As the cost of LED lights has declined, more and more carwashes have been incorporating them into their sites. LEDs not only prove more efficient and cost-effective in the long run, but they can also make a site “pop” out through a strategic use of lighting effects and color.

Today’s leading carwashes have figured out that there are five critical ways to use LEDs that resonate with customers: in signage, at entry/exit areas, for package confirmation, on equipment and in the vacuum area. This article explores each of these areas in detail.

Signage

Let’s face it: The main way a carwash is going to pull in new customers is off the street. Therefore, you need to make yourself stand out, and incorporating LEDs into your signage is the way to go.

“LED lighting can make a site look more crisp and exciting,” says Kirby Corkill, founder of Jarvis Lighting. “This helps to make a site more visible so that customers want to pull in. First impressions matter — LED lighting can help a site look better immediately.”

According to Michael Call, vice president of sales and marketing with Mile High LED Systems, most carwashes utilize one of two types of signage: backlit signs or non-illuminated signs. However, regardless of the type you have, both can benefit from using LEDs. Backlit signs can be retrofitted with LEDs, while non-illuminated signs can be highlighted with an area light or flood light, so that they can be seen and read in the dark. Either way, both types of signs benefit from the longevity of LEDs as well as their brightness.

Lighting can also help make your on-site signage, such as menus, stand out better, making it easier for patrons to read and find certain services. However, LEDs shouldn’t just be limited to lighting up your signage — they should be part of the messaging on the signage as well. For instance, if a light show is part of your carwash offering (which we’ll discuss in further detail later in the article), you need to let your customers know it.

“Operators now have the ability to create a unique wash experience utilizing state-of-the-art LED lighting. If marketed properly before the customer enters the tunnel, this can effectively increase the wash ticket average,” notes Bobby Jones, vice president of TSS Inc. “By telling customers that the top package has the best-in-class light show, they will be more enticed to opt for that package so they can experience the show.”

Entry/exit instructions

Dealing with automobiles carries an inherent risk, especially when they’re in the hands of customers who are not as familiar with your carwash as you are. There is always the chance that a customer will pull into or out of a bay or tunnel incorrectly, especially if it is unmanned. Even when tunnels, for instance, have greeters and loaders, many customers are distracted by cellphones or children in the car, heightening the risk of loading incorrectly and hurting someone or damaging equipment or structures.

However, LEDs can help minimize this risk. Call notes, “Safety can definitely be improved with [the] use of LED lighting. Consumer safety can be enhanced by integration of color LED lighting into wash cycles to help the customer understand when they need to stop, go or place a car in neutral.”

While traditional red and green “traffic lights” and “stop/go” signs are perfectly valid ways to use LEDs to direct customers, there is another innovative way of using these colors that humans have come to associate with stopping and starting. This method is particularly useful for in-bay automatics (IBAs). Baright notes that as customers pull into the bay, you can have the bay illuminated bright green until the customer reaches the stop point, at which point the entire bay immediately turns red.

Another innovative way of using LED lights is for guiding vehicles into place. Consider the problems some customers have when positioning themselves properly in an IBA. Having lighting strips on the floor of the bay in lieu of regular guide rails is a way to help these “guidelines” stand out and keep customers in place. You can even have these guides change colors with the rest of the show you provide.

As Corkill notes, “Humans are visual creatures. If we can’t see something, we are at risk of doing something unsafe.” Bright LED lights will draw customers’ attention to them (no matter in which way they are used), thereby helping to reduce accidents at the wash.

Wash package confirmation

As a business owner, you know receipts are important. You want to make sure you not only got what you paid for but that you paid the right amount. The receipt your customers get from your carwash is only going to tell them, at best, the level of wash purchased as well as the amount paid. But, aside from a quick look at the menu, how else can a customer be reassured that he or she purchased the desired services?

Nowadays, LEDs can function like a receipt for customers by helping them confirm what exactly they purchased. In addition, you can customize the light show for each package.

“[There are] products that can be incorporated to communicate with the tunnel and in-bay automatic controllers to change colors and create vibrant shows based on the level of the wash package,” Cory Baright, vice president of operations for G&G LED Lighting, notes. “Throughout the wash, vibrant light shows can be performed based on the package selected. This is an incredibly effective way to enhance the overall customer experience and help create separation in your offerings to drive new and repeat business.”

