Imagine you’re driving down a road at night and you need to stop at a gas station. There are a few all within spitting distance of each other, and all of them offer the same gas prices. One has a sign with a few burned-out bulbs and moderate lighting around the property, one has a flickering sign with only a few low-lit lights around the site and one has a vibrantly lit sign and a fully illuminated facility. Which station are you going to choose?

Chances are, you’re going to be drawn to the bright and inviting atmosphere of the fully-lit gas station. While the other two gas stations may provide a service similar in quality to the brightly lit one, the station with the half unlit sign gives off a derelict impression, and the one with low lighting is uninviting, making you feel insecure.

Of course, this logic doesn’t just apply to gas stations, but to carwashes as well. While not all carwashes are open 24/7, consider the winter months when it gets darker much earlier. “If a customer can spot the bright clean wash bays and vac areas from the road, they are much more likely to remember you are open and stop in. It is inexpensive advertising all night long,” says Jason Baright, president of G&G LED Lighting.

If your carwash is still living in the Dark Ages, there’s no better time to come out into the light than with the dawning of the LED era.

The future of upgrades is bright

First, let’s consider your signage. It’s most likely going to be the first thing that attracts a customer on the road, so it needs to stand out. One of the ways it can stand out is just by shining brighter than the nearby signs.

Luckily, if you’ve already got a backlit sign, there’s no need to spend money on a brand new one just to get the bright benefits of LED lighting. You can simply upgrade the lighting inside and, according to Michael Call, vice president of sales and marketing at Mile High LED Systems, backlighting signs with LEDs is now easier than ever.

“Before, the only way to upgrade a fluorescent sign with LEDs was to insert LED bulbs that fit in the sockets of the fluorescent fixtures. These LED bulbs [lacked] the longevity and efficiency of replacement fixtures and did not offer many of the benefits of making the change,” Call explains. “Now, new bright, waterproof LED light strings are available that don’t need to work with previous lighting sockets or placements. This makes upgrading easier and ensures the lighting upgrade will last.”

John Czech, a sales rep for TSS Inc., a carwash signage company, adds, “Perhaps the most helpful aid is that most LEDs require little to no electrical wiring for converting.”

The experts we’ve interviewed all agree that switching over from traditional lighting to LED lighting does not necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing deal. First, you should determine what at your business needs to convert, and then by planning out your lighting upgrades in stages, you can devise a plan to keep initial costs and unwanted expenses down.

You’ll also need to begin by researching and contacting a reputable wet-location LED manufacturer or your carwash equipment supplier. But if you’re still not sure exactly what you need at this point, that’s okay, because now you can leave it to the professionals.

According to Call and Baright, many companies will perform complimentary lighting assessments and layouts for your facility and offer recommendations as well as energy cost savings calculations based on your current situation.

Related: 5 factors of LEDs carwashes should keep in mind

However, Baright warns, “The surge in demand for LEDs has led to a wide variety of new products, many coming from overseas with cheap foreign components and almost no testing. Do your homework prior to purchasing and be on the lookout for certification marks as well as product construction and origin.”

The golden age of cost savings

“LEDs are no longer as expensive as they were five or 10 years ago,” says Czech. “The cost margin for keeping traditional lighting over upgrading to LED lighting has shrunk so much that it has become virtually a non-factor.”

According to the experts we interviewed for this article, while traditional lighting, such as incandescent, fluorescent and neon, may cost an average of 30 percent less initially, in the long run, you will spend more on maintaining and replacing faulty and burned out bulbs than by simply upgrading to LED lighting.

LEDs last longer than traditional light bulbs, which may need to be replaced every one to three years. Remember that sign with the burned-out bulbs from our earlier scenario? With LEDs, a sloppily-lit sign won’t be a problem. Call says, “Some of the hardest and most costly lighting maintenance items are keeping signs working. The sign boxes are often difficult [to] open, and finding the right bulbs can be troublesome. LED lighting can last 20 years without maintenance. This saves you time and ensures your sign is always working to drive business.”

Related: LED info you need to know

In addition, LED lighting can save you from 50 to 80 percent in energy costs. While you may not see the return on investment (ROI) initially, rest assured that you will see it in the long term. Just by reducing maintenance and energy costs, a switchover from traditional lighting to LEDs can provide an ROI in anywhere from one to three years.

“ROI can be reduced even further by rebate incentives and LED fixtures qualified through DLC and other energy programs,” explains Baright. “Additionally, many operators often credit the new, welcoming appearance of bright wash bays with an uptick in revenue, especially in the evening hours and winter months.”

For appearance’s sake

Finally, LED lighting not only saves you money, but it makes your carwash more attractive as well. With their long lifetimes, you won’t have to worry about old, flashing bulbs or dim spots when one bulb goes bad.

Entire carwash signs will stay bright and consistent for many years. And, LEDs have a much higher light quality than traditional lighting, which is often an overlooked but significant advantage, according to Baright.

“Light quality is measured by the effect of a light source on color appearance and is expressed by a product’s color rendering index (CRI), on a scale of 0 to 100. Quality LED products carry a CRI of 85+, much higher than traditional light sources. This causes colors to pop and creates a clean, modern and safe appearance to customers,” Baright explains.

Integrating LED lighting throughout your wash will also make it attractive to customers. By lighting your perimeter, vacuum bays and wash areas, you will make customers feel safe even at night. Just focusing on one area of the wash, however, will make the others appear dim and less inviting, so be sure to stay consistent when upgrading or installing your lighting.

Color LEDs are another growing trend, and you can attract new customers by highlighting certain areas of your wash with colorful LEDs. These LEDs are especially useful for carwashes to highlight wash cycles or provide a light show to heighten the carwash experience.

Other advancements in LED technology have been made in both dimming and controls, and even more new advances to check out include tube lighting and bendable LED lighting.

Czech believes that, with all these factors in their favor, “LEDs will eventually phase out past traditional lighting methods and become the industry standard in signage and security.” In the end, having a medieval mindset about lighting is only going to keep your carwash from progressing through the ages. Snuff out your torches and step into the LED light.