With hand car washing under the spotlight and facing proper regulation for the first time there has never been a better time for automated car washes to literally shine. Cutting-edge technology coupled with easy payment devices mean these machines are better than ever.

Take Top 50 Indie Euro Garages (EG) as an example, as it has joined forces with Istobal to offer new Smart Car Wash facilities. The Spanish car wash firm describes Smart Car Wash as "a new generation of car wash facilities designed so users get the best and most personalised experience". The first of these facilities in the UK is located at EG’s flagship Frontier Park site in Blackburn.

The site has three wash areas including two Istobal M’Nex32 automatic rollovers with Connect-a Payment terminals including licence plate recognition. Users can select the wash programme through an intelligent assistant, available in both the Istobal app and the payment terminal. In addition, the machines contain devices that ensure safety and comfort during the wash.

The M’Nex32 rollover offers greater wash precision thanks to the pneumatic tilting of the vertical brushes in two directions, to wash the most difficult of vehicle shapes. The Infinite Mousse arch supplies high-density foam, bright colours and a pleasant fragrance. Additionally, the rollovers include the latest lighting technology with LED screens to dynamically indicate the different car wash phases and LED centring guides that facilitate the positioning of the vehicle. A variety of high-pressure pre-washes prepare the vehicle to improve the outcome of the brush wash and there is an under-chassis wash system.

Also at Frontier Park is an area dedicated to self-service washing using the Istobal N’Joy Avant four-bay jet wash system. Three of these bays are covered but all feature a wide range of accessories to make washing and car care as easy as possible with five wash options for customers to choose from. They have optional extras to hold bicycles and motorcycles; there are three additional wash options for these jet wash customers.

In addition, the cleaning facility has four single vacuum cleaners for cleaning inside vehicles. Istobal says this EG site is ’fully connected’, which increases the efficiency, quality and convenience of the whole car wash process. Based on this connectivity, with centralised data management and an automated and permanently supervised service, this facility includes a Smart Car Wash assistant and gives detailed preferences to offer personalised washes and promotions.

Further south, in East Sussex, Jempson’s Express Jet petrol station in Peasmarsh has very recently installed an automatic Storm touchless car wash system from Nu-Shine. Site manager, Jurgita Vainauskiene, says that when they were looking to replace the previous brush wash facility they did a lot of research.

"We wanted to drive higher forecourt footfall and sales, and felt that a touchless car washing system could not only do this, but would also attract those customers who won’t use car washes with brushes as they’re concerned about the potential damage they might cause.

"The Storm model was recommended by our car wash supplier, Nu-Shine, due to the very high quality clean it achieves. This type of system has proved extremely popular in the American car wash market for some time now, but has been slower to take off in the UK."

Jurgita says they only offer two programmes to help avoid customer confusion but both programmes give a fantastic clean. "With the lower-priced programme customers get a touchless wash and a spot free rinse, while the superior programme includes a foaming wax and drying."

The car wash is located slightly away from the fuel pumps, but is still visible when customers are filling up, which helps to raise awareness.

"We also have a large car wash menu at the wash bay, with smaller signs at the tills, but we’ve found that as it’s a touchless car wash it pretty much markets itself through word of mouth. The facility is spotlessly clean, with easy access for entry and exit, a simple menu, good chemicals and a good quality wash all of which help attract repeat custom.

"Our customers love the concept and, due to its good visibility on-site, we’re getting a very high rate of impulse buys when customers see the wash in action. Customers seem to love the fact that there are no brushes and yet the quality of clean is really good."

Jurgita says they are planning to introduce a monthly unlimited car wash club, which would allow customers to pay a fixed monthly fee and use the wash as often as they want. "Nu-Shine will be introducing this in 2019 and we expect to see wash volumes increase even further when this is introduced. We’ve already seen a 20% increase in revenue based on last year’s figures. We operated the wash for the first month at half price and despite this offer our revenue is up. With the feedback we’re getting we expect a very significant increase in sales as we continue to operate."

Another forecourt retailer who’s seen a massive improvement since investing in a new machine is Raman Sood of Victoria Service Station in Glasgow. He says his old machine would only do £1,000 a month if they were lucky. So far the new machine is averaging £1,200 a week. They offered half price washes for the first month, to kick things off, which resulted in a quadrupling of sales versus the previous machine.

In addition Raman says the new car wash is proving to be much more reliable, which helps in terms of customer satisfaction and machine availability.

