On The Wash Front

Fake Views - Combating Common Customer Misconceptions

By Anthony Analetto


I’ve heard it said that if you’re told something enough times, you’re sure to start believing it’s true. I’m sure that’s exactly how common misconceptions start out and become accepted as fact.

That got me thinking about things people think are true but turn out to be either stretching the truth or flat out false. How many times have you heard that the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon? Or that people only use 10 percent of their brain? Well, the jury is still out on the second one, but you get my point.

As a car wash professional, you are on the front lines when it comes to combating customer misconceptions about our industry. Each of these untrue beliefs has the potential to eat away at revenue over time and hurt the growth of your business.

These are some of the most common ones I’ve come across lately:

Misconception #1: Electric Vehicles Can’t go Through a Car Wash

I saw a report that said in England, 42 percent of electric-car drivers surveyed think they can’t take their cars through a car wash. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can take an electric car through a car wash and expose it to water just like any other car. This is an alarming misconception. Considering that it’s expected the number of electric vehicles on the road will grow from 3 million today to about 125 million by 2030, this is one mistaken belief that must be nipped in the bud.

So how do you combat customer fears about taking this type of vehicle through your wash? The answer is surprisingly low tech. Leverage your signage. Be proactive and promote your wash as “electric-car-friendly” because if you don’t, you may shortchange yourself out of a rapidly growing segment of potential customers. Likewise, your website and social media channels should also highlight your ability to wash electric vehicles.

At least this misconception isn’t coming from the automotive industry. I recently came across a story that said Elon Musk claims his electric cars can even float long enough to be turned into a boat for short periods of time, which, if true, is proof enough for me they can go through my wash.

Misconception #2: Car Washes Cause Scratches and Damage

Most of us have fielded a complaint or two about vehicles being scratched at the car wash. Over the years, many of us have even added to the confusion by promoting various combinations of friction brushes as brushless depending upon the material used on said brush.

The truth is that modern friction wash equipment and materials that are properly maintained and used with appropriate chemistry do not cause scratches — so how do you prove that to customers?

Signage touting your use of gentle materials and detergent works to build trust. I know some owners that have displays with the materials they use for customers to touch and feel. Others feature videos of clean, dry, shiny cars exiting the tunnel online, on pay stations, and digital menus. But at the end of the day, when a customer sees a scratch after the wash, their first assumption will be that the wash caused it.

Typically, the scratch was already there under a layer of dirt you just cleaned away. It’s nearly impossible, however, to explain that to a customer without two things: cameras and training. Installing a multi-camera vehicle inspection system and training your guide-on attendant to look for pre-existing damage and point to any issues they see for the camera gives you what you need to calmly disarm an angry customer with proof that the wash didn’t create the scratch.

Misconception #3: Car Washes Waste Water and Are Bad for the Environment

Customers are not usually aware that washing their cars at home can use up to nine times as much water than if they used a professional car wash. More important though is whether your staff knows the environmental benefits of using your car wash.

Every member of your team should know and be trained to educate customers that a professional car wash uses an average of 15 gallons of fresh water versus 140 gallons at home. If a customer seems shocked by that fact, staff should be rehearsed to tell them that the problem results from low water pressure from hoses that require dramatically more water than the pressurized system at your wash.

They should continue with a script based on the configuration of your wash to let customers know that the soaps you use are safer for their car and the environment and that water is reclaimed and filtered before being returned to the municipal sewer system to be further treated. Every employee should also know to alert everyone they meet that when someone washes at home, all those chemicals wind up in storm drains, not the sewage treatment plants, and make their way into the ecosystem where they harm plants, animals, and potentially pollute the water used by humans.

Continue that messaging on site and online, but more important, if you’re not already a member of the ICA WaterSavers program, find out the requirements and join immediately. Being a member of WaterSavers demonstrates that you promote environmentally responsible business practices and gives you the marketing materials to prove it.

Misconception #4: It’s Time-Consuming

A car should take no more than three minutes to be processed through a drive-thru tunnel car wash. Express-detailing services should take 12 to 15 minutes. If those aren’t your numbers, you are not only giving validity to this misconception, you’re also leaving yourself open to competition.

Once you’ve implemented the equipment, training procedures, and site layout to achieve those targets, promote it heavily. Advertise on your website and on signage so your customers know what to expect.

Misconception #5: There’s no Difference Between Your Top and Bottom Packages

Communicating the difference between your top and bottom wash packages lies at the core of your value proposition. Chances are you meticulously crafted each package to clearly show a value greater than the increase in price of the one below, but how do you make your customers believe it?

The first and most obvious answer is to deliver a visually different finished product. Tire dressing, rain repellants, and confirmation signs have served this role for years. More recently, high-end multi-step waxes and sealants have emerged with online applications that deliver visibly better shine and slick feel to painted surfaces to differentiate top packages.

But is that enough? Not usually. Relying on the finished product is only one part of the equation, especially for a drive-thru customer that drives off. Repeat business and higher ticket averages happen when you can deliver a better experience with each higher package.

Absolutely add more LED lights that activate with each additional application. Of course, use different foaming application styles such as sheets, drips, and streams so customers can distinguish each application they paid for. Certainly, install a new video menu board that lets customers experience the show while deciding on a service.

Before you do all that though, ask each of your staff what’s the difference between your top and bottom packages. Ask them if electric vehicles can be washed, and if washing at home is safer for their car or better for the environment. The first step to combating misconceptions about professional car washing is to educate your staff to work as advocates to educate customers, friends, family, and everyone they know.

Speaking of misconceptions, while researching for this article I came across one that many people believe the brain can only hold so much information. It appears the brain does have a limit, but it’s far beyond anyone’s reach. That’s reassuring, since it means with a little effort on our parts there’s plenty of room to replace the false misconceptions about our industry.

Good luck and good washing.


Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.


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