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Tunnel Car Washes: Are They A Good Investment?

There are a variety of ways to clean cars, but one option in particular has been gaining a lot of traction in recent years.

It's the tunnel car wash!

Tunnel washes are automatic car wash systems stretched through a tunnel ranging from 60' to 250'+ where each section of the tunnel applies a different chemical or service.

Tunnels are popular because they are quick and efficient, allowing many vehicles to pass through at once.

Let's discuss the tunnel in detail and explore the benefits it offers to the car wash operator.

What are Tunnel Car Washes?

A tunnel car wash is an automated car wash that uses conveyor belts to move the vehicle through a series of cleaning stations.

Tunnels are typically much larger than other types of car washes, and can wash up to a dozen cars at a time.

Different Types of Tunnel Car Wash Systems

Soft Cloth vs Touchless

Soft Cloth (or friction) is the most common type of tunnel system. As the name suggests, it uses soft cloths instead of brushes to clean the vehicle.

The benefit of using these soft cloths is that they are less likely to damage the paintwork on the car of the customer, when compared to brushes and nylon bristles that were common years ago.

A touchless tunnel system uses high-pressure water and chemistry to clean the vehicle, without any physical contact during washing. This is a great option for people who are worried about their car being scratched or damaged by any of the tunnel components.

Full Serve

A full service wash offers a complete package of extra services that includes everything from vacuuming the interior to washing and drying the exterior. At a full service wash, employee's will take the car from the customer and perform all the included services.

Flex Serve

A flex service wash allows the customer to choose which extra services they want, such as just an exterior washing or just a vacuum.

Express Exterior

An express exterior tunnel is exactly what it sounds like - a quick wash for the outside of your car.

A full service wash can offer the best customer experience. You deliver the car back to the customer nearly brand new with a full interior and exterior cleaning. Express washes are the quickest and most convenient. Flex service washes fall somewhere in the middle.

Car being washed

How do Touchless Car Washes Work?

Touchless car washes work by using a series of high-pressure nozzles to spray the vehicle with water and chemicals. The nozzles are controlled by a computer and can target specific areas of the car for a complete clean.

Touchless detergents are also designed to break down dirt and grime without the need for agitation and scrubbing which helps this process work so well.

However, the one downside is some tough dirt and grime may be too difficult to remove in a touchless wash.

Why Use a Tunnel Car Wash?

Now that we've discussed the different types of washes; let's take a look at some of the benefits of using them:

They're Fast and Convenient

If you're short on time, this is a great option as you simply ride through the tunnel. Each stage will take care of your car until its clean, shiny and dry!

They're Affordable

Tunnel systems are typically quite low-cost for customers, especially when you consider the speed and effectiveness.

They're Safe for Your Car

Tunnels are very safe for your vehicle as they are either touchless or use soft cloths to clean vehicles.

Sponge cleaning car

How do Tunnels Compare to Self Serve Car Washes?

Though tunnel and self serve are both viable options for you to clean cars, how do they compare?


Tunnels can clean cars significantly quicker than a self-serve wash. Depending on the length of tunnel and speed of the conveyor, some washes can clean upwards of 100 cars per hour.

This is because the conveyor belts and sequence of equipment in a wash execute the whole process much more swiftly than one individual performing it alone.

Ease of Use

Tunnels are much easier to use than self serve as you don't have to do anything but drive your vehicle into the tunnel.

In a self serve wash, you have to apply the soap and rinse down the vehicle yourself.


Tunnel washes are typically more expensive than self serve washes. The increase in price is due to the fact that they offer a much higher level of convenience and efficiency.

You can expect your wash type to have a minor impact on the final result, although it may have a significant influence on certain additional aspects such as your time, effort and money.

Do Tunnel Car Washes Scratch Paint?

This is a common myth about tunnels, but the answer is no - they will not scratch your paint!

As we discussed earlier, most tunnels use either soft cloths or touchless high-pressure water to deliver clean vehicles.

