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Business Operations

Carwash doors and openers

October 11, 2010
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It doesn’t take months of research and in-depth reports from a team of business analysts to figure out what draws customers to a service based company. As operators in the carwash business, we know customers expect:

  • A clean and inviting facility;
  • Properly maintained equipment; and
  • A hassle-free experience.

So what role do doors play in the whole process? A rather large one when you think about it. Remember, your carwash door is the front door of your business. Let’s break down the above customer expectations and what role doors will play in offering a quality service experience.

An inviting facility
When a customer drives by your location, they will form an immediate opinion of what type of carwash you are operating. Your doors can make a world of difference in forming this first opinion.

If a customer looks at the carwash and sees closed doors made of steel or non-transparent panels, a negative opinion will be formed. People may see not see any activity and think you are closed and drive right by.

Even if they know you are open, people do not like to be in a dark enclosed building, especially if it is later in the evening.

Polycarbonate doors overcome these factors by allowing customers to see into the bay. People like to see activity in the bays and can easily determine which bay is available for use without getting out of their car.

The use of polycarbonate doors will improve your evening business. Customers will be able to see the glow of a well lit bay from the street and will not feel threatened or claustrophobic as in a dark enclosed bay.

Polycarbonate doors are also very easy to clean and do not show any dents or markings on the panel. If sprayed down on a regular basis, chemical build up will wash right off the door and you will have a clean, clear panel.

Many washes choose to use solid lexan sheets in their door panels also. This will give you the appearance of glass without the weight or risk of shattering since lexan is 200 times the impact strength of glass.

Cleanliness is key
Once the customer is inside your bay, their perception of cleanliness is just as important as outside. There are many key factors in keeping your door hardware looking like new such as purchasing corrosion resistant hardware.

With the introduction of plastic track, plastic hinges, and nickel plated hardware, buying corrosion resistant hardware has become much more reasonably priced than in the past when stainless steel was your only option.

Another key way to keep your bay neat and clean is to install a garage door system that relies on balances rather than using torsion springs to balance the door. When using springs, you must lubricate them on a regular basis to keep them from binding. However, the grease used on the springs runs down onto the door panels and creates an ugly mess.

With a balancing system, a nylon strap is used to support stackable weights to balance your door. With this system, there is zero maintenance required and no lubrication is necessary.

Properly maintained equipment
If your equipment is not operating properly, you are not providing a quality experience for your customers. If carwash doors do not operate properly, customers are not able to enter your business.

As a manufacturer that services our own product and many other types of doors and openers, we are very familiar with the pitfalls and service problems that can occur with car wash doors.

I have listed the most common problems associated with car wash doors and some potential solutions to help you avoid them in the future.

  • Cables come off the drums and the door will not open or close;
  • Broken chain or pulley on your operator;
  • Door is binding or sticking in opening;
  • Broken spring or counterweight cable; and
  • In the colder climates, the door freezes to the ground or you have excessive ice buildup around the door and track.

Cable problems
If you are having cable jumping problems, the best solution available is to switch your opener to a direct drive style.

Most people have jack shaft models that turn the shaft to operate the door. With jack shaft openers, problems can occur if the door catches or binds in the opening. If the door stops before reaching its limit, the operator will continue to turn the shaft even though the door has stopped, causing the cables to come off the drums.

The main advantage of a direct drive operator is that it attaches directly to your door rather than turning the shaft to open and close the door. With this system, the door and opener are always working together and you are guaranteed never to jump cables.

Newer style direct drive openers also solve any issues with broken chains, pulleys, or belts on your operator. Very simply, with these types of openers, there are no chains, pulleys, or belts to break.

Door is binding or sticking
Another very common problem is the door binding in the opening. This is where your door hardware is very important. In a wet, corrosive environment such as a carwash, products like plastic hinges, plastic track, nickel plated drums, bearingless rollers and many other stainless steel options will make a big difference.

Ask your door provider what is available and what the specific warranty is for each product. By upgrading to these products, you will extend the life of your hardware two to three times instantly.

Broken spring or counterweight cable
If you have been in this business long enough, you have seen the transition from torsion springs to cable counterweights to the balance garage door system. Springs can be very messy and are only rated for up to 100,000 cycles at best.

In a busy carwash, this means replacing springs every one to two years. Also, torsion springs are dangerous and complicated to repair or install.

These factors led to the cable counterweight system. It was a great concept, except the cable that supports the large weight canister often slipped, frayed, or broke which left you with a weight canister on the floor that was extremely difficult to hoist up on a ladder and to get the cable rewound on the drum.

The counterbalancing system consists of a heavy duty nylon strap supporting stackable weights. This system is safe and easy to install and will last four to five times the lifespan of typical torsion springs with zero maintenance.

Frozen doors
If you are in a colder climate, you are probably familiar with ice buildup on doors and tracks. This can lead to even bigger problems when the door actually freezes to the ground. This is a critical problem as you can’t operate your business with the entrance or exit door stuck in the closed position.

This problem is usually solved by adding a threshold. The threshold is plastic and mounts directly to the floor. It runs the entire length of the door and is sloped to force all water to run inside or outside of the bay, but will not allow water to accumulate under the door where it can freeze.

The threshold has grooves for optional heat tape in extreme conditions. Another option that can greatly reduce ice problems is adding plastic track. Plastic does not conduct cold like normal steel tracks so you will not see as much ice building up around the tracks. It is also very important to check your weatherstripping and make sure there are no gaps or tears that allow the cold air to sneak into the bay.

Hassle-free experience
When a customer pulls up to an automatic wash, they make a payment and the door opens letting them know the wash is ready. Once the car is inside the bay, the door should come down to let the next customer know that the wash is in use and it is not time to enter yet.

In this case, the door is not only providing traffic control for the wash process, but the door closes to keep heat inside the bay. By closing the door after every car, you will isolate the noise made from the car wash, keep the water and chemical that is being sprayed inside the bay, and keep people and cars from entering the bay while the wash is running.

Having fully automated doors is a necessity for an automatic carwash bay and the trend is becoming much more popular on the self serve level. More and more washes are creating door packages that are fully automated.

The system includes a loop detector that senses the car as it approaches the door and sends a signal to the operator to automatically open the enter door. Once the car passes through the safety eyes in the door jamb, the enterance door will close on a timer.

If another car pulls up to the door outside the bay, photo eyes inside the bay recognize that the bay is in use and will not open the entrance door. As the customer finishes washing their car, they hit the open button and drive out of the bay. The exit door will close automatically once the car has cleared the door opening and is outside of the bay.

As the car drives out, the entrance door will open allowing the next car waiting to get into the bay. The customer benefits greatly from the hassle-free experience and the owner/operator benefits because you don’t have to worry about customers leaving your bay without closing the doors.

Once a customer finds a wash with this set up, they will not go back to a wash where you have to get out of the car to open and close the doors. All of these systems are easily shut off so you can close your wash at a specific time if you choose to do so.

Polycarbonate doors can benefit your wash on a number of levels. These style doors are designed specifically for the carwash environment and offer fast operation so they can close after every car and retain heat in your bay.

Polycarbonate material is 200 times the impact strength of glass and does not crack or shatter. The most important feature is that the doors are translucent and customers can easily see into the bay and which is an inviting feature for all customers.

By installing corrosion resistant hardware and properly maintaining equipment, doors will maintain a very clean and new appearance of your facility. Choosing to automate all of your doors provides the customer a clean inviting facility that offers a hassle-free experience — one that is sure to keep customers coming back to your location.


Josh Hart, Vice President of Operations at Airlift Doors Inc., can be reached at: jhart@airliftdoors.com.

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