Car washes can offer retailers high margins of up to 80%, but many retailers don’t give the car wash the attention it deserves – perhaps because it lies outside the shop, which has become the focus of many forecourts these days. As a result, many machines aren’t being used to their full potential, with factors such as maintenance and inadequate marketing hampering what should be a straightforward profit generator.

Peter Spencer, managing director of car wash supplier Atlantis, says: “The car wash is the biggest revenue earner on the forecourt today. For a wash of £4 or £5 in revenue, you’re only talking about a cost of 40p, so if you’re doing 15 cars an hour it’s more profitable than fuel, cigarettes etc and that’s why it’s so important to keep it operational.”

And improvements in technology mean that machines are becoming more reliable, making it easier than ever for retailers to maximise profits. Atlantis’ Spencer says: “Most developments have been in the computer or ‘brain’ side of the car wash to make it more reliable, easier to operate and cheaper to maintain. For example on Karcher’s CB1, the motors and gearboxes are sealed for life so there can be no problems with water ingress. We’ve installed this machine at a site in Eastleigh, for example, and 11,000 washes later it has yet to break down.”

Further advancements in technology mean car wash times are getting quicker too, again helping to maximise profits.

WashTec’s interim managing director Steve Jeffs says: “High-speed machines such as WashTec’s Juno, which can wash up to 18 vehicles per hour, are consistently shown to be the leading car wash profit earner with high-volume sites.”

One company that is using technology to make life easier for retailers by reducing car wash complications is PSD Codax, which specialises in car wash control systems. Managing director Graham Round says many retailers have seen reportable incomes increase by up to 60% following the installation of Codax, which automates car wash transactions, eliminating the need for tokens and cards, which in turn reduces error.

Round explains: “PSD is working with major retailers to link the Codax control unit direct to the station’s retail control system/POS making life easier for the sales assistant and eliminating the need for manual reconciliation of the revenues/usage. All sales usage data is delivered to head office via the retailers’ back-office system.”

Round reckons these control systems can help retailers remove the inherent problems associated with traditional tokens such as: handling, counting and the cost of replacements and less customer confusion with token/card acceptor systems.

Automation also makes for a much more accurate transaction, adds Round: “Currently tokens/cards have a real value attached to them when being held behind the sales desk and must be counted as stock every shift – with a Codax ticket the value is applied at the time of sale and a record of the sale is reported.” He adds: “We can offer retailers an improved understanding of how many washes are sold and the turnover associated with the machine’s use.”

Codax systems can also be helpful to multi-site dealers who wish to streamline their car wash sales. “We can introduce a consistent access unit (customer interface terminal) across all of the stations, regardless of machine manufacturers avoiding confusion and to better enable retailers to run and control car wash promotions,” says Round.

But although technology is offering retailers a helping hand in getting nearer to top profits, retailers shouldn’t neglect the basics – day-to-day housekeeping remains crucial when it comes to car washes.

Ryko’s UK sales manager Graham Currie says: “It is of great benefit to the car wash operator to keep the wash bay clean and free from litter, as the customer will not visit an untidy car wash site.”

And WashTec’s Steve Jeffs adds: “Bay cleaning is extremely important, not only in terms of Health & Safety but also in reducing breakdown problems caused by debris in the wash bay.”


So what are the latest machines on the car wash market? Well, after pulling out of the car wash industry for a while and going back to the drawing board, Karcher launched its CB1 machine in March this year, targeted at independents as well as supermarket sites, where reliability is paramount.

Peter Spencer, managing director of Atlantis, which distributes Karcher in the UK, says the emphasis of the CB range is on reliability and ease of maintenance as well as attention to aesthetics and low noise. In addition, a common platform of components across the range keeps the price down for retailers.

Importantly for indies, the CB1 fits into an 8.5m bay (most are 10m) and its modular construction means it can be built and assembled inside the bay so that it can get into tight spaces.

The CB1 costs from £32,000 delivered and installed, and Spencer reckons because of the exceptional reliability, the whole-life costs are lower. “Service cost, for example, is £1,800 a year – half that of our competitors. And lots of parts come with a two-year warranty rather than the standard 12 months,” he says.

The high-pressure CB machine, the CB2, meanwhile, launched in September, while the CB3 – which will be available as a ‘touchless’ wash – will launch next spring.

Over at Istobal, and the company says retailers are currently showing lots of interest in its top-of-the-range M18+, which has a wash and dry time of two minutes 20 seconds and fits into a standard 9.5m wash bay. The speed of the wash is achieved by the use of five brushes – four vertical and one horizontal – instead of the normal three and the use of six separate dryer nozzles to achieve the best results.

