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Sonny's-Carwash College™ Tip of the Month

Advantages of a Good Online Wheel Cleaning System

CarWash College™ Maintenance Tip of the Month

June 25, 2007


As aesthetically pleasing as it is to watch an employee clean your wheels from a customer's point of view, this can be one of the most costly parts of the entire vehicle cleaning process for an operator. These days with the explosion of Express Exteriors and Flex Serves across the country people are washing their cars more often. These wash types offer a quick wash at a low price and even with the speed and low price of the wash, the customer still has a certain level of expectation. They still expect a clean, dry, shiny car. If you look at this expectation from the customers' point of view, you will find that most people believe that the rims are part of the car. To ensure customer satisfaction and repeat business, operators must address this expectation as cost effectively as possible. Let's explore the two most common ways of cleaning the wheels, online or offline.

When you look at the online wheel cleaning, there are some things to keep in mind to achieve the end result you are after. I would suggest using a dual chemical tire applicator (CTA). These applicators are designed to ensure proper coverage of the wheel. This chemical application will clean whitewalls, raised white letters and aid in the cleaning of the wheel. This should be applied to each vehicle as part of the basic wash.

In addition to the CTA application, you would want to have a mag wheel application online. This is a different chemical from your CTA. This liquid chemical is designed to actually clean the wheels. The mag wheel applicator would normally be placed between the two CTA applicators. This service is usually an add-on service, purchased a la carte or in a package.

Now that we have applied the chemicals to the wheels and tires, the vehicle travels into the tire brush. With the advancements in the industry in regards to the different types of material being used for the tire brush, as well as the retract options available the tire brush has become an invaluable piece of equipment for any type of wash operation. When this piece of equipment is properly maintained, not only will it be a reliable, long lasting piece of equipment. It can also be a huge plus in lowering your dollar per car labor costs.

Now for the finishing touch of online wheel cleaning. It really does not matter how much you agitate and move the dirt and grime, you have to rinse it away. While there are different variations of high pressure equipment, the tracking wheel blaster will give you the ability to really flush out all that dirt and grime. With the high pressure set around 900 psi and the equipment tracking the wheels, this will take care of a majority of the dirt, grime and brake dust.

Lets take a look and see how online and offline wheel cleaning affects the bottom line:

(a) Online — CTA .05¢ per car. WTA — .03¢ per car. Base these numbers on an annual volume of 50,000 cars. You have .08¢ per car chemical costs, at total of $4,000 for the year.

When the wheel cleaning is done offline there are several reasons why operators don't choose this type of cleaning. Employees are needed on each side of the car for the wheel cleaning to be fast, and labor is expensive. There are also a lot of chemicals wasted in this process, as there is no way for the employee to put the same amount on each wheel. I have also found that the employees tend to over anticipate the amount of chemical needed to effectively clean the wheel. There is also the accountability of the service. Customers that pay for the service often don't receive the wheel cleaning, and customers that don't pay for the service often receive the wheel cleaning.

(b) Offline — Chemical .10¢ per car. Base the labor number on annual volume of 50,000 cars and 68 hours of operation per week multiplied by $9.00 per hour, then do that for 52 weeks. You have $5,000 in chemicals and $31,824 in labor. This adds up to $36,824 a year or 0.74¢ per car. This amount is almost 10 times the cost of online cleaning.

As an operator you can decide which of these two types will work best for you.

Robert Andre is the manager of on-campus training for CarWash College™. Robert can be reached at For more information about CarWash College™ certification programs, visit or call the registrar's office at 1-866-492-7422.