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The memory of a lackluster vacuum can stick in a customer’s mind for quite some time, and lead them to frequenting another wash. Thankfully, there are many ways to keep the suction on your vacuums strong, and pulling customers into your carwash.
PC&D spoke with an expert in standalones and an expert in central vacuum systems to get you some helpful tips on vacuum maintenance.
The two biggest mistakes that carwash owners make when it comes to proper vacuum maintenance, said David VanGorder, the president of Doyle Vacuum Systems LLC, is that “they don’t take the time to clean their vacuums, inside and out on a regular basis,” and a failure to properly inspect the condition of the vacuum motors.
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Too often, VanGorder said, owners will wait until a motor fails before they address fixing it. There are multiple problems with doing this he said, including the increased costs in paying for a whole new vacuum system instead of initially addressing a problem that could have been fixed. Also, an improperly working vacuum could have been hurting your wash’s reputation: “You never know how long the performance of the vacuum has been compromised, and how many customers experienced a poor service,” he said. The solution to the problem of increased cost and poor vacuum performance is to have a maintenance routine that keeps everything in top shape.
The vacuum maintenance manual can help provide you with proper instruction for your vacuum equipment. If you fail to adequately read it, VanGorder said your electrical connections may not be made correctly. The manual is also going to be an important information source “as to the advised maintenance schedule for the machine,” said VanGorder.
How to keep your standalone vacuums running properly
If you "take the time to do these simple things, your vacuums should perform well,” said VanGorder.
- “Keep the unit clean, inside and out,” he said. Empty the accumulated dirt on a regular basis, not just when it’s full. He added that you should clean the outside of the vacuum as well, to keep your vacuums looking nice and desirable to customers.
- “Whenever you empty your vacuum,” VanGorder said, “inspect the condition of the dirt door and filter door gaskets to ensure that a good seal is being made when the vacuum is running.”
- During the filter inspection, VanGorder also said to “inspect the condition of your vacuum hose, be sure it is not cracked or plugged, and be sure it does not look like it just got dragged through the mud.”
- Depending on the vacuum use, either bi-weekly or monthly, VanGorder said you “should remove the vacuum dome and inspect the vacuum motors, motor brushes, and motor gaskets to ensure that everything is functioning properly, [and] that the brushes have adequate life remaining." It is also important to make sure that the gaskets are providing a good seal to the tank.
Central vacuum systems
“Maintenance can make or break a central vacuum system,” said Cindy M. Beaulieu, manager -- vacuum systems & sales, The Spencer Turbine Company. On a daily basis, she said, the vacuum unit should be shutdown, the filter bags should be shaken and the dirt can emptied. If the unit becomes too full, she warned, dirt clogs the unit, and vacuum levels drop. “It only takes a few minutes [to complete] this task and it makes all the difference in the world.”
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The next thing to check is if the tubing lines are plugged, noted Beaulieu. The lines become clogged “from collecting liquids/water with debris from car interiors;” this can be particularly prevalent in areas with snow and ice, she added. Vacuum units with a pre-separator at the pick-up point will trap the liquids inside of them to prevent liquids from ever entering the tubing system.
Just like with standalone vacuums, Beaulieu trumpets the importance of owners being familiar with the maintenance manual. The manual will give the proper maintenance schedule, and Beaulieu instructed that a sign-off sheet should be followed to ensure maintenance is being done in a timely fashion. By the time a machine begins to lose its effectiveness, she warned, it may be too late to fix it due to things like the bag being torn and materials damaging the fans.
Another tip she offered is to keep a spare set of filter bags in case of wear and tear. “This would prevent any debris and dirt from entering into the vacuum produce and prevent downtime,” she continued.
Proper maintenance for central vacuum system
Beaulieu shared preventative maintenance steps for centralized vacuums.
- Dirt cans must be checked on a daily basis (after the vacuum producer is shutdown), with the filter bags being shaken to loosen debris. Also check to see if the can liner needs to be replaced with a new one
- Tubular bag separators must be checked on a daily basis, which is begun by opening the separator door. Inspect for loose debris, she said, which may mean a ripped filter bag. If debris is found, then clean it out. If there’s a problem, a bag must be changed before the unit is used again.
- Tubing networks must be flushed bi-weekly. Before the unit is shutdown, she said, “unplug the last hose in system and hold the cover of the inlet port open for a few seconds. This will allow high airflow volume through the system to aid in the emptying of the pipe.” If there is a clog that cannot be cleared, a “snake” must be used.
- Bearings on vacuum producer need to be greased yearly. A service technician should be contacted for this, according to Beaulieu.
- Tubular filer bags need to be changed entirely every two years. This is necessary to prevent holes, said Beaulieu. “As long as the bags are checked for rips and tears on a daily basis,” she said, “and the set is changed out bi- yearly, this should keep you from doing any damage to your vacuum producer.
Vacuums are a key component to a successful wash, and displeasure with a vacuum unit can be something that turns a loyal customer away; the good news is that there are ways to keep your vacuum running well. “Operators need to remember that the vacuum is a key component of the carwash industry," said VanGorder, “and that with a little extra effort regarding maintenance, they can greatly improve the functionality and reliability of their equipment, which will help them improve their bottom-line.”