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Carwash 101: What Is a Tunnel Car Wash?

From in-bay automatics to tunnels to express tunnels and self-service systems, there are many business models for operators in the car wash industry to choose from. If you’re a newbie, considering buying a car wash, investing in a car wash or just curious, is good to know what a car wash tunnel is all about.

The tunnel car wash is especially popular thanks to its efficiency and high profit potential. While a self-serve car wash can yield anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 a year in profits, a tunnel car wash far exceeds that — it can reach or surpass  half a million in profits each year. 

Let’s explore tunnel car washes in detail, from how they work to their many benefits for wash operators. 

What Is a Tunnel Car Wash, and How Does It Work? 

Tunnel washes are automatic car wash systems that extend through a tunnel and use a conveyor belt to move the car from one cleaning station to the next. At each cleaning station, different wash equipment takes care of a particular task. For example, high-pressure water nozzles can spray down the vehicle, or foam brushes can gently scrub the exterior. 

These systems are designed to be quick and efficient, so customers can get a full clean in a few minutes without leaving their vehicles. 

As this kind of car wash covers more ground, tunnel systems tend to be larger than other types of car washes. They can also wash a higher volume of vehicles each day. 

Benefits of a Tunnel Car Wash

There are plenty of viable options for a car wash business, so what makes a tunnel car wash system worth the investment? Here are three benefits of a tunnel car wash for operators and owners. 

Consistent Cleaning Results

With a quality car wash tunnel, you’re guaranteed the same great result every time. As long as your car wash tunnel equipment is in working condition, you can rest easy knowing customers are getting what they’re paying for. 

Ability To Handle a High Volume of Cars Per Hour

According to a 2022 report, 36% of consumers go through a car wash at least once a week. With so many people getting their vehicles professionally washed, the most successful car washes are those that can handle a larger volume of customers. 

Tunnel car washes are quick, efficient and don’t have heavy labor requirements, making it easy to serve more customers. A busy tunnel wash can even handle hundreds of customers in a day. More customers mean tunnel car washes have a much higher revenue potential than other car wash systems. 

Car Wash Tunnel Systems by Wash Type

Express car wash tunnels can serve more customers — and at a faster rate — compared to in-bay options. But there are a few different car wash tunnel systems to choose from. 

Here are the different kinds of washing methods that tunnel systems can provide. 

Automatic Car Washes

The automatic car wash is the most common drive-through option. It uses a conveyor to move each car through the tunnel, cleaning cars in just a few minutes. 

The experience customers get from an automatic tunnel wash depends on the type of tunnel car wash equipment it has. A standard automatic car wash uses physical brushes to clean the car. On the other hand, soft-touch car washes use gentle applicators, like clothes or foam brushes, to clean the car. 

Touchless Car Washes

A touchless tunnel car wash is exactly what it sounds like. It works just like an automatic car wash, except it doesn’t involve any brushes, bristles or other hand wash equipment. Instead, the touchless wash process uses high-pressure hoses to apply the cleaning solution and rinse down the car. 

Touchless systems use special detergents to break down dirt and grime, as well as a powerful hose to effectively clean the surface of the car without any direct contact. It even uses pressurized air to dry the vehicle at the end of the wash. 

Self-Service Car Washes 

While self-service car washes and tunnel car washes are different systems, some owners or operators will create a business model that mixes both. Customers can take their car through the tunnel wash for exterior cleaning and then turn to a self-service station to vacuum the interior or perform detailing services. 

Full-Service Car Washes

A full-service car wash includes an exterior wash and a full detail, inside and out. However, you can always offer interior and exterior detailing as extra services in addition to having an express tunnel. 

Partner With Industry Leaders in Tunnel Car Wash Systems

Tunnel car washes are a staple in the professional car wash industry. While they can require a significant investment to get off the ground, their speed, efficiency and traffic capacity make them powerful revenue generators. 

If you’re entering the car wash industry, set yourself up for success by working with industry leaders such as National Carwash Solutions. We provide everything from quality washing equipment to tunnel system installation to help you outperform your competition. Learn more NCS, and contact us today to get your partnership started.

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