How an Automatic Car Wash Works

May 28, 2024

Whether you’ve driven through an automatic car wash with a child in your car, or you’re a child at heart yourself, you may have discovered the magic that can come from this otherwise commonplace experience. The seemingly “self-driving” car, giant spinning brushes, water spraying from all directions, colorful foam, and blinking lights can make it seem like a ride at an amusement park. At best, it can bring a smile and a sense of wonder to those with a playful spirit. At the very least, it can make you appreciate the convenience of modern technology and provide an entertaining break in your day.  

While the automatic car wash may seem like a fairly recent concept, the basic idea has been around for over 75 years. In 1946, a man named Thomas Simpson created the first semi-automatic car wash, which consisted of a conveyor belt to move cars through the process, an overhead sprinkler, and an air blower to dry the car.  

Since then, many inventions and advancements have been made to create the modern automatic car wash we recognize today. These systems are remarkably convenient, affordable, and environmentally-friendly due to their ability to conserve water, power and in their use of non-toxic products.   

There are two basic types of automatic car washes used today:


Also referred to as “In-Bay”, this type of automatic wash requires the driver to pull into a small bay and keep the car stationary while the equipment moves around the vehicle.  

Conveyor Tunnel

This is what most people think of when referring to an automatic car wash. With this type of service, the car moves along a conveyor as it passes a series of machines that effectively clean, rinse and dry the vehicle.  

While the experience can vary slightly depending on which car wash you’re using and the type of wash you’ve purchased, there are standard steps you can expect at most conveyor-style automatic car washes. 

What to Expect:

Select your wash:

The first step of an automatic car wash is typically to select the type of wash you want and pay for the service (unless you already have a membership). This can often be done yourself using a kiosk, or with the help of an associate.  

Drive onto Conveyor:

Next, an attendant will direct you to drive your car onto the conveyor track by making sure your wheels are aligned with the track. This part can be a bit nerve-wracking for new customers at first. Once your car is properly resting on the conveyor, the attendant will instruct you to switch your car into “Neutral”. From there, you can sit back, relax, and let the machines do the rest of the dirty work.  


The wash itself is broken up into several parts inside the tunnel depending on which wash was selected.

Basic washes usually include: 

  • A pre-wash spray to loosen unwanted dirt and debris 
  • A foam-like soap that breaks down grime  
  • High-pressure water blasters designed to clean tough-to-reach areas on the vehicle 
  • Tire cleaner and shine for squeaky clean wheels.


A typical automatic wash usually concludes with: 

  • A clear, glossy coating to provide protection from the environment.  
  • A final, high pressure rinse to ensure a spot-free shine 
  • Powerful air dryers to avoid streaking for a perfect finish 

Premium Treatments:

If you’ve opted for a more advanced car wash, you may also receive premium treatments like a wax application and a ceramic sealant to protect the vehicle’s surface from oxidation.  

The best part?

This entire process typically takes only about three minutes of your time, making it an extremely convenient and cost-effective way to clean your car.  

Once you exit the tunnel, you’re free to drive away or take advantage of some of the other services on site. At Super Star Car Wash, we pride ourselves in offering a variety of free amenities for our customers, including free high-suction vacuums, use of damp microfiber towels, air blaster and tire inflation hoses, dash wipes, mat cleaner and even an air freshener depending on which wash you select. 

We hope this information has inspired you to treat yourself (and your car) to a car wash today! Click here to find a Super Star Car Wash location near you.