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Credit card and contactless payments: the future of the car wash

No matter what type of business you are involved in, the growth of the car wash industry over the past few decades has been enviable. According to an article published on September 30, 2021 by, from 2012 to 2021, car wash industry revenue grew from $7.04 billion to $9.44 billion per year.1 This is a 26% increase in nine years.

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This upward trend is expected to continue, and car washes that want to capitalize on this steady long-term growth must embrace the payments revolution that has come with the ubiquitous adoption of credit cards and contactless payments. By adding the ability to use a credit card or other contactless payment options for their services, car washes will increase their efficiency, become more profitable and provide better service to their customers.

Consumption habits are changing

According to an October 2018 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, consumers only used cash in 26% of their purchases.2 While it is true that the percentage of a population that uses cash fluctuates with age, overall cash use has been declining for years.

Consumers don’t like having to carry cash or change. This is obvious when you look at the data. Using a coin-operated system (or even a pre-paid code system) for car washes goes against what consumers are looking for. That’s why adopting contactless and credit card payments in car washes is key to keeping your customers happy and continuing to attract new ones.

Payment options for car washes

In today’s market, consumer expectations are high. They expect to be able to get what they want when they want it without any extra work. Consumers seek out and compare the most convenient and best-reviewed products and services, whether it’s credit cards, restaurants or car washes, and choose brands that match their shopping habits.3

This could mean that someone can skip a car wash altogether if they have to go inside to buy tokens or buy a code. Considering there are tens of thousands of car washes in the United States alone, there is likely a car wash down the road that will allow them to pay by credit card or with their mobile device.

As a business, what kind of payment options can you add to ensure you provide the best car wash service to your customers?

Credit card swipe

Being able to pay directly at the car wash with a credit card is a major draw for consumers. Companies want to make using their services as easy as possible for their customers. Removing the need to go buy tokens or buy a code removes a step that could deter a potential customer from using the car wash.

The addition of the option of a credit card swiping machine does just that. Customers can walk in, swipe their card, enter their PIN and wash up. It is also well known that people spend more when using a card rather than cash. In an article published in Forbes in July 2018, researchers explained how they found people spent up to 100% more when using a card.4

Credit card taking

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many people think about using payment cards and cash. Although cash was never really considered the cleanest way to pay, it was once most people’s preferred payment method. Now, especially after initial uncertainties about COVID-19 and its ability to live on surfaces, consumers want the ability to tap and go.

Using the tap option on credit cards is extremely popular. According to the New York Times, in an article updated in May 2020, 31 million people used the tap option in March 2020, compared to 25 million in November 2019.5 By May 2020, contactless payments had grown 150% in just one year.

There is another added benefit that comes with the tap option. Businesses and consumers are no longer held hostage by worn magnetic stripes or dirty card readers. These cost companies money, waste their customers’ time and reduce the quality of experience. Chip cards also offer EMV-certified payments, which add another layer of security to every transaction.

Contactless payments by mobile phone

Of all the payment options available, contactless payments on mobile phones have the most potential for car washes. Cell phone wallets offer a whole new world of options for car washes to market to and interact with customers, long after they leave the car wash.

Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, PayPal and Venmo are all contactless mobile payment options and there are many more options. These e-wallets use a technology called Near Field Communication (NFC) to securely exchange data between the reader and the payment device.

The main advantage of integrating the use of contactless mobile phone payments is that e-wallets are often linked to mobile applications that can market them directly. They can keep up to date with their loyalty programs and discounts and use their geofencing capabilities. This can alert them when they’re in the area, reminding them to go to the car wash or cash in their loyalty program rewards.

Benefits of contactless and credit card payments

Car washes have been around in North America since 1914 and have adapted to drastic changes since then. It’s no different. Adding contactless payment options benefits both consumers and businesses. For car washes, these are the top three benefits of offering credit card and contactless payment options.


No need to worry about sorting or distributing tokens or printing codes for customers. This will save time and energy, which can be scattered elsewhere.


Car washes will increase profitability in two ways. They will save money by increasing the productivity of their staff by eliminating the tedious tasks that come with tokens and codes. Additionally, they will benefit from increased spending by their car wash customers who use contactless or credit card payments.

Higher level of service

Contactless payments allow customers to get in and out faster and being able to pay and wash in one place makes the experience more enjoyable. Increasing the quality of service in this way will result in better word of mouth, happier customers, and an overall better reputation in the community.

A worthwhile investment

The world is changing at lightning speed and businesses have a responsibility to catch up. The demand for car wash services is growing, but so is the competition. Give consumers every reason to use your establishment by leveraging contactless payments in your business operations today.


Passionate about personal finance and financial technology, Arthur Dubois is a copywriter and SEO specialist at Hardbacon. Since arriving in Canada, he has built his credit score from scratch and is now one of Hardbacon’s go-to experts when it comes to compare credit cards.