The car wash as an entertainment experience – who knew?

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The Dinodash, a car wash that appeals to the pre-teen passenger. It was one of the displays at The Car Wash Show in Las Vegas.

Many baby boomers recall the thrill of seeing the family car magically glide through the first tunnel car-washes that began to dot the U.S. landscape in the late 1960s. You know, those long conveyor belt operations with an octopus of arms, foams and scrubbers.

By the 1980s, it became easier, less costly to operate and far more amusing for consumers to drive their vehicle through the auto bay.

Today, the car wash journey is safer for your car and also for the environment.

And it’s also more entertaining.

Yes, it’s here – the car wash as an entertainment destination. Where parents can treat their tykes to a range of fun distractions while the car gets squeaky clean.

That’s the word from the annual The Car Wash Show this spring at Las Vegas Convention Hall. With new products, glitzy vendors, scores of seminars, roundtables and discussions featuring a range of industry leaders, the international event posted a 10-year record high attendance.

This entertainment trend started in Southern California – don’t they all? – as manufacturers touted amusement, glitz and customization at the car wash bay.


On display from one high-end Golden State vendor was a full palette of programmable hues, flashing light-emitting diode lights, whirling, twirling and gyrating equipment and a playlist of music.

The experience can be programmed as a different adventure altered according to the season, holiday or whim.

A bit tamer, yet still appealing to the pre-teen passenger, are cartoon-like tunnel themes ranging from Dino the Dinosaur to frogs, fish and ocean themes.

On a more utilitarian note, one Midwest vendor added flashy LED lights to its touch-free sonar wands or tunnel washes to create a bright, fun effect during the bleak days of winter when road salt translates to additional trips to the auto wash.


The topic at many a seminar in Vegas included the servicing of not only individual self-driving cars, but fleets of autonomous autos predicted to account for 10 to 20 percent of the cars on the road by 2025.

More than just washing the exteriors, additional service needs would include the detailing of interiors between rides, keeping downtime to a minimum and providing beverages, snacks and other amenities for the next set of passengers.


Also trending from the environmental strongholds of California is that the American pastime of washing the car in the driveway is becoming history, illegal and even punishable by fine.

In many western states, the commercial car wash is the sole legal method to wash a vehicle. A growing number of municipalities in the Golden State have not only outlawed the at-home car wash but have imposed a $500 fine for residents and businesses that do so.

Water-saving measures are superior at a regulated commercial car wash, as is pollution control to keep safe the ground, local waterways and streams.

Here in the Greater Lehigh Valley, washing your car at home, on the street or at the local park is not necessarily a safe practice for the environment. Runoff into our local rivers, streams and lakes starts in the streets.


Additionally, in the Northeast, it is a common misnomer among millennials and other environmentally minded folks that the local car wash may not be a safe option.

Yet all relatively new commercial car washes meet strict regulations and provide safe equipment to protect local waterways.

Which leads to another prediction made at the car wash show – that in five to 10 years, even those old, abandoned car washes along the interstate, or old commercial zones, may become a viable investment again as it will be far easier to retrofit new environmental equipment on former car wash stations than it will be to start anew.

Tina Cantelmi Agentis is a freelance feature and news writer. She manages customer service, social media and information technology for Saucon Valley Auto Spa in Lower Saucon Township. She can be reached at

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