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