Carwash security best practices - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Carwash security best practices

What you need to secure your new business.

They say hindsight is 20/20 because once something disastrous has happened, you can look back and see all the ways in which you could have avoided it. Unfortunately, hindsight never solves your current problem, so your foresight needs to be 20/20 instead.

One area in which new carwash investors and owners can operate this foresight is in security. After all, if you knew when a thief was going to strike, you would put all your crime-deterrent strategies in place beforehand, right? But because you can’t predict if or when your wash will become a target of crime, you might find yourself hesitant to spend money on just a possible scenario.

Types of carwash theft

Unfortunately, carwash-related crimes are topics that Professional Carwashing & Detailing reports on regularly. Not only do thieves break into vaults and cash registers, but many will also vandalize vacuums and coin bay doors to try to reach the cash inside. The cost of replacing this equipment is almost always far more than what was actually stolen.

Carwashes are also susceptible to more than just regular break-ins. Theft can even come from the inside — your employees. According to Curtis L. Ray, co-owner and vice president of Acquire Video Security, “Dishonest employees are the number one problem for carwashes.”

Employees can embezzle, skim tips, steal customers’ or co-workers’ belongings and even assist in armed robbery as someone “on the inside.” Or, they may engage in theft in the non-traditional sense by giving out free washes to friends and family members or by falsifying an injury to get worker’s compensation.

Even customers can try to cheat you, whether by, again, vandalizing coin bay or vacuum doors in the hopes of getting more time, or through credit card fraud, which your carwash may be required to assume liability for in the case of fraudulent transactions. Also, carwashes are often victims of damage claim fraud, where customers will try to convince a carwash that it is responsible for damage to their vehicles and should pay the claims.

Related: 5 insurance and security strategies for carwashes

“Some opportunistic people absolutely see carwashes as a very easy target to get free money and work done on their car,” say Jennifer Spears, sales manager, and Allen Spears, chief engineer, with “Facilities with no vehicle inspection system in place will lose against a complaining customer every single time. Being able to prove there was or was not damage on a vehicle prior to it entering your tunnel [and upon exiting] is all it takes to disprove a claim and shut down the fraud.” It will appease your insurance company as well, and you can even receive rate discounts if you put such a system in place.

The eye of the burglar

With so many ways to rob a carwash, you’ll want to be sure to put in some measure of security for your new business.

Statistically, surveillance equipment is the greatest deterrent for criminals. In 2012, the Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte conducted a study wherein it surveyed 422 randomly-selected, incarcerated burglars. According to its findings, almost 60 percent of those surveyed said that the presence of an alarm or other surveillance equipment would cause them to seek out an alternate target. In fact, 83 percent of the burglars surveyed said they would first try to determine if an alarm system was present before attempting a burglary, and if it was, about half reported that they would discontinue the attempt; 27 percent said that they would only “sometimes continue.”

Starting a business takes enough money upfront as it is, and there’s no reason to lose more to theft. Furthermore, remember that having security equipment in place will not only protect your investment, but it will also make your employees and customers feel safer.

But what sort of equipment should you be looking for? The Spears, in fact, created an acronym that they use to determine what is needed at the carwash: C.A.L.L. — Cameras, Alarms, Locks and Lighting. Some or all of these defenses will be necessary for each area of your wash.


“There is no one-size-fits-all camera system that will work for everyone,” the Spears emphasize. “A camera made for a day care playground isn’t going to withstand the harsh chemicals and humidity a carwash can throw at it. Getting the right camera for every area of the wash will make your life so much easier now and in the future.”

They suggest that new owners invest in good quality, IP68-rated cameras specially designed and tested for the carwash environment. IP68-rated cameras not only have full protection from dust and other larger, solid matter, but they are also able to withstand being immersed in water more than one meter in depth, making them especially waterproof. The Spears also recommend purchasing hybrid Digital Video Recorders (DVR) and infrared cameras that can be used during the day and night.

“A high quality, high definition camera system that completely covers the property [is] an absolute must as well. [New] investors should strongly consider an IP-based CCTV system due to its superior picture resolutions, increased service capabilities, future upgrade flexibility and the ability to adequately manage large camera counts,” Ray adds.

With so many choices available, it’s important to find a surveillance equipment manufacturer that can walk you through the entire process — custom quoting, questions, purchasing and tech support — and not simply sell the merchandise that’s on sale for that week.


“Monitored alarm systems are a no-brainer for carwashes,” Ray says. “Alarm technology has evolved to the point to where there are many more features than ever before. While they still perform their primary function to alert authorities in case of a break-in, many now can be integrated with access control, cameras and climate control. These new systems, along with their smartphone apps, allow owners/operators to arm/disarm the alarm remotely, monitor and adjust the thermostat, open gates and locks, turn lights on/off, etc.”

And, while you cannot go wrong with traditional security measures, such as cameras and alarm systems, Jason Sears, who is the communications manager at Innovative Control Systems, points out that new owners should additionally invest in other innovative types of security technology.

For instance, Sears says, “Leading edge payment terminals feature two separate sensors to deter would-be vandals and thieves: a sonic sensor that detects when someone is in front of the payment terminal … as well as a seismic sensor that detects vibration and movement when triggered by tampering.” When a sensor is tripped, the terminal will play a video to alert the criminal that the authorities have been notified and also fire a relay to trigger an alarm.

Locks and lighting

Of course, new investors should safeguard the carwash with locks on all types of doors and gates — walk-in, garage/bay/tunnel, pay station, vacuum, etc. — but there are other ways to make your carwash a difficult target for theft.

For instance, take your landscaping into account. Do you have clear visibility all around the property? Make sure, for instance, to trim bushes and trees near the wash building regularly to eliminate potential hiding places. In addition, keep your facility well lit, both inside and outside. Consider two-stage lighting that brightens when someone enters an area as well as LED lighting, which is more cost and energy efficient than ever before.

“Theft and employee theft normally happen because it’s easy for them to do it and get away with it,” the Spears conclude. “They’re looking for the opposite of working hard, so don’t make it easy for them.”

By investing in security, you can not only protect your new carwash by potentially deterring criminals, but you can also save money in the long run — money that you might not even realize you’re losing if you don’t.

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