Getting it Right, the Importance of Proper Car Wash Site Layout


The location and layout of a new car wash can make or break its long-term success, which makes proper design and good site selection some of the most critical and strategically demanding early steps in the car wash development process.


To learn more, we asked Nate Smith, a 2D and 3D designer and layout specialist at Tommy Car Wash Systems, a few questions about car wash layouts and the process behind them. Nate went to school for 3D design and since joining the Tommy Car Wash System’s team has taken over the 2D drawings for site layouts as well. His focus is on overall site selection and approval as part of new and prospective car wash developments.


Q: Why is it so important that car wash layouts, in particular, be done right?


Much like everything we do here at Tommy Car Wash Systems, there is a science to creating great car wash sites. Based on the experience and criteria we’ve built up in our previous projects, we are able to define all of the key traits that made our car washes so successful. To us, the best locations mean nothing if we cannot accommodate the perfect site layout. If the site does not flow well or does not allow us to meet our own internal standards, we know that the site will not live up to our expectations or those of our customers. Our top priority is to set every customer and site up for success, which is why we have steadily become more involved and more strict with our site and layout standards over time.


Q: At what point in the car wash startup process should layout be decided, and city approval begin?


We are focusing on trying to get a “soft approval” from the city before prospective customers even identify potential land for sites. We’ve found more and more throughout the approval process that many cities have strict standards that can compromise our own internal standards. Therefore it is extremely important to find out as early as possible if a Totally Tommy car wash building will be approved before someone invests time, money, or energy into a potential site.


Once this positive relationship is established, then a site layout will be drawn up. And once we have a solid concept drawn up, a civil engineer will make sure everything is good to go, and that point the official city presentation can begin.


Q: Do you have any examples of common layout mistakes or real-world layouts that were done poorly?


Actually there are quite a few common mistakes that are made with older sites, or if someone outside of Tommy Car Wash Systems or a professional car wash development team attempts to draw up a potential site on their own.


The most common mistakes I would say are due to lot size and shape. Many problems come from trying to force an awkward layout onto piece of land that is either too small or not rectangular. Typical errors include incorrect site orientation, as we prefer to have our main tower and paylanes out front. Another common error is not having enough space in our turn stack or when customers are exiting the wash tunnel. This prevents cars from having adequate space to straighten out when entering the tunnel and not hit curbs, as well as to safely exit the wash and have plenty of space around other cars, and again, not hitting curbs. A site that is on a triangular-shaped lot, or really any irregular shape, typically will have both of these problems, and may even have other problems like cutting out the vacuum center.


All of these issues lead to a poor site design that does not flow or will not run efficiently.


Q: What are the best strategies for prospective car wash owners or operators to keep in mind when they approach potential sites?


When trying to find land for a potential future site, the biggest thing to look for is a rectangular piece of land that is at least an acre. Many sites have decent setbacks, and most require some kind of water detention, both of which can easily push the size of the land required to over an acre. If we have at least an acre to work with, chances are we can make you a great layout.


Aside from the site layout itself, the location is also a huge factor. We have a ton of great tips here on our site models page for prospective owners to look for.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


Come See Tommy Car Wash Systems at The Car Wash Show 2016!

The Car Wash ShowTake away exciting new strategies and proven, powerful tools for market domination in a new educational session presented by Ryan Essenburg, President of Tommy Car Wash Systems.


In “Fundamentals of Express Car Wash Success: How We Wash 400,000 Cars a Year” Ryan will share a cutting-edge car wash business model which in 2015 produced record-setting results: 50,000 cars in one month, 210 cars in a single hour, 2,639 cars in a day, and 419,000 cars in 12 months with a single 130’ car wash tunnel.


Plan to attend this educational session on Monday, May 9 from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. during The Car Wash Show in Nashville, TN And don’t forget to visit Tommy Car Wash Systems at booth No. 1312 for full-size equipment demos a video tour of our latest express car wash design.


Tommy Car Wash Systems


5 Steps To Choose the Right Car Wash Location

Traffic at night

When it comes to business, location is everything. For car washes especially, this means that selecting the right location on which to build your facility is crucial. At Tommy Car Wash Systems we have over 40 years of experience evaluating sites for new car washes and determining the potential these locations hold, and we have a deep understanding of the criteria that should considered early on in the process. Criteria such as:

Read more

5 Tips for Launching a Brand New Car Wash

You’ve got the location, the demographics, the business plan, and the financing. You’re all ready to begin construction and launch your own brand new car wash!


Unfortunately, even the best entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know and mistakes are bound to happen. At Tommy Car Wash Systems, we’ve been helping new entrepreneurs with building and operating car washes for over forty years and we know what it takes to be successful and how mistakes can be avoided for best overall results.

Read more

The Tommy Accent Ball

A few years ago, Target department stores introduced a design feature keeping with their overall branding: large red concrete spheres placed outside the their stores. This design turned out to be fantastic for a few reasons: They offered curb protection, they were attractive, and the red circle tied very well into Target’s overall ‘bulls-eye’ symbolism.


These attractive concrete barriers form a good point of reference for the topic of the day: The humble Tommy Ball.


Tommy Accent Ball

Read more

Tommy Car Wash: Because A Great Car Wash Starts With Great Equipment

Tommy Equipment Package

First-time investors, owners, and operators aren’t always prepared to answer the important questions that car wash development can raise. Considerations need to be made for site layout, pricing, advertising strategies, marketing budgets, staffing, and much more. But as far as car washes go, few choices are as vital as those deciding which car wash equipment will be installed inside the tunnel.


A car wash is, of course, a facility that washes cars and if the equipment behind that wash process isn’t up to the task the car wash will experience great difficulty.


Problems typically crop up in the following areas:


Read more

Critical Density & Car Wash Development



What might the perfect car wash venture look like?


-Washes shielded from competition

-Recognized household brand name

-Visible, effectively designed marketing campaigns

-Supporting a full time maintenance worker and accountant

-Ample well-trained staff

-Outstanding car counts and ROI

-Low per-site overhead

-Diversification of investment between locations


Read more

Tommy Car Wash Systems Featured in ‘Car Wash Magazine’

Car Wash Magazine


Tommy Car Wash Systems has been featured in the Car Wash Magazine’s Spring 2015 issue, available online now! The piece focuses on the modern car wash design, particularly attractive, customer-facing designs that rely on open plans, natural light, landscaping and glass. The article writes, “Glass buildings not only provide a sense of safety and comfort to customers, but they also serve as a continuous billboard for your business.” Making customers feel more comfortable and opening up the wash to curious passersby builds a better connection with individuals even before they start their wash and can go a long way towards making sure customers feel welcome, safe, and in control.


Follow this LINK to read the whole article and check out Tommy Car Wash’s CAR WASH DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS to get a feel for the wash design that inspired the article. You can also take an in-depth Tommy CAR WASH VIRTUAL tour on YouTube.


Tommy Car Wash Systems