Should You Prep Cars at Your Tunnel Car Wash?

As tunnel car washes have increased in popularity, and express models try to process as many cars as possible while offering a fast wash time to customers, operators have become acutely aware of how much time each step takes. In the interest of streamlining the process, one question that consistently comes up is: Should you prep cars at your tunnel car wash?

one hogs hair prep brush and one synthetic prep brush

Different Ways to Prep Cars

The most common way to prep cars, considered by many as the true definition of prepping, is to have an employee use a high-quality prep brush to thoroughly scrub the car exterior – especially trouble spots like grills, license plates, wheel wells, and areas under windshield wipers. Obviously, doing this properly requires a relatively significant amount of time and energy from employees that adds up when you’re processing a lot of vehicles. Other operators use a slightly easier process of spraying cars down with prep spray guns before they enter the tunnel. This takes less time than scrubbing and requires less elbow grease from employees, but is – arguably – less effective than scrubbing. Some operators use a combination of the two methods to offer a truly thorough prepping process.

Pros of Prepping Cars

  • Shows a higher level of customer service
  • When done correctly, nearly guarantees every spot on the car gets attention
  • Employees see tips, or better tips, when they prep cars – better employee experience and retention
  • Don’t have to be as aggressive with friction brush and cloth setup – cuts down on damage complaints from customers
two blue rocket car wash employees scrubbing a car before it goes in the tunnel
Blue Rocket Car Wash in Ridgecrest, CA uses multiple employees to prep cars before they enter the tunnel

Cons of Prepping Cars

  • Hand scrubbing, especially done by newer, less-experienced employees, brings with it the risk of scratching and damage
  • Takes a lot of time – customers have a longer wash time and you process fewer cars
  • May have to hire more employees to be sure an attendant/prep person is always on duty
  • Instead of only dealing with tunnel equipment, you’ll have to regularly purchase additional supplies. You’ll need prep brushes, spray guns, and possibly even different soaps than what you use in your tunnel.
  • Instead of fine tuning your tunnel setup, you may lean on prep and never realize the potential of your equipment.
one employee scrubbing a car while another sprays it with water
Blue Rocket uses both scrubbing and spraying while prepping

Thoughts from Real Car Wash Owners

We noticed a discussion about prepping on the TalkCarWash Facebook page, and the majority of folks in the conversation were in favor of prepping in some capacity. Below is some of the feedback offered in that thread.

Chris Redman operates the Wave Carwash chain in Lacey, WA, with six locations within 30 miles of the original location. Regarding prepping, he said:

“We prep and turn out an amazing product. We tried both ways at numerous sites we have and customers perceive more value in what we do versus our competitors who don’t. Not to mention the huge amounts of tip income our employees receive is a huge help in employee retention. That drives quality and customer service. Most all of our base employees stay with us for years. That makes it easier to develop management because long term employees know how to do every job well. Our job pays better than most any you can find. Plus, our minimum wage is $16.28, so add another $10-15 dollars an hour to that and it’s hard for college students to find more money anywhere else.”

Michael M. Berry of Detroit’s Splash Auto Wash has a more nuanced take and opts for a restrained approach to prepping:

“This debate will go on for a long time. During the summer, unless it’s really dirty, we do not prep. We hit the trouble spots i.e. bugs, crusty bird droppings, and heavy grime. During the winter we turn on the hot water and really hit the backs a lot more with the prep guns. We haven’t scrubbed in years! If you have to scrub than you don’t have the right equipment setup.”

Like many questions when it comes to operating a car wash, there’s a reason it’s an ongoing conversation. It’s possible that you try prepping and simply feel it isn’t worth it for your business because of the added time and hassle. Just be aware that customers often notice the extra attention, and it might be the thing that sets you apart from the tunnel down the street.

two employees at big league car wash scrubbing a car
Big League Car Wash in New Braunfels, TX is another successful tunnel that makes prepping a priority

If you found this article helpful, check out these related blogs about tunnel car washes!

Selecting Tunnel Wash Chemicals

Car Wash Tunnel Roller and Chain Maintenance

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