Media attention has increasingly focused on unregulated re-openings of hand car washes (HCWs) after several weeks of COVID-19 lockdown. Car wash customer expectations have changed during the pandemic possibly for good. HCWs will now be expected to demonstrate that customers’ safety is taken seriously by visibly complying with government guidelines.

This may involve creating a whole new ‘look’ to the customer journey with plainly visible social distancing being exercised by staff; distance markers; with PPE and regular disinfection being used for the safety of customers and staff. This compliant approach while essential (and mandatory) unfortunately also imposes considerable financial burdens on businesses as it can limit capacity, raise operating costs and cause revenues to suffer.

Unfortunately reports are multiplying of unscrupulous operators re-opening for business with scant, if any, regard for the government’s comprehensive guidance.

Again the lack of enforcement of the new guidelines is rife as local authorities play ‘pass the parcel’ internally and even to other agencies. This is a disturbing scenario but one that has played out with every other regulation affecting HCWs.

Many HCWs have reduced outgoings by laying off staff unpaid. And some unemployed staff have been found dossing down in empty car washes during lockdown. Press and police have reported on a flourishing drug trade with county lines distribution networks busier than ever, presumably generating large sums of cash requiring money laundering. Very large cash sums found in police raids on HCWs suggest they have been used for this purpose.

COVID-19 has also created a consumer aversion to handling cash; this will favour compliant HCWs and automated car washes (ACWs) equipped with contactless payment facilities. ACWs that do not require staff to operate them offer a safe alternative to non-compliant HCWs. Conversely, most non-compliant HCWs have only ever accepted cash; an obligation to adopt cashless and fiscally-compliant payment methods would presumably be most unwelcome.