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Thirty-five years of friction IBAs

June 02, 2011
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I can only remember two automatic car wash systems in existence at the time when I entered the carwash industry in 1972. They were Robo and Bernardi Brothers. Robo was a touchless wash that only washed automobiles. It went around the automobile on a fixed track in the floor and offered a wash and one upgrade to wash and wax. Bernardi Brothers made a five-brush friction rollover that utilized electric drives. It was called an automatic, but didn’t have any capability to measure the vehicle. Other automatics were developed or imported into our domestic market.

Here comes ‘free with a fill’
Around this same time, the Petroleum Companies had finished test marketing free carwashes and this had tremendous impact and greatly increased gas volume. These low cost machines were two brush models and were manually operated with an employee riding on-board and turning a steering wheel to make the side brush go around the vehicle. In 1972, a major oil company placed a single order for 81 of these machines.

This lasted for more than ten years before the car wash was looked upon as a profit center.

Value brings technology
This started the technology boom that has progressed to the point that today allows us to do so much with friction rollovers. We take for granted options like reverse osmosis (RO), triple foam and many others that you find on almost all in-bay automatics.

Today’s most technically advanced features start with the sophisticated computers used in friction in-bay automatics. Today’s computers allow:

  • Intricate fine tuning of wash cycles and machine adjustments;
  • E-mailing many reports;
  • Remote diagnostics;
  • Trouble shooting; and
  • Over-the-internet downloading of software.

The newest entry systems host web sites and over-the-internet purchases of washes by the consumer. These systems are web-based and allow the operator enhanced management tools such as:

  • Daily wash sales reports;
  • Comparable sales to different time frames;
  • Weather tracking and forecasting;
  • Down time and up time reports; and
  • Statistical sales information.

Typical features of IBAs
Friction in-bay automatics are either three or five brush models and there is either a top brush or a curtain included in this configuration. The five brush models with a curtain provide the safest, fastest and preferred method of cleaning. Curtains are the preferred method of cleaning in most full service and exterior conveyor car washes.

The drive systems of in-bay automatics will be either hydraulic or electric. The advanced electric drive will have variable frequency drives to control speed and amp sensors to control wash material positioning. This type of drive seems to be complicated and thus more problematic over the life of the system. Hydraulically driven systems are much simpler and provide better controls. On hydraulic systems we can program the speed of every wash pass to its optimum speed. Water based hydraulic fluid is environmentally friendly. The biggest factor I like with hydraulic is that the torque limiting capabilities are much simpler than with electric. For example, if a side washer gets caught in a wheel well it stops turning until it is free then begins rotation. An electric drive can’t do this as it keeps turning at its programmed speed.

Wash material
Wash material has to be Soft Cloth or a closed cell foam material or a combination of both. Soft Cloth absorbs water and is a stronger material than closed cell foam. Closed cell foam does not absorb water and is easier to balance. Mitter curtains have to be cloth because we need the water absorption to provide the weight required for thorough cleaning. Top brushes have to be closed cell foam because you can’t properly balance a cloth top brush. Years ago, tunnel operators couldn’t get cloth top brushes out quick enough. Side washers can be either cloth or closed cell foam. My preference is a combination using Soft Cloth in the rocker panel, wheel and bumper areas, and closed cell foam above. Closed cell foam requires more lubricity than cloth because it produces more friction.

All wash material must have chemical and water directly sprayed into all surfaces all of the time. When closed cell foam doesn’t have enough lubricity it will cause a squeaking sound on the vehicle. Friction machines can’t spray water and chemicals on the vehicle and expect it to properly lubricate and, of equal importance, cleanse the wash material.

Wash enhancing options
With today’s sophisticated controls we now can slow down gantry speed while washing particularly difficult wash areas such as the front and rear of vehicles. In doing so, an overlap feature is programmed in to cause the side washers to jog independently on the front and rear for superior cleaning. Front license plates were once a problem as they would bend from the outer edge when the front washers reversed direction. Today’s controls allow that the front arms are pulled out from the license plates when the rotation reverses.

Hybrid technology
Hybrid (or combination) machines offer the best quality wash because they use both soft touch and high pressure. A Hybrid machine washes a vehicle using this combination of soft touch and high pressure. A true combination machine offers the consumer their choice of a touchless wash, a soft touch wash or a combination of both. The combination machine offers enhanced marketing by offering the consumer more choices. A typical four-wash package menu actually is seven different choices. The bottom three packages offer the choice of wash method, the consumer chooses between soft touch or touchless. The top package is the combination wash.

IBA express
The newest and most exciting technology within the in-bay automatic segment is the in-bay express. The in bay-express is an in-bay automatic utilizing up to six free standing arches. At the entrance are two presoak arches and a triple foam condition arch. At the exit end are a rinse arch, a rain protection arch and a spot free rinse arch. Sometimes we put in two blower arches and differentiate the drying with the wash packages. If an operator wants to compete with the express tunnel concept with an in-bay automatic, this is the perfect concept. By building a twin bay facility the operator would be capable of washing up to 70 cars per hour and may save 15 percent to 20 percent in labor costs over the tunnel. The facility is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and will typically wash 20 percent of its volume when the tunnels are closed for the day. The in-bay express doesn’t require attendants in order to operate.

Cleaning crossover rear windows
The new class of vehicles called crossovers causes a challenge in the cleaning of the rear window. These rear windows tilt drastically away from the rear bumper. Some are up to 34 inches away horizontally and they have a large protruding lip which causes a big deflection area that a curtain or a top brush cannot properly clean. The only way to reach that area is with a side washer. This requires a redesign because side washers also don’t reach the top of the rear window. Once redesigned, the friction wash process will control the cleaning of this area.

Today, friction rollovers are seeing a large growth in market share and are becoming the preferred method of car washing by an increasing number of consumers. This growth comes as a result of the technology that provides the wash safety of today’s machines to ultimately produce clean vehicles.


Ted Winchester joined the carwash industry in 1972 and has extensive experience from distributing friction rollovers to manufacturing them. Winchester currently is vice president of national accounts and distribute development for AUTEC, Inc. in Statesville, NC.

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