Meanwhile, the company’s ever-popular M12+ has been updated, with up-rated dryers and more programme flexibility, which Istobal says makes it ideal for quieter sites.

Ryko International reckons it is also seeing retailers opting for higher specification machines – such as its Excel (three-brushes) or Premier (five-brushes) ranges.

Sales manager Graham Currie also says retailers can’t get enough of a coloured detergent called Tri Foam, that has caught the consumers’ imagination.

He says: “Tri Foam is a very popular revenue-enhancing product, which covers the vehicle with three jets of coloured detergent foam. It gives your customer a very visual and pleasing experience, encouraging them to return time after time. This option has been adopted by Tesco across its entire car wash network, enabling the retailer to gain an additional £1 for a top wash.”

Wilcomatic’s best-selling rollover wash unit is Christ’s Primus C150, which was introduced to the market three years ago. Wilcomatic has now built on that success and introduced the Christ Primus Racer car wash, which can be configured to the customers’ specific requirements. Wilcomatic describes the single gantry car wash as “a powerful combination of design and advanced technology” and a spokesperson says: “Its ability to work as a multi-gantry machine has enabled us to meet the needs of our customers. When this is combined with the increased drying speed it allows operators to maximise their throughput and increase revenue.”

Use of the latest technology means that this car wash – which comes in a choice of colours – has an ‘intelligent’, multi-functional control unit for information management, servicing and maintenance as well as automatic fault diagnostics.

Particular features of the Racer package include telescopic arms that allow you to apply multiple applications at any time; single pass upgraded high-power dryer; four high-pressure pumps instead of two to allow high pressure in one, delivering up to 85-bar water pressure. Wilcomatic also has a new chemicals range, which it says is more suited to the latest brush technology. All its shampoos are now mildly alkaline for increased cleaning power and its coloured foams now have non-staining dyes.

Meanwhile, WashTec’s most popular machine is the WashTec Pro, which has sold more than 5,000 units worldwide. The fully modular machine has the latest technology fitted as standard and WashTec says it is ‘infinitely programmable’.

The company’s latest compact machine for low-volume sites is the Bravo, which starts at £26,000 with options including dryer, wheel wash, foam, high pressure, underchassis and token or Codax.

The Evo, meanwhile is WashTec’s economical car wash which it says offers increased profits with low-maintenance costs for medium-volume sites. It includes the latest software technology and has numerous options available. Finally, the Juno is the high-speed double-gantry machine, which has a wash and dry time of under three minutes. It is ideally suited for wash volumes in excess of 1,200 per month.


The service contract is a crucial consideration with a car wash as not only does down-time dramatically affect profits, but it puts off future customers from coming back.

Atlantis’ Peter Spencer says: “The customer comes once or twice and if the car wash is out of action they will simply go somewhere else.

“I think one of the biggest things for an operator is the amount of time the car wash is out of action and how much it will cost over five years (the life expectancy of today’s machines) and how much you will earn over five years, which is the most important thing.” WashTec’s Steve Jeffs says: “Retailers should always take out service contracts which include regular servicing and uptime guarantees. WashTec offers guaranteed uptime, guaranteed response and regular servicing intervals up to six times per annum.”

Most suppliers offer some type of service package, although details will vary from company to company, so make sure you are satisfied with what’s on offer. Wilcomatic, for example, offers third-party maintenance contracts with national coverage.

It says it has a first-fix rate of 97% cent and an average response time of 6.5 hours from the call. All its vehicles are fitted with satellite tracking systems, which allow the nearest engineer to be allocated to the appropriate breakdown. Engineers receive instructions via electronic data transfer, and vans can be electronically searched for specific parts, reducing machine downtime.

Istobal, however, has shunned third-party maintenance. Dave Lindon explains: “What sets Istobal apart is its policy on service back-up. Many competitors have tried to be “all things to all men”, and concentrated heavily on third-party maintenance, which ultimately loses them focus on their own machines, and response times and effectiveness can suffer.

“If you buy an Istobal machine, you get the best equipment and you deserve the best service, that is why Istobal only services Istobal machines. We stay totally focused on our customers as they are our top priority at all times”

Istobal offers a parts and labour warranty of up to five years. “All the service visits and breakdown calls are included too,” says Lindon. “The only items the customer needs to budget for is chemicals and brush replacement.”

Meanwhile, MB Car Wash, an independent rollover share-wash provider, reckons buying a machine on revenue-share guarantees you excellent service back-up as the company has a vested interest in the profits.

“It is not just getting new quality equipment but being with a committed wash partner that counts,” says the company’s James Boret.

“The success of the retailer and ourselves hinges on rapid fault repair, minimal down time, best quality chemicals and promotional marketing.”