License Plate Readers Find Success in Car Wash Applications


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags were a revolution in the car wash industry, giving operators a simple, low-maintenance method to manage subscription membership programs. These memberships, which include loyalty programs and unlimited clubs, stand as a perfect win-win for customers who want to maintain their vehicle’s appearance with more frequent monthly washes at a lower cost as well as sponsoring car washes looking to build a steady customer base. Once installed in the customers’ vehicle, the RFID tags work with the car wash database and point of sale systems to allow automatic wash admittance and wash package selection per the customer’s chosen membership level.


But, innovative and successful as RFID tags are in this role, they aren’t a perfect solution, and already their replacements have begun to make an appearance in the market.


Driven by cloud technology, the proliferation of smartphones, and cheap modern computing power, license plate readers (LPRs) offer all the advantages and functionality of RFID tags while allowing greater and more sophisticated automation at the entrance queue. The systems work thanks to high definition cameras, automatic sensor systems, and sophisticated imaging software tied into the wash’s member database and point of sale system. Instead of manually attaching a tag to the inside of the customer vehicle after every single membership sale, the license plate information can be entered over the phone, at the cashier window, or even by the customer themselves over the internet—a change that minimizes labor and eliminates the recurring expense of new tags. Plus, plate and payment information is retained in the database for easy renewal by the customer in the future.


The real world evidence for the benefits of these plate readers is mounting. Beginning in early 2016 LPR systems were installed on all Tommy’s Express Car Wash locations as they opened, allowing the young franchise to quickly begin building an Unlimited Club membership base. At the same time the franchise rolled out the Tommy’s Express App on both Apple and Android devices, giving customers an interface with which to purchase, change, cancel, or renew their memberships remotely without visiting the car wash, installing or removing a tag, or handing over a credit card at the cashier window.


The response has been decidedly favorable with high membership sales, app downloads, and reduced queue times at wash locations due to the rapid and automatic admittance of Unlimited Club members. The technology has also provided a strong selling point for the brand and has the potential to be used in the future to track non-club member vehicles as their drivers purchase single washes, in order to build customer profiles and market Unlimited Club promotions in the pay lane itself.



For the time being, Tommy Car Wash Systems’ licence plate readers and club application are standard for Tommy’s Express franchise locations. A customizable version of the wash club will launch in January of 2017 and, along with associated LPR hardware, be made available upon request to customers operating four sites or more. For pricing or to request additional information, please visit


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