The new machine is a high specification wash that was manufactured by Otto Christ and supplied by Wilcomatic. "German engineering and a number of high quality innovations convinced us we could seriously improve our overall customer offer with this investment," says Raman. "The quality of the car wash fits in well with the surrounding area which is in the affluent west end of Glasgow on the transient route to the north and the city suburbs."

Raman chose a series of high- specification features and innovations to promote the quality aspect of the wash and to give customers a better wash experience. These were: foam splash, which creates a curtain of foam which is illuminated by a coloured LED light display; high-pressure pre-wash, where high-pressure jets of water clean the car before the brushes to remove grit and dirt; high-pressure wheel cleaner where high-pressure jets clean the wheels in addition to the brushes; gloss polish programme the top wash now offers a polish that makes the cars really shine; swivel dryer drying quality has significantly improved with the new drying system and the addition of the VIP dry programme; and flashing guide rails the guide rails illuminate to ease customer parking and create an eye-catching light display.

The car wash itself is 15cm wider than the previous model, which has been a big help for customers who have bigger vehicles.

Raman also invested in a new ticket system to make processing the ticket easier the traditional six-figure number was replaced with a bar code. "The new ticket unit is far easier for customers to use, as it does away with a printed input code that could be prone to error. The scanner located outside the car wash entrance is also far easier to use."

A new shop terminal was also purchased for the code generation, which is much simpler and intuitive for the staff to use.

Another retailer who has opted for an Otto Christ machine is Kumar Sharma from Bush Service Station in Sutton Coldfield. Kevin Pay, managing director at supplier Wilcomatic, says: "Kumar has always been at the forefront of pushing for excellence from an automatic car wash. He is keen to try every available enhancement and innovation to enhance the customer experience and improve the quality of the wash in order to grow sales and push for the highest wash price possible.

"Kumar has been highly successful in his mission. He was the first to introduce the newly designed five-brush wash from Wilcomatic back in 2010 and last month he replaced this machine with the latest offering from us, the Otto Christ Aquatus Prime."

Pay says this is a state-of-the-art machine, with the latest innovation. "The wash combines a touchless wash with a brush wash to create the most fantastic wash performance combined with the legendary drying performance only available from a Christ car wash. The Aquatus offers the new wheel master, a brush that actually sizes the wheel it has to wash and then moves the brush across the entire wheel surface for an optimum wheel clean; foam splash which is a foam curtain illuminated by an array of coloured LEDs; oscillating high pressure and a gloss polish finish.

"I am convinced Kumar will enjoy complete success from the new wash facility and will continue to grow sales further still over what has been a really successful car wash destination for many years," says Pay.

Tony Davies, director of Active Carwash Supplies Ltd (Active CWS), says the somewhat belated crackdown on illegally run hand car washes has already led to a significant reduction in hand car wash sites and an increase in the use of legitimate forecourt facilities. "We have seen this reflected in our increased sales of both car and jet wash chemicals and equipment. Hopefully this will continue," he explains.

Active CWS uses a portfolio approach to car and jet wash chemicals, which Davies says means they offer a very large range of specialist car wash chemicals from various suppliers from both in the UK and abroad, including its very own Active CWS range.

"This approach enables us to fine-tune a chemical package to perfectly suit an individual car wash or jet wash machine’s capability and location, particularly with regard to water quality, hardness and recyclability issues etc.

"For example, in a particularly complex machine with multiple programmes we can use any number of products from a growing number of different suppliers, each chemical being the absolute best one for that machine in that application, and then fine-tune that machine to deliver the best wash at the lowest cost. This chemical portfolio approach is perhaps unique to Active CWS but it is something that our customers greatly value."

Davies says that in 2019 retailers should look out for a new range of jet wash machines that are being designed around a hardware/software development by Active CWS’s sister company, PTC Services. "These will enable a jet wash to be easily programmed on site to deliver any combination of processes that the operator desires.

"This gives complete flexibility to the operator to charge whatever he wants, for whatever time period, on a minimum vend of their choice, to last however long they want for any number of different programmes or machine capabilities."

