Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Changing the future of self-serve

October 11, 2010

The future of change machines at carwashes will, if it hasn’t already, soon deal primarily with providing various payment options to customers.

Aside from the bill-to-coins format, there are new ways of providing convenience to any customer base that will help maintain their loyalty, and therefore help carwashes make higher profits.

From credit card acceptance, which has already attracted a lot of attention from self-serve operators that dispense tokens, to bill-and-coin exchangers; owners are finding new and creative ways of attracting loyal customers to their washes.

Token of affection

Tokens provide additional security for owners, because they have no value outside the wash.

Another benefit is that this concept allows carwash owners a chance to reward customers that use higher denomination bills with bonus incentives — such as $25 worth of tokens for $20, etc.

Furthermore, it provides owners with some built-in customer loyalty for those that come and spend money at their wash.

Bill-and-coin exchangers (also called bill busters) are also rising in popularity at carwashes.

They allow customers to convert their higher denomination currency, like $10 and $20 bills, into a combination of quarters, tokens and $5 bills.

These change machines have helped many washes around the country provide a valuable service to their customers.

Most people don’t want 80 quarters, but they would like to buy an air freshener, or get another couple minutes on the vacuum, or maybe even buy a soda from the vending machine.

Now they have an alternative, outside of an attendant, to get that needed change that they will most likely invest in additional services at your wash.

Security over appearance

One of the ongoing challenges facing small business owners, like self-serve carwashes, is security.

There sometimes exists a thin line between making a carwash appealing and inviting — and making a carwash safe and secure.

In many instances, owners may do one at the expense of the other. Carwash owners can make a site more secure, but sometimes must sacrifice user-friendliness.

The tough question for self-serve operators is, “How do I maximize profits and protect my investment from vandalism and theft?”

For investors building a new wash, the road can be easier. Many of the advances in technology over the last five years allow owners to build more security into their business model.

Some of these advances include:

  • Surveillance cameras that provide local and remote monitoring;
  • Token acceptance;
  • Better alarm systems and motion detectors; and
  • Building designs that are geared toward safety and security.

While some of these options can be expensive — in the long term, they can help to significantly protect your business operation.

A perfectionist’s goal

Changer manufacturers are given the same challenge. How can they manufacture a changer that is both reliable and user-friendly; and yet secure from counterfeit currency, stringing and vandalism?

Some manufacturers can now more easily manufacture the most secure product — one that can’t be broken into, won’t accept counterfeits, and can not be strung. Companies now have the technology and know how to use it.

However, this perfect machine presents a few problems to carwash owners.

1. It won’t take a faded, worn and tattered $20 bill from a customer.

No matter how many times the customer tries to insert the old bill; and no matter how nice it would be to accept that twenty, this perfectly secure machine will consider this worn currency as counterfeit, which poses a problem.

2. It would take about 10 seconds to process each transaction.

The changer would accept the bill, check it thoroughly, make sure there is no wire or fiber trailing the bill, stack it, and dispense the proper change.

3. This machine would be the equivalent of a wall safe, and would carry a hefty price tag. You can see the challenge.

From a manufacturer’s perspective the perfect machine would accept every authentic bill on the first attempt, never accept a counterfeit, and will take hours for someone to gain entry.

Obviously, the change machine is not the most expensive piece of equipment that a wash owner purchases, but it is the lifeblood of a profitable carwash. Providing a working changer is a convenience that customers need, as much as wash owners need them.

Maintenance demands

Hand-in-hand with building a better change machine is the proper care and maintenance of changers. An important aspect of a reliable, user-friendly changer is adhering to a regular preventative maintenance (PM) schedule.

The same reason people bring their cars to a wash is the reason why owners need to maintain change equipment; not only does it keep their equipment looking good, it helps ensure reliability and lasting value.

As a general rule, the two primary areas that carwash owners can monitor are:

  • Bill acceptor(s); and
  • Coin dispenser(s).
Maintaining bill acceptors

Owners should plan on cleaning the optics using a soft, damp cloth.

Wipe the bill path (with a soft, damp cloth) to remove lint, dust and ink, and clean any rubber rollers with an alcohol swab.

If there are any visible belts, be sure they are not twisted or frayed and have proper tension.

There are bill acceptor cleaning cards available, and these are usually pretty effective at cleaning the rollers and parts of the bill path. However, the most thorough and efficient cleaning should be done by hand.

Canned air can be used to clean the dust and lint out of the bill stacker box.

Check the spring in the box to be sure that the tension plate moves freely and easily.

Care for coin dispensers

Coin dispenser (or hopper) maintenance can be as easy as dumping all coins out of the hopper and using canned air to clean dust and lint from around the mechanism.

Remove any foreign items that accumulate with the handling of change — transporting from the cash boxes of the controllers and vending units back to the changer. Other hoppers may require owners to lubricate chains or belts.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maintain units properly.

Mike Coons is the national sales manager for Standard Change-Makers, Inc., based in Indianapolis. Mike can be contacted at