Valve Industry Spotlight: Automatic Car Wash Systems

Feb 16th 2023

Valve Industry Spotlight: Automatic Car Wash Systems

Traditionally car owners washed their vehicles in their own driveways or other easily accessible areas. Hand-wash car washes were eventually invented to allow owners to clean their automobiles with less effort and save some precious time. In recent years, more advanced touchless and automatic car washes have become popular among vehicle owners because they are quick and effective. This growing trend for automatic wash systems has created a lucrative opportunity for businesses such as car servicing shops, mobile washes, collision shops, and dealers to invest in them.

According to the Houston Chronicle, reporting on a survey conducted by Auto Laundry News (a leading car wash industry publication), the profits for a self-service car wash could range from $55k-$100k per year. In comparison, full-service enterprises earn substantially more money every year, with profits ranging from $500k to $900k.

This article is intended to serve as a comprehensive guide to car wash startup costs and technicalities (operation, types, essential components, maintenance standards), pros and drawbacks of investing in an automated washing system, and the Return on Investment (ROI) for people who are interested in the purchase of automatic car wash systems.

How an Automatic Car Wash Works (Operation principle):

Most modern automatic car washing systems use PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) to control the automatic systems and components (such as the valves, nozzles, pressure, servo motors, brush rotation, and air dryers). An automatic car washing machine work in four steps - lifting, sprinkling, brushing & washing, drying & delivery:

Step 1: The automobile is loaded onto a conveyor and driven into the room. The car is elevated using a lift mechanism, so cleaning and sprinkling devices may be used on it. While conventional systems use conveyor belts, modern car washers use pressure cylinders to lift the car.

Step 2: The solenoid valves are then set to open at specific intervals to release detergent water at optimum pressure to wash away dirt, grime, and effectively clean the car.

Step 3: The brushes clean the car while the sprinkler system washes through solenoid valves and nozzles.

Step 4: Once sprinkling, brushing, and washing cycles are completed, air dryers remove moisture from the car so that it is ready for delivery.

Benefits of using an Automatic Car Wash:

Compared to manual and hand-held car wash systems, automatic and touchless washing methods have the following advantages:

  1. Reduced manpower and labor costs: For manual car washing, experienced and trained professionals are often required to clean and wash cars to maintain the car's color profile and aesthetics. With automatic washers, the machine does the washing once the program is defined, and human intervention is required only to supervise the machine or during an emergency.
  2. Low water consumption: Automatic car washes use less water than manual washing. For instance, a modern automatic car wash uses 100~120 liters (26~32 gallons) of water per car, while manual washing can use up to 250 liters (66 gallons) per car.
  3. Gentle on cars and fewer owner complaints: With high-quality brushes and a perfect drying process, automatic car washes are gentle on cars and do not damage the paint or finish.
  4. Quick washing solution: Automatic car washes can typically clean a car in under 6 minutes, as opposed to manual washing's average of over half an hour.
  5. Superior wash quality: Automated car washes use superior brushes, appropriate pressure, nozzle cleaning angle, air pressure, and cleaning intervals to get better wash quality quicker than manual washing. Furthermore, these systems can swiftly access hard-to-reach areas on the automobile body for complete cleaning.

Automatic Car Wash Systems - Types:

Broadly classified, there are three types of automatic washes: Roll-over, Conveyor washes, and Touchless systems.

3 types of automatic car washes

Roll-over system: The vehicle is driven into a bay, where it stays stationary while the washing equipment passes by. These washes are most often found at gas stations and are generally self-serve. Thorough cleaning. Employs brushes and cloths, every part of the car can be accessed and cleaned

  • Due to washing being contact-type, brushes can damage side view mirrors or the profile

Conveyor systems: Most drivers and owners are familiar with conveyor systems, where cars are moved along on a conveyor past synchronized washing and cleaning machines.

  • Fast cleaning and economical. Charge based on owner custom requirements (undercarriage cleaning, wheels, etc.)

