Professional Carwashing & Detailing

What's your acceptance level?

October 11, 2010

Self-serve equipment has come a long, long way. At one point in time, manufacturers would not even grant a warranty on bill validators used in the harsh environment of self-serve bays.

Times are changing. The question is, should you? New payment methods promise to increase security, boost revenues, and make it easier for the self-serve customer. But be wary, there are pitfalls.

If the learning curve for the customer is too steep, the new equipment may drive customers away rather than expand your consumer base.

As the novelty wears off, a host of new security concerns can begin to appear and increased revenues can be eaten away by rising service costs — not to mention the capital outlay for the new equipment.

A few questions
Before designing a new wash, or retrofitting an existing location, ask the following questions designed to help you choose a mix of devices to use in the bay or at the change/pay station.

  • How much (if any) will revenue increase?
  • Will the new equipment attract new customers?
  • Will the new equipment be convenient for existing customers?
  • Will accepting additional payment methods be safe and secure for the owner and the customer?
  • What will be my maintenance costs?
  • How can I keep capital cost down?

Pros and cons
Evaluating alternate payment methods is like looking at the history of self serve systems.

The charts found in the sidebars show the pros and cons of the more common methods available today.

From coin acceptors to RFID fobs
The simplest systems started with only a coin acceptor, timer and soap/function selector. To add customer convenience, change makers provided acceptance of either coins or tokens. This in turn saved on equipment cost per bay and increased security.

Centralized payment equipment has evolved to provide codes and accept additional payment methods such as credit cards.

However, this equipment can become the Achilles’ heel of your carwash operation. Should a critical element of the pay station stop working, the entire line goes down.

Providing bill acceptors in the bays adds redundancy — but it comes with a higher equipment and maintenance price per bay, as well as loses the security gains inherent in a central pay/change station.

The new magnetic card readers in the bay have less maintenance and security issues than bill validators and have been shown to increase revenues when a ‘count-up’ style of charging has been introduced.

Most recently, RFID cards or fobs have become a means of providing account access (like a prepaid card), but demand has been limited.

So before you decide to accept an alternate method of payment, make sure you know what you are getting into. Each method or device balances the needs of customer convenience and loyalty with site security, redundancy, and maintenance costs, differently.

Consider your options and choose the methods that best fit your wash and your customers.

Jonathan Airey, is an electrical engineer and has been writing firmware in entry and self-serve control systems for Exact One Company (formerly Exacta Controls) for 12 years. He can be reached at