Both of these methods are gentle enough that they will not damage or scratch your vehicle in any way.

Washing your vehicle will help maintain it

In reality, frequent usage of a car wash may help to protect your paintwork and clear coat by removing grime and dirt that might harm the finish if left for an extended period.

Is Owning a Tunnel Car Wash a Good Business?

Now that we've answered some common questions about tunnel washes, you might be wondering if owning one is a good business decision.

The answer is yes - owning a tunnel car wash can be a very profitable business! There are a few reasons for this:

Low Maintenance Costs On New Builds

Tunnel components are built to last and typically require very little maintenance. This means you'll save money on repairs and replacements over time. Make sure you combine this with chemistry that doesn't use harsh acids to help prolong the life of your equipment.

It also means less down time as you won't have to close the wash for maintenance as often. This obviously leads to higher revenue.

High Demand

There is always a high demand for car washes, especially in busy cities. This means that you will always have potential customers.

Demand for car washes has increased in recent years as people are becoming more aware of the importance of maintaining their vehicles.

This is good news for those considering opening a tunnel car wash business!

Ability to Serve

Tunnels work so efficiently that you will be able to clean many more cars per hour!

Unlike in-bay automatic and self serve options, there is less likely be a line for customers to wait in. This can translate into a larger amount of sales and a high customer satisfaction rate.

What Are Some Downsides to Owning a Tunnel System Wash?

While there are many upsides to owning a tunnel car wash, there are also a few downsides that you should be aware of:

High Initial Investment

Tunnels can be quite expensive to set up. This is because they require specialized equipment and a lot of land.

If you're not prepared for the initial high costs, then owning a tunnel car wash might not be the right choice for you.

A good initial starting point for a simple tunnel could be around $400,000 plus the cost of the land. This can vary wildly up to several million dollars for larger tunnels.

Requires Specialized Training

Tunnels are very complex and require specialized training to operate.

This means that you will need to spend time and money on training yourself and your employees how to use the equipment correctly.

Make sure to check out the Turtle Wax Pro Learning Center to start your basic training!

Turtle Wax Pro arch
From the Wett Car Wash in Chicago, Illinois.

Choosing Manufacturers like Turtle Wax Pro For Your Tunnel Wash

When it comes to establishing a tunnel car wash, there are several things to consider. But one of the more important choices is your manufacturers.

Your manufacturer will be the one giving you chemistry, among other services like training and carwash equipment. This will dictate the level of service you can provide.

Turtle Wax Pro is one of the leading providers in the professional car wash industry and has been supporting automatic car washes of all kinds, including tunnel systems for years.

We pride ourselves on having the most innovative and eco-friendly car wash chemicals in the industry. We offer a wide range of chemicals that aid car washes all over the world in achieving their goals.

Our soaps and other products are designed to work together to create the ultimate clean. Each product primes the next one by preparing the surface of the vehicle for the next product, resulting in the perfect wash.

Turtle Wax Pro is dedicated to helping your business achieve its goals, and deliver your customers the cleanest, driest, and shiniest cars.

That includes a full dedicated initial training session along with ongoing support for your car wash equipment.

We would be happy to discuss the details behind your tunnel, relating to everything from chemistry to equipment to marketing. If you're considering entering the wash industry, feel free to contact us anytime!

Before You Build An Express Wash

The car wash industry is adopting express tunnels as the next big thing. Customers love them for their speed and efficiency, and owners for the amount of traffic they can handle and revenue they can generate.

Tunnel car washing holds numerous benefits that other types of washes cannot compete with. If you're thinking of entering the car wash industry, a tunnel might be the best option for you!

Entering and competing in the wash industry can be difficult but tunnels can be very rewarding. With their increasing popularity, tunnels may even become the new industry standard.

One of the best ways to set yourself up for success is using a great supplier like Turtle Wax Pro. The science, and expertise we provide is a surefire approach to differentiate your wash from the competition.

If you have any questions about tunnels, we would be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading!

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