Touchless systems: These car washes rely on high-pressure water jets and detergent mixes to blast the dirt off of cars. This method avoids physical contact with vehicles but may leave some areas unclean because it does not wipe any surfaces. Also, the chemicals can be tough on sensitive materials.

  • No use of brush or cloth, avoiding the risk of scratches. But it can be less effective over soft touch or brushed automated wash systems

Automatic Car Wash Systems - Selection Criteria:

Before investing in an automatic car wash machine, it is crucial that investors or bay owners understand their equipment requirements. The following considerations and selection criteria will help you decide on the best option:

  1. Cleaning power and efficiency: Washing speeds and effectiveness to reach out to hard locations, and built-in protective measures to not damage the paint or the profile of the car is critical for automated machines.
  2. Capabilities: A car wash should be custom-sized to the size of each vehicle to clean cars effectively. This ensures that the washing solutions and high-pressure water may operate as intended regardless of the size of the automobile being washed.
  3. Customization: A quality car wash will let customers choose how they want their car cleaned. The equipment should be adjustable to satisfy everyone, from those who only need a basic wash and rinse to those desiring a luxurious experience with wax and a blow-dry.
  4. Ease of operation: Programming, customization options, and making changes to the machine’s operating system should be user-friendly and simple so the operator can make changes as needed.
  5. Technological edge and upgradation: The machine should operate glitch-free, consume less energy and water, be flexible to upgrade or add additional capabilities, and be dependable in performance.
  6. Durability: A machine that is designed well will function efficiently, carefully using each element to last longer and need less frequent maintenance.
  7. AMC & Maintenance costs: A machine that must be frequently maintained is costly in terms of parts and service and represents lost income. Because fewer things can go wrong, machines with the most simplified design will require the least amount of maintenance. Touchless equipment has the least maintenance costs and downtime compared to brush washes. Conveyor systems have the highest operating costs due to multiple stop points and moving components.
  8. Liability of damaging vehicles: In the rare cases of damaging a car, or profile, the system owner is liable to bear the cost of repair, which often translates into affecting the brand value. Touchless systems are less likely to damage vehicles than roll-over and conveyor systems.
  9. Warranty: A short-term guarantee indicates low-quality workmanship or equipment that is prone to failure. Before purchasing an automated wash system, a component-wise warranty can provide insights into the quality of the product. Also, the availability and reach of OEM in case of system repair and support should be considered.
  10. Selection based on the demographics: A high-traffic volume site can require more than one automatic and several self-service bays.

Selection of Location:

The most important step to a successful car wash business to generate revenue is choosing the right location. Here are some factors you should take into account:

  1. Traffic volume: 1,000 ~3,000 + cars/day is a good site for installation
  2. Site Accessibility: Available from both sides of street, multiple driveways, separate entrance and exits
  3. Demographics: Low peer competition or located near a growing community is an ideal site
  4. Diverse climate: Adverse weather conditions can be a good location
  5. Access to utilities and spare parts: Availability of electricity, gas, and sewer services can simplify the maintenance

Profitability and ROI on Automatic Car Wash systems:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, the average sales volume of automobile washes in the United States was $593,600. The District of Columbia topped the list with sales totaling $879,000, while California came in second at $813,700. Many car washes succeed financially every year based on these average sale amounts, making owning a car wash an excellent investment for company owners.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides insight into which auto cleaning services generate the most sales revenue. Following are the Sales numbers of different auto cleaning services and revenue generated, starting from 2017:

  • Self-service vacuuming services: $100 million sales revenue
  • Self-service washing and waxing: $480 million sales revenue
  • Handwashing (with or without waxing services): $780 million sales revenue
  • Detailing services: $1.87 Billion sales revenue
  • Automatic washing and waxing services: $4.96 Billion sales revenue


An automatic car wash system is a great investment for any business owner looking to provide their customers with a quality car wash experience. With the advancements in car wash technology, automation, and technology, automated car wash systems will improve your business with increased efficiency and profitability.