Furthermore, Jones adds that a bright LED light will be able to shine through the soap to reassure a customer about receiving the extra service.

Using lights on either signage or equipment as it is dispensing water and chemicals not only helps reassure customers that they are getting what they paid for, but it can also help in upselling. According to Corkill, LED lights, or lack thereof, can inform customers that there are other options available, perhaps pushing them to upgrade during the next visit.

Another way that LEDs can assist in upselling is through the type of light show you provide. “For example, a standard wash package may only receive lighting that guides them through the wash entrance and exit,” Call explains. “A deluxe package may add color to highlight different applications, making the wash appear as though the customer is receiving added value. This value affirmation drives additional upselling to higher value packages.”

Equipment

Adding lighting to equipment to put on a show has become very popular in recent years — and for good reason. LED lighting enhances the look of the product being applied and is highly effective in entertaining both adults and children, thus heightening the customer experience. Here are some ideas for how equipment can be lit for a show:

  • IBAs: Some systems come with light shows included, and they are available in both soft-touch and touchless formats.
  • Arches: Depending on the arch, you can use different colors to achieve different effects. For example, presoak arches can have green lights added to heighten the sense of a chemical bath. Rinse arches can have blue lights added for a waterfall effect. Additionally, foaming arches can have red or amber lights added for a lava or hot wax effect.
  • Dryers: If the dryer area is lit red, it creates the illusion of heat.
  • Brush wheels: LEDs can be mounted to moving wash brushes to catch customers’ attention.

“Customers now equate an entertaining light show with a clean car,” Jones states. “With increased wash saturation, an amazing light show can be one way to gain an edge on competition. A quick scan of social media sites will confirm that LED light shows in the wash create a buzz for your brand.”

When customers snap stunning photos of LED-lit applications at your carwash, you gain a valuable marketing tool: free advertising and unsolicited, rave reviews.

Vacuums

Vacuums have always been critical at a carwash, so this equipment that takes up so much site space deserves the same lighting emphasis the rest of the site has. As vacuums have become more of a focal point with the rise of express exterior sites, lighting them properly has become a must.

Call explains, “Vacuum lighting requires light intensity bright enough to cast light into a car and with a wide distribution so that the front seat, back seat and trunk of cars have light.” He adds that you can use either standard pole lighting or arch lighting to get this effect.

“For arch-style systems, there are LEDs that can be formed to match the bend radius of the arch,” Baright says. “This not only creates an awesome visual appearance at dawn, dusk and nighttime hours, but it can also help illuminate inside the vehicles while customers are cleaning.”

Specifically, Call notes that for pole lights, you will need a Type 3 LED (wide light distribution) area light on a 15- to 20-foot pole that provides around 14,000 lumens. For lighting on vacuum arches, you need to allow for about 11,000 lumens to both ensure aesthetics and provide the wide distribution of light.

Corkill adds, “The vacuum area is one of the most difficult areas, because you’re trying to light up the interior of the car, but the car’s roof is in the way. We recommend a combination of higher-mounted lights to provide area lighting coupled with some lower-wattage lights mounted at a lower height. The lower-wattage lights help send light to the inside of cars but aren’t too bright, so they don’t blind customers.”

Baright notes that it is also possible now to sync the lights on your vacuum stalls to illuminate the entire vacuum area in a specific color. For example, you can set the arches to alternate in slow fades between red and green for the holiday season.

Furthermore, LEDs can be placed on top of vacuum canisters or as signs on top of vacuums in general to add more draw to the site and provide more marketing space.

It’s also important that the vacuum area — and the outside of the carwash in general — is well-lit to make customers and employees feel safer at night and in the darker hours of winter.

According to Call, “Normal, white LED can cast light in a different angle than traditional metal halides or fluorescent lighting, giving more light to previously dim areas, thereby improving everyone’s safety.” After all, a brighter carwash will deter vandalism, since it’s easier for criminals to get away with mischief in the shadows. 

It also helps when you can keep your entire facility lit at all times. “The efficiency of LED lighting also allows you to keep lights on longer; many operators are leaving them on 24/7,” Baright concludes. Remember, these lights are part of your marketing strategy, and the better you can make yourself a beacon, the more customers you will be able to attract.