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Carwash 101: What is an In-Bay Automatic Car Wash?

If you’re considering opening a car wash, you’re probably interested in what makes each type unique. From tunnels to self-serve stations, each option has its benefits and challenges. 

One of the most popular and profitable car wash options is the in-bay automatic car wash. This type of wash allows customers to park while the automatic car wash equipment moves around the vehicle to fully clean the car. 

The customer gets a fast, convenient and automatic experience, and the owner benefits from a space-saving and customizable car wash solution that can bring more customers through the door. 

That said, there’s plenty to consider before investing in a new automatic car wash, from the wash process to profit potential.

How Does an In-Bay Automatic Car Wash Work?

An in-bay automatic car wash is relatively simple. Customers typically make a purchase at a self-service terminal in the car wash bay of their choice. The vehicle stays stationary during the wash process while machinery moves around it.

Depending on the type of car wash bay equipment, the wash itself can vary. Some wash bay solutions offer touchless car washes, while others use brushes and rollers. 

It’s important to note the in-bay car wash keeps the vehicle stationary. If the car moves from point A to point B via a conveyor or other mechanism, it’s considered a tunnel car wash instead of an in-bay car wash. 

Pros of In-Bay Automatic Car Washes

In-bay car washes have their fair share of benefits. Requiring few to no employees, this car wash model can become a lucrative passive business. While it takes a higher startup cost than self-serve models, it also offers a more significant revenue opportunity. 

Convenience 

Customers love the convenience of in-bay washes. All they have to do is pick a bay and order a wash through the terminal, and the wash is completed in minutes.

Consistent Cleaning Results

In-bay car washes and their automatic equipment provide a thorough cleaning. Brushes or touchless sprays can reach the car’s entire body, including the windows, undercarriage, and wheels. The machinery offers customers consistent – and impressive – results every time without relying on manual labor.

User-Friendly

Most in-bay car washes don’t require on-site personnel for bookings. Whether through a mobile app or touch screen kiosk, wash bay systems allow customers to handle everything themselves. 

The system walks them through purchasing step by step. Once the booking is complete, it offers simple instructions on pulling into the bay and completing the car wash process.  

Cost-Effective

In-bay washes are one of the more cost-effective models. They don’t require the same space and resources as a tunnel wash. While installing the equipment still takes an upfront investment, you just need to maintain the equipment and keep products topped off once you’ve established yourself.

24/7 Accessibility

Unlike manual car washes or automatic washes with attendants, in-bay automatic car washes don’t require anybody on site. This means they’re available anytime. Customers love the flexibility, while car wash owners can benefit from the increased profit potential of accessing people who work odd hours.

Environmentally Friendly 

The average at-home wash uses a garden hose, which can pump out 17 gallons per minute. In just 10 minutes, an at-home car wash could use up to 170 gallons of water. In contrast, the average commercial in-bay or tunnel automatic car wash takes just 35 to 85 gallons per car. 

In-bay automatic car washes use even less water than other types of car washes, too. While most in-bay washes use brushes, touchless tunnel washes rely solely on water pressure to deliver clean results. This means they can use far more water than their in-bay counterparts. Not only that, but installing water reclamation equipment can go a long way to reducing your environmental impact. An optimized water recycling set-up reduces average freshwater gallons per wash (GPW) to just 30-35.

Cons of In-Bay Automatic Car Washes

In-bay automatic car washes can be a great asset for businesses, whether part of a dedicated car wash or offered as an add-on service at another business. However, they come with a fair share of cons as well. 

Compared to tunnel car washes or self-service car washes, there are a few areas where in-bay automatic car washes offer some tradeoffs.

Limited Personalized Service

The great thing about in-bay automatic car washes is how they balance self-service and automatic washes. However, their personalization options are limited. There are only so many features you can add to a stationary bay wash, while complex tunnel washes have room for more equipment to customize the experience.

Depending on the indoor car wash bay you choose, you may be able to offer more than one wash package, but your customers will still have limited options. 

Lack of Hand Drying

In-bay automatic car washes may be automated, but they’re also self-serve. That means there isn’t an option to upgrade to other services, like a hand wash or dry with microfiber towels. Most vehicle wash bays offer drying services, but customers may have to give up luxuries like hand drying in favor of the in-bay’s convenience. 

Not Suitable for Large Vehicles

Even if most of your target audience drives smaller vehicles, you could still lose out on valuable business with an in-bay automatic car wash. Like most tunnel washes, the in-bay car wash has limited space. This can make it unsuitable for larger vehicles, including vans, box trucks, RVs, or even some pickups. 

Lower Customer Throughput 

While automatic car wash systems like tunnel washes can wash more than one car simultaneously, wash bay systems are limited to one car at a time. Unless you have the space for multiple bays, this can lead to a lower throughput per hour. If the demand is high enough, it could lead to longer lines and customer frustration. 

Is an In-Bay Automatic Car Wash the Best Option for Your Business?

The in-bay automatic car wash has all the convenience of self-service without the high expense of tunnel car washes. But it also has downsides, including lower customer output, limited customization options, and a higher likelihood of vehicle damage. 

An in-bay car wash can be an excellent choice for businesses who want to add car washes to their services without dedicating a whole site to car washes. For example, a community convenience store or gas station can add wash bays to their property to make car washes a regular part of the customer’s trip to their store.

A newer trend is to convert older in-bay washes to express tunnel washes. Express tunnel car washes offer 2-4 times faster speed of service, with washes completed in under 2 minutes. With in-bay car washes, many drivers simply pass by the service station or convenience store that operates it if they see a long queue.

Choose the Best Car Wash Equipment for Improved Customer Experience

Whether installing or servicing an in-bay automatic wash, or converting one to an express tunnel, NCS can help. It takes high-quality, well-built machinery to get a car wash running smoothly –  and deliver the results your customers are looking for. 

National Carwash Solutions is a leading provider of everything it takes to run a successful car wash. Take a look at NCS car wash equipment and services, or contact us today to find the perfect fit for your business goals.

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