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Hung out to dry

October 11, 2010
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In 2000, we added six bays to our existing six-bay self-serve. The additional six bays are perpendicular to the old building and about 100 yards away.

The two buildings are complete carwashes in themselves, sharing only the closed-circuit TV and security alarm systems.

The existing six-bay was busy most of the time and at times we had a wait line as long as 10 cars. We were confident the additional six bays would give us the return on investment we needed.

With the amount of investment being considered, we wanted some additional profit centers. So we added more vacuums (see the February 2006 issue of Professional Carwashing & Detailing®) and a stand-alone dryer.

The dryer
Most automatic carwashes have a dryer at the tunnel exit, usually an add-on to an old unit or an option on a new installation. Such a dryer is almost always standard with an automatic.

I call ours a “stand-alone” because we have 12 self-service bays and no automatic bay.

When we decided to add the stand-alone dryer we had not seen any advertisements for a complete system, so I started with the manufacturer that I’m a distributor for, Dilling-Harris. They didn’t have any and didn’t know of anyone building them.

I dug out my old magazines and Buyer’s Guides looking through them to no avail. I called all the vacuum manufactures. They could build and sell a vacuum, but not a complete system. A vacuum by itself would not be enough.

In addition to the vacuum, we would need a coin acceptor, bill acceptor, large countdown timer, magnetic contactors for the vacuum motors, power panel, a control panel, a control system for all of the above and a footprint layout for the equipment.

We would also need lights and photo control, closed-circuit camera, signs, floor heat and location layout.

The design
My search for a complete system was a complete failure. I haven’t looked for the past six years, so maybe there is still an opportunity for the manufactures.

I designed the system myself. Fortunately, electrical is my forte (I am a master electrician), so the hard part would not be the control system.

Laying out the equipment with the proper distances with signs and traffic protection took the longest time and, as it turned out, was the worst screw-up.

We wanted to protect the coin box from the cars and/or mirrors, so we set it back — too far back. It’s a little high, too.

The actual location of the dryer was easy. We put it in the middle of the main driveway so customers actually have to drive around it to exit.

We were fortunate our carwash layout gave us that ability. I’ve found most carwashes do not. We can also have one wait line for all 12 bays, allowing the customer in front to move to the next open bay.

The build
The Worldwide dryer we chose had three 10-hp motors, so we designed the control system to start the motors sequentially with a very small time delay between them in order to keep the peak electrical demand down.

Motors have a very high current inrush when first started, then drop down to running amps. The power company charges extra every month for an item called “demand factor.”

They charge extra because they need the capability to supply your peak demand even though you don’t use it all the time. The higher the demand factor, the higher the bill.

The demand charge for our 12-bay was $317 in January and $82.31 in June. In the winter we have a high electric heating load added to the normal motor loads that run the carwash equipment

For the coin box we chose a Dilling-Harris vacuum box with a Mars bill acceptor and a IDX X-10 coin acceptor Both match what we have in our bays.

For the countdown timer we went with Dixmor’s DX2000 (also a match). We use it only as the countdown timer, but after we designed the control system we discovered the DX2000 could have handled some of the circuitry itself.

We wired the control to include two red “off” lights, in case one lamp goes out. These are on until the proper coins, tokens or bills are inserted.

We made it simple — $1 for 1 minute with accumulation for additional time.

The layout
The countdown timer begins and the closest blower starts with a green panel light, followed sequentially by the other two blowers, each with its own green light.

We positioned the countdown timer at the exit of the dryer on the left so the driver can see it while driving through and time the car’s speed accordingly.

We designed the signs and signposts to protect the equipment and to help sell the dryer as the customers are exiting. The signs also say a quick “Thank you.”

Our driveway — ideal for the “wait” line — is 160 feet long, with the building another 70 feet in.

Since we put the dryer in the middle of the driveway, we put traffic control and directional signs on both front and back. A customer entering the driveway is directed around the dryer on the left to the wait line. The right side has room for traffic in both directions.

Since car and truck traffic would be on both sides of the dryer, we also installed bollards to protect the equipment and electrical panels.

With this being Wyoming, where winters can get a little cold, we designed an electric snow melt system into the poured concrete pad.

We did not want to heat the whole pad, so the design has heat only in the areas where the car’s tires would be; three feet wide for each tire path, with a two-foot space between.

We installed a remote bulb thermostat inside a PVC pipe in the middle of the slab to turn the heat on and off.

Overall we achieved the results we wanted, but along the way found some problems with the concept, layout, pad heating, wind, temperature and seasonal affects.

Next month, I’ll tell you about those problems along with the approximate costs to install and the bottom-line 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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