Vandalism, theft and other crimes committed at carwashes are common stories in the news. Frequent reportage on vandalism and theft at unattended washes has made carwashes popular targets for criminals.

Especially at self-serve and in-bay automatic locations, facilities are often left unattended and open throughout the night. Automated pay stations and user-friendly equipment allow customers to use a carwash without an employee present in some locations, and this model is profitable for many businesses. However, unattended bays and low nighttime visibility can attract criminal activity. Security systems and cameras can help to deter these actions, aid in catching perpetrators and help to validate other events like accidents as part of insurance claims.

New tech keeps businesses safer

Randy Jones, president of GNISEC, Gemco National Industrial Security LLP, says closed-circuit television (CCTV) has seen major improvements since the digital revolution in consumer electronics began in the late 1990s.

“With the advances in computers and the ever increasing data storage cheaply available, it has become very inexpensive to capture, store and remotely view very good quality video,” Jones explains. More recent advances have allowed CCTV to move to high definition and Blu-ray quality video.

Allen Spears, chief engineer from CarWashCameras.com, says many common features seen in today’s systems are taken for granted.

In the past, cameras recorded in black and white and had limited night vision, he notes. Motion detection was also a new technology, and it was not as effective as it is now.

Spears adds, “Now, even entry level systems have the ability to detect events, send email notifications, control lighting and equipment via relays and even see live video and control everything on your cell phone. Video quality has also progressed to Megapixel quality and beyond.”

Security systems now use Internet connections and modern digital video recording (DVR) to provide even more peace of mind. Jones explains that it can be easy to be notified of events and look up details.

“For example, by running a wire and installing a switch on any opening, (door, cash box, motion detector) the DVR can mark the recording and provide an instant search tool to these activities,” Spears continues. “It can even be set to send an email with a picture attached whenever an event is triggered.”

Curtis Ray, vice president of Acquire Video Security, states widespread use of smart phones and tablets has created demand for apps that allow users to view camera footage directly on their mobile devices.

Ray says analog and IP-based camera systems are commonplace in today’s world, and more advances to these systems are coming.

“The next major advancement in video surveillance technology is 4K Ultra HD,” explains Ray. “These systems can record and store images with [four] times higher resolution than standard 1080p.”       

Constant monitoring is key

Retail thefts, vandalism, burglaries, bogus damage claims and crimes against customers are other forms of criminality that occur at carwashes, states Spears.

According to Jones, vandalism is the largest crime facing most carwashes. He says this is because they are often unattended after hours, so many opportunities exist on the property for vandals.

“Even though there are many ‘tamper proof’ devices in use today, a vandal can still cause a great deal of damage attempting to gain access to cash,” notes Jones. “With the use of detection devices, alarms and video recorders, there are many ways to combat [vandalism].”

Not only can security systems help to catch criminals after the fact, but they can also work as a deterrent before a crime ever takes place, shares Ray. Intrusion alarms and video surveillance are two ways to discourage criminal activity at a carwash business.

“Criminals typically like to follow the path of least resistance and will tend to pick their targets based on the opportunity to commit their crimes quickly and with little to no chance of getting caught,” Ray adds.

"[This] deterrence factor can also translate over to employees of the carwash who might consider committing a crime against their employer or wash customers based solely on opportunity,” he continues.

The right equipment for every wash format

“In general, for all types of carwashes, [operators should have] an HD-capable eight or 16 channel DVR to base the system on,” notes Jones. “The selection of this unit is the most important piece of the puzzle, as you will be relying on the feature set that the DVR and its related remote software offer.”

Spears cites experience with his own carwash when recommending what equipment should be part of an effective security system.

“At my own in-bay automatics, there were commonly three types of damage that I had to deal with: damage to a customer’s car, damage to my equipment and problems or thefts from my pay stations,” he shares.

Spears advises cameras have at least two views of pay stations, the wash process and exits. He also says it is important to have exceptionally good views of the front and back of license plates approaching and entering bays.

Ray states that for in-bay automatic and self-serve washes, remote monitoring is important since they are often left unattended.

“A lower cost yet good quality analog or even IP-based system works best for these locations where adequately capturing pre-existing damage on vehicles isn’t necessary,” he notes. “These washes are generally smaller and do not require as many cameras as well.”

According to Jones, paying for monthly monitoring service is another option for ensuring a wash is observed at all times.

“A monitored system will cost a monthly monitoring fee, but unless the owner/operator wants to be on call 24/7, it is well worth the fee. These systems can be useful whether the carwash is open for business or not,” Jones states.

Jones shares that a waterproof/tamperproof day/night model with built-in infrared will allow monitoring during the overnight hours. “This is a very inexpensive general purpose camera format today, and will stand up to environmental abuse,” he continues.

For in-bay automatics specifically, Ray says owners should invest in systems with DVRs that have more channels to capture pay stations and the insides of bays.

Ray believes owners of tunnel carwashes should invest in high-quality equipment with commercial grade IP-based network surveillance systems and the best resolution possible.

Upkeep is minimal, safety is high

Surveillance systems require little upkeep, but they can offer a large return on investment. Jones says to keep the DVR in a clean, dry environment, and systems will last several years.

Spears recommends performing regular inspections to keep everything running smoothly. “A monthly check to make sure that the system is still recording to a healthy hard drive or remote cloud, and also periodic cleaning of camera lenses, especially outdoor and bay cameras, will keep your system humming along nicely,” he says.

Due to the chemicals and other conditions common in carwashes, Spears reiterates the importance of installing high-quality equipment.

“The corrosive environments found in carwash bays and tunnels are really hard on cameras, so it is vitally important to make sure that the camera has a waterproof rating of at least IP67 or IP68,” he shares. “It also helps to make sure that you get a two or three year warranty, because any camera placed in a challenging environment, such as a carwash, needs a longer warranty period.”