Is It Time to Switch to a Tunnel Car Wash?

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Is It Time to Switch to a Tunnel Car Wash?

By Renée M. Covino, Convenience Store News - 02/19/2019
tunnel car wash

NATIONAL REPORT — In the case of the car wash business, tunnel vision can be a good thing. The trend of late is convenience stores opting to install the more expensive tunnel wash vs. the industry-standard in-bay automatic (rollover) wash.

Consider The Spinx Co., the convenience store chain based in Greenville, S.C., which opened its first express tunnel car wash, the Ride 'N' Shine tunnel wash, to coincide with a new store opening last year. Each Ride 'N' Shine wash features an environmentally-conscious water reclamation system and eco-friendly chemicals.

Spinx’s Ride 'N' Shine tunnel wash also boasts advanced technology. The system uses a 3-D scan of each vehicle to precisely target soap and high-pressure water based on the vehicle's size and shape for the most accurate clean. The tunnel wash is equipped with specially engineered blowers, too, that are said to achieve a drier vehicle while conserving energy.

"While all car washes may appear to be the same, our new tunnel wash sets us apart from the competition, and our trained staff and high-tech equipment will deliver a great experience and quick, thorough car washes to our customers," said Stewart Spinks, founder and chairman of The Spinx Co, operator of more than 80 c-stores.

Also last year, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Gate Petroleum Co. — which operates car washes at many of its convenience stores — unveiled its first location in the standalone car wash business, under the banner of Gate Express Carwash. Located in Jacksonville, the site features a 125-foot tunnel system that can wash a car in less than four minutes.

Gate Petroleum, which operates and/or supplies fuel for nearly 200 locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, is reportedly positioning standalone car washes near its Gate convenience stores and gas stations. The chain is looking to lead in car wash development as other express-wash competitors enter the market.

Like Spinx and Gate, CEFCO Convenience Stores is yet another c-store operator in the car wash business that recently went more premium with a tunnel system. The Temple, Texas-based chain with 225 stores aims to bring more of a "wow" factor to its car wash customers by way of a waterfall foam feature and high-pressure cleaning for tires and rims.


For those convenience store operators already in the car wash business, or those looking to get into it, here are four key questions to ask to determine if a tunnel car wash is the best type of wash system for your operation:

1. Do You Have the Space?

Whether it's an upgrade or a new-build, tunnel car wash systems require more physical space than in-bay automatics.

2. What Are Your Goals?

Getting a leg up on the competition and being first to market were driving factors for both Spinx and Gate Petroleum. However, it's good to go beyond that — as they did — with a clear vision of benefits. In the case of CEFCO, the intent was also to have more satisfied customers, but with reduced labor costs.

3. Are You Ready to Do the (Proper) Math?

The most common call that car wash equipment supplier Sonny's Enterprises Inc. gets from c-store operators is asking how can they upgrade and make their car wash more profitable, according to Kevin Collette, vice president of sales at Sonny's, based in Tamarac, Fla. He cautions that car-washing success does not necessarily follow the volume of gasoline sold or the amount of inside store sales. To properly analyze, many factors must be evaluated.

4. Can You Maintain Customer Loyalty?

Once you attract customers with an upgraded car wash, you have to keep them. The best wash services today go hand-in-hand with a loyalty program.

Click below to download our full report, "Tunnel Vision."