Gone are the days of a carwash attracting customers solely with a functional location. While making an industrial building an exciting environment is a definite challenge, the modern car care market is full of examples where flashy, fun and functional sites have become the go-to carwash in a defined area. Sites that have found new ways to add color, visual excitement and even animations to tunnels have made their washes family-friendly and more popular.

Improved lighting systems and owners with regimented cleaning and upkeep schedules have aided in the mission of making carwashes more inviting. One piece of hard-working equipment that has helped brighten tunnels and added massive visual appeal is the modern carwash arch. In fact, many tunnel washes now feature multiple colorful arches, and each is responsible for both providing visual flair and dispensing a different service during the wash cycle.

From cameras and communicative signage to tunnel lighting and added service applications, arches are now a workhorse-style tool depended on by many operators. Thankfully, modern construction methods mean these popular add-ons are now designed to survive for years in a high-volume wash environment.

Widespread popularity

Today’s popular arches can help carwashes achieve a clean, bright look in different ways. Bobby Jones, art director at TSS Inc., notes that arches with graphics that match carwash theming should also have complementary graphics with the extra service that they dispense. Here, the arch is working in two ways. One, it graphically represents the business and the extra service being applied. Two, it hides the mundane wash equipment that is dispensing the application. Thus, the arches provide some life to an otherwise dull process or section of a carwash.

The arches’ visual cues further comfort customers when they select additional services. Jones states that a lot of consumers are hesitant to purchase extras because they are skeptical that they are receiving the services inside the tunnel. The visually-interesting arch can reassure these doubting customers.

“You purchased the triple foam, the triple foam arch goes off, and you see the triple foam applied to your car,” Jones explains. “The customer feels satisfied that they did receive the items that they paid for because of the application arches.”

Steve Michuta, eastern regional sales manager with PECO Car Wash Systems, also points to arches’ abilities to highlight extra service applications — or enhance upgraded wash purchases — to explain their continued popularity. Lighted arches are another popular option that have been available for a while. There has been a noticeable increase in popularity with the use of LEDs on carwash arches.

Signage and custom design

The proliferation of carwash arches means they are now available in a wide array of designs. Many are also customizable. Michuta notes that any carwash can develop arch designs and signage to create an image, branding or theme for a wash site.

Jones recommends that operators brand all arches to be consistent with the existing carwash’s brand and theme. This not only reinforces the business’ branding, but it also helps assure the customer and builds brand loyalty as well. Customer assurance creates loyalty because wash users begin to recognize the brand, and they will associate the brand with good carwash results.

“At the end of the day, that’s how you drive repeat business. It’s very achievable,” Jones says. “Any type of arch can easily be branded, incorporating specific color schemes. Then, we use different animations to accentuate their existing brand.”

Combining signage options and lighting interplay is another important step when working with carwash arches, according to Jones. The arch’s appearance often comes down to not only the graphic representation, but incorporating different animations as well. One example occurs when there’s actually soap on the vehicle. Here, an owner will need a big, bright, unique animation to be visible and continue adding excitement to the unique wash experience.

Jones continues, “A lot of carwashes are trying to find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, and the show that you put on through your arches as a combination of graphics and animations is one way that you can create that experience.”

Astounding versatility

Another advantage modern carwash arches offer owners is ultimate versatility. Michuta states that they can apply multiple chemical applications which are needed to effectively clean and dry a vehicle as well as improve the shine and protection.

Jones breaks carwash arches down into two categories: entry arches and application arches. The entry type is the first arch that the customer will see upon arriving at the carwash. This type of arch often has multiple functions.

First, this arch greets the arriving customer and provides the ever-important first impression. Jones notes that it also serves to instruct customers: car in neutral, foot off brake, hands off wheel, wipers off, etc. Other information it can communicate includes confirming the wash package purchased while giving visitors a unique animation show.

“You pull in and you’re greeted with this magnificent entry piece that has the carwash branding embedded in it, it has a show, and it’s also informing and instructing,” Jones describes.

The second type of arch is found inside the tunnels — the application arch. This arch can hide the equipment and give the selected service an animation and graphic. According to Jones, the extra services applied by arches vary greatly but can include:

  • A generic presoak
  • A sealer wax
  • A triple foam
  • A spot-free rinse
  • Name-brand chemical treatments.

Common dos and don’ts

Two common mistakes Jones recognizes frequently are locations not keeping with their consistent branding and sites utilizing a mix-and-match arch system. When a carwash has one type of arch upfront, another type in the middle and another at the end, and they all have varying degrees of design and manufacturing, customers may realize the arches are just piecemealed together.

“If a customer pulls into a wash and knows from point A to point Z that you have consistent tunnels and consistent design, they feel they’re in an elegant atmosphere and environment. Therefore, they feel reassured washing their vehicle there,” Jones explains.

Another mistake Jones notices are carwashes that do not put animation technology on the arch. These arches don’t add any type of lighting, and sometimes the absence of light makes the arch signage difficult to read. This is especially true when a customer is actually experiencing the wash process.

Conversely, one arch best practice is to add as many animations as possible while keeping the look sophisticated. In other words, don’t add LED just for the sake of having it, but put some thought into the animation, Jones states. “Elegant LEDs together give a nice burst of color and bring attention to the extra services. It should serve as a complementary item, not a distraction. I think that the colors can do that.”

Jones sums up his recommended arch best practices. First, be comprehensive and consistent in arch design. Next, utilize animation and try to tie wash designs all together.

Animated arches

What types of animation options are available with today’s arches? The common LED lights installed on arches can be set to a number of different displays: spin, slash, chase, fade and color change. Jones says that there are combinations of various options and fixtures, including LED pucks, that can display unique animation.

The way the carwash’s arches are ordered will further determine a site’s type of animation.

The LED presentations can be anything from active flashing to fading and slow color changing, according to Jones. On the inside of the arch, owners can have an LED light strip that is also capable of different animations. As customers are passing underneath it, they’re actually seeing the LED strip lighting inside the vehicle as well.

Construction and installation

Michuta notes that the equipment life and appearance of any component in the carwash is now determined by the materials manufacturers use. Some materials are more affected by chemical applications than others, and this should be a key in evaluating any investment in arches and other signage.

Jones states that most arch lifespans extend from four to seven years if the construction is anodized aluminum with aluminum graphic panels and mounted LED lighting. It is recommended that operators resurface this type of arch and signage every couple of years to get a new, fresh look.

“For a minor financial investment, you can get a whole new look in your tunnel by refacing some of the graphic arches,” Jones says. “Just so things don’t stay too stagnant in your carwash marketing, you can add a little excitement and some dynamics to it.”

Finally, depending on the configuration of equipment in a carwash tunnel, an arch’s installation process should be quick if nothing has to be relocated. Michuta reminds owners that they should have a plan for their wash chemically before they purchase additional arches. Also, current chemical and water usage should always be considered.

Truly, carwash arches in many locations have combined functionality and excitement, giving a good example of the arch’s wide-reaching versatility. New arch equipment available in the market today, and their delivering systems, can positively impact your business in many ways. From elevating the customer experience and improving wash results to cost saving benefits, arches can bridge many gaps at your carwash.


Charles Brady is a freelance contributor.