a complimentary vacuum gives your customers a pleasant experience, so they’ll want to return the next time they need a car wash. Free vacuums with no cost or time limits attract potential customers and encourage them to recommend your location to those they know.

Why Your Car Wash Makes More Money With Free Vacuums

You might think you’ll be losing money by not charging customers to use your car wash vacuums. But you can actually earn more because you’ll draw them to your biggest revenue source, the car wash itself. You can make more money with free vacuums than paid ones because they:

  • Drive traffic to your location: People who only visit your car wash to use a free vacuum are already committed to going to your car wash. Those existing customers can draw in more by word-of-mouth, or passersby may notice how many people frequent your car wash and decide to visit, too.
  • Create familiarity: Installing free vacuums at your car wash encourages potential customers to visit. Those who have already made a habit of using your free vacuums will recognize your location as a friendly, reputable company. As a result, they’ll consider your car wash first when they decide to clean their vehicles.
  • Create pressure to invest in a car wash: A free vacuum puts a potential customer within a short, convenient drive of your paid car wash services. People who use your free vacuums may feel they should purchase other services or want to clean the outside of the car to match the inside. At the same time, paying customers who frequently use your car wash might feel like they earned the right to use your free vacuums.
  • Bring attention to the outside of their car: Potential customers often pay more attention to the interior of their vehicles after always driving in them. They’ll then be more likely to use your free vacuum than to get a car wash. But as they regularly remove the debris from their interiors, they might also notice the dirt and grime around the exterior, leading them to pay for a car wash.
  • Give you an advantage over the competition: A free vacuum makes your business more attractive to potential customers than your competitor down the road that offers self-serve paid vacuums. You may even own the only car wash in your area. But you should still install free vacuums to deter your client base from choosing one that opens up near you in the future.
  • Make your car wash more trendy: Free vacuums are a relatively new trend in the car wash industry, but they tend to be favorable to customers. You demonstrate your care for updating your facility with the latest trends when you have free vacuums on your property. This upgrade creates a clean image among your target audience.
  • Increase your chance of recommendations: Even a person who only uses your free vacuum instead of investing in car wash services is more likely to tell their neighbors, friends and family members about your location. As a result, more people will think of your car wash when the time comes to clean their vehicles.

As long as you’re making money in general, it doesn’t matter whether a customer pays for your vacuum or uses it for free. You can implement tokens or point-of-sale (POS) codes for customers to use when they invest in your car wash if you still want an extra revenue stream. This method gives people an incentive to use your car wash while ensuring you make money every time someone uses your free vacuum.

Additional Ways to Improve Your Car Wash’s Vacuum Experience

Since a free vacuum lot is an extension of your car wash, it should provide a satisfying experience for your customers. Your clients should have a vacuuming experience that makes them want to come back the next time they need to clean their vehicles. You can improve your location’s reputation with the following tips:

  • Maintain the right amount of suction: Vacuums need the right amount of suction so customers can adequately remove the debris from their vehicles. These units might lack the appropriate suction when previous customers picked up large items, such as toys, pens and other debris, that may have gotten stuck in the hose. These blockages might make customers who use your vacuums feel like their cars aren’t clean enough. Check the hoses and clean them out often to keep your customers satisfied.
  • Clean and replace components as needed: You should also check and empty filters regularly to provide better suction. Clean the motor brushes and replace them, as well, if the motor no longer runs. Create a habit of inspecting your units at least once a week to keep them working for potential customers.
  • Choose the best type of vacuum for your facility: Research what vacuum options are available and what works best for your car wash. Think about how large you want to make your vacuum lot and how many customers will use it at once. The vacuums you choose should accommodate your car wash to maintain traffic at your location and satisfy your customers’ needs. Most car wash owners choose energy-efficient central vacuum systems to help save money over time.
  • Space out your car wash vacuums: Put enough space between each of your vacuums so all your customers can use them at busy times. It may also help to have wide parking spaces that allow customers to keep all their doors open for easy cleaning.
  • Maintain trash bins: Place trash bins next to each vacuum unit to give customers a place to deposit large debris. It also helps to empty the trash bins often to maintain your car wash’s appearance. Use enclosed trash receptacles and covers to keep everything contained and minimize litter.
  • Provide a convenient entrance and exit: When designing your vacuum bay, make it easy for customers to enter and exit your vacuum and car wash area. It’s also best to put it in a spot that’s easy for customers to find. Avoid blocking entrances or obstructing other car wash services.
  • Install canopies or awnings: A covering over your vacuum area protects your customers from direct sunlight, rain or snow. You can also use this addition to enhance the area’s visual appeal and advertise your car wash services. Besides protecting your customers, canopies and awnings also guard your vacuum equipment against weather damage. Your customers will appreciate your care for their well-being and for your car wash equipment.
  • Place vacuums strategically: Installing your vacuum units in a convenient location allows potential customers to clean their whole vehicles effectively. Have them on the side of the property to prevent obstructions from your car wash. You may also want to put them close enough to the street where potential customers driving by will see them. Placing them near your car wash pit encourages people to clean their cars’ interior and exterior in one trip.
  • Offer air compression tools: Car washes use air compression to provide a way for customers to blow the debris out of their cars’ window tracks and other tiny crevices. Some air guns use steam to clean cloth seats and pressurized air to dry them. These features will attract people to your location by demonstrating you care about helping them clean out their whole vehicle.
  • Provide microfiber towels: Microfiber cloths use small fibers to electrostatically remove dust and other stubborn debris from dashboards, cup holders and other surfaces. Like air compression tools, these towels help customers clean their vehicles thoroughly. Have these cleaning materials near your vacuum for convenient use. It also helps to have a dirty towel bin near each vacuum so customers can quickly deposit old towels. Make a habit of cleaning your microfiber towels often so they’re available for your customers.
  • Install helpful signs: Set up informative messages throughout your vacuum lot communicating how you want your customers to use your vacuums. Post an eye-catching sign that politely requests customers to keep their vacuum usage to a minimum. You may want to install digital signs that light up to attract your customers’ attention while providing a convenient way to change your message.
  • Offer combination units: Some free vacuum units do more than suck up debris from a vehicle. Consider installing ones that provide an air blast, carpet shampoo, air for refilling tires or fragrances to give your customers a place to refresh their whole car.

Contact JBS Industries for Car Wash Solutions

Attracting potential customers to your car wash with a free vacuum area encourages them to invest in your car wash services, as well. Our team at JBS Industries specializes in car wash supplies, such as detergentsprotectants and other specialty products to enhance the customer experience. Reach out to us online or call (888) 745-0720 for more information about our products.


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