Winning back car wash customers

Leighton Ricketts, sales director at NuShine Ltd, believes now that many hand car washes are expected to be closed down, it’s time for forecourts to re-capture the market and get consumers back into the car wash bays. "We need only to look at other countries to see how we can improve. In America, the car wash industry has seen a massive increase in volumes, revenue and new locations. So, how did they do it?" He advises:
Payment terminals adding credit card acceptance with other payment options like mobile pay will make it more convenient to purchase a wash.
Menu boards make sure you have a clear menu board that shows the price/what you get.
High quality chemicals we obsess about low cost, but you cannot scrimp on chemicals. If you want clean, shiny cars, you need good quality chemicals.
Free vacuums many US operators have seen car wash revenues increase dramatically when offered a free vacuum with the car wash. You do need to ensure the vacuums are working well and preferably on the exit of the car wash.
Unlimited car wash clubs this was a game changer when it came to the US car wash industry. Wash owners create car wash clubs where customers pay a fixed fee of say £20 a month, then they wash their car as often as they like. With just 500 customers paying £20 a month, operators start the month with £10,000 before washing a car.
Variety of wash types conveyors, brush washes, self-service multi-bay jet washes and touchless car washes have given customers a choice on where they want to wash.

Controlling the car wash

PSD Codax, which has been around since the 1990s, has completely revised its product range. With its WashConnect back office and management system, for example, everything is connected together and even multiple sites can be managed in an easy, accessible way. Machines can accept cash or only credit and debit cards (with Android Pay and Apple Pay) and also offer loyalty programmes, unlimited club schemes and even RFID or licence plate recognition.
Suzanne Huisman, European business development director at PSD Codax, says that automated car wash controls can take over several tasks for you.
"The day-to-day operations are easy to follow through an operator app that gives an insight into the washes, clocked-in staff and the variable costs throughout the day. For the consumer, it is nice to have the same experience every single time they use your wash. The traffic flow goes a lot smoother which diminishes wait times and improves the customer experience."
Huisman says that consumers can even buy their washes from their sofa at home or on their way to the car wash to lower the wait time and give them plenty of time to make a choice.
"They system is very reliable and has several safety features built in. The main goal of a car wash is washing cars so whatever happens, this must continue. An automatic car wash control and access system gives a reliable and consistent experience. We have a 24/7 telephone support hotline and we have technicians to assist when there are issues that can’t be resolved over the phone."

Don’t forget home car care

Helen Robinson, marketing director at Euro Car Parts, is keen to remind forecourt retailers that home car care still represents a significant revenue opportunity. "The way motorists clean their own vehicles is undoubtedly changing. Products which are simple to use but provide longer-lasting protection are now very much the order of the day a trend forecourt retailers could be looking to take advantage of. Indeed, Euro Car Parts has seen consistent year-on-year growth in our home car care range. This is true for consumables and also our wider tools and equipment offering."
Despite being new to Euro Car Parts’ range, brands like Auto Finesse and Triple QX are doing well. "We have also seen real growth in sales of aquaphobic spray. These are products that are applied after the rinsing of a vehicle, reacting with water to create a durable wax finish, which can last as long as six months. Guaranteeing a professional finish for home car washers, the Auto Finesse Aqua Coat has proven to be particularly popular with our customers."
With the majority of new cars coming with air conditioning as standard, Robinson says it’s not surprising that the company has seen a significant upturn in the sales of fragranced air conditioning cleaner. Launched earlier this year, Turtlewax Odor X scent has enjoyed some incredibly strong sales among motorists looking to re-capture that ’new car’ smell.
Robinson says as there is also still a real market for back-to-basics products. For example, Turtle Wax Zip wax is proving to be consistently popular choice with motorists.

Good practice for pollution prevention

Keep a site drainage plan know where surface water drains are and where to connect to the foul sewer.
Colour-code your drains, blue for surface water and red for the foul sewer.
Have an oil separator installed where run-off is contaminated with oils or fuels.
Make sure wash water from vehicle cleaning doesn’t enter the oil separator (it will stop it working).
If possible, drain wash water from vehicles to the foul sewer and get a trade effluent consent from your sewer provider.
If there is no foul sewer, collect wash water for disposal offsite by a waste company. Alternatively use methods that don’t produce liquid waste.
Cover your wash areas to reduce the volume of waste water you produce.
Manage all your waste according to your duty of care eg empty containers, oily rags or used cleaning cloths.
Don’t let wash water from vehicles enter the surface water drains.
Never wash vehicles on unmade ground.
Don’t wash vehicles where run-off can drain into surface water drains.Source: GPP13 Vehicle Washing and Cleaning