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Hung out to dry, part II

October 11, 2010
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Last month, I wrote about designing and building a “stand-alone” dryer for our 12-bay carwash. A car dryer is usually standard now with an automatic wash bay, but we don’t have an automatic, hence the “stand-alone” designation.

Here’s a short review for those that missed last month. We could not find a manufacturer that built a complete stand-alone dryer, so I designed one myself. Mostly it works well, but it did have a few flaws that I’ll mention later.

While my background in electricity (I am a master electrician) made it easy to integrate and wire all the devices we needed to make a complete control system, the actual layout of the equipment was more difficult. We put the dryer in the middle of the main driveway so customers actually have to drive around it to exit.

We chose a Worldwide dryer with three 10-hp motors, Dilling Harris vacuum control and Dixmor countdown timer.

Installation costs
The expenses you’ll find in the chart on page 88 are all approximate. I did not keep accurate lists and I really have trouble remembering last week, let alone four-and-a-half years ago.

Because our dryer’s location is in the middle of the driveway and the carwash building is 160 feet back from the street, we decided to add additional signage (with structures) to make us more visible from the street. The rental at the back of our lot also needed a sign. These structures and signs would not be needed with a normal stand-alone installation so I’ve listed them separately.

The electrical control system includes the coin and bill accepter box, countdown timer, control box with relays and contactors, time delay devices, indicting lights and magnetic contactors.

Electrical power includes the underground conduit with trenching, asphalt repair, power panel at the dryer, lights, electric snow melt and connecting conduit and wire.

I installed the electrical myself, except for the underground and power panel work.

The income is not what I had hoped for, but not a disappointment either. We have four full years behind us now and the first seven months of 2006.

The first three years income was between 2 and 2.6 percent of total sales per year. In 2005 we had road construction in front of the carwash which affected overall sales as well as the vacuum/drying area. Sales for the dryer dropped to 1.7 percent of total sales.

The installation costs were returned in less than two years, which isn’t too bad. We’ve had two-and-a-half years of mostly clear profit from the dryer since then.

The maintenance costs are practically zero. In the time it has been in operation, we have replaced one of the motor contactors and once repaired the Dixmor countdown timer after a driving rain storm managed to get water into the circuit board.

About once a year we’ll get a power bump that disrupts the memory for the countdown timer. It takes us about two minutes to reprogram it and I’ll have to replace the indicating light bulbs once in a while.

The dryer has three 10-hp motors which we start sequentially so the total wattage is 22,350 (30 x 745). We charge $1 for one minute, so with a cost just under seven cents per kilowatt-hour, the minute amounts to about three cents in electricity, almost as good on the profit side as the vacuums.

We do have the additional cost of lights, controlled by a photo cell. I figure that’s about $15 month.

What I would do different
When I designed the system I figured water being blown off the car would gather on the concrete and create ice in the winter. So we installed an electric snow-melt system with a thermostat. The first winter we had the snow-melt came on whenever the temperature fell below 36 degrees.

The second winter we thought we’d try it without the snow melt and it worked fine — no ice. The dryer is outside and we’re fortunate in Wyoming that we get at least some sun on most days.

We haven’t had it turned on since and I wouldn’t even install snow-melt on another dryer.

It seems the dryer evaporates the water as much as it blows it off here in Wyoming where we have very low humidity. I don’t know what would happen in a higher humidity area.

A couple times a year here in Casper, we get a dust storm that leaves some dirt in and near the intake of the blowers. The first customer who turns on the dryer gets that dirt blown onto his wet car.

If I were to design another dryer, I would have filters to stop the dust or put the intake inside a building. Maybe an air intake with ductwork in the shape of an inverted “J” would work, too.

I would move the coin/bill acceptor lower and closer to the car. As it is now, most people open the car door to insert the money which isn’t all bad because rolling the window down then up leaves streaks on the window.

As I designed the dryer, I thought people would be more inclined to use it in the winter than the summer, but it didn’t turn out that way. My figures show the percentage of use is about the same when I divide the monthly dryer income by the monthly carwash income.

Dennis Ryan has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. At one time he owned and operated five self-service carwashes. Currently he owns and operates American Pride Carwash in Casper/Evansville, WY. He can be contacted at

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