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October 11, 2010
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There are two main questions to consider before adding touchless equipment to your tunnel.

First, what are you looking to get out of your investment in touchless equipment? Cleaner vehicles (especially areas that are hard for the cloth to reach) with less labor. This is vitally important at the entrance end where manual vehicle prepping almost always becomes both a volume and a revenue killer.

Secondly, once you’ve decided to invest in touchless equipment for your carwash, where does one put it? Will it work just anywhere?

This is where I part company with most in the industry. Far too many think that adding touchless equipment just anywhere they have room will automatically give them cleaner vehicles and require less prep labor and/or towel drying.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, putting touchless equipment in the wrong place will not only prevent you from achieving the goals you envisioned by its addition, but can actually have negative consequences to your carwash downstream.

So where to put it?
My experience as both a manufacturer of touchless systems and components since 1985, and as an operator of a high-volume express exterior facility, has led me to the firm conviction that if the addition of touchless equipment is going to achieve cleaner vehicles and reduce vehicle prepping by 85-90 percent, then it must be placed before any cloth equipment

All hybrid systems feature a low-pressure pre-soak and maybe a foam application for show. Most will follow with a mitter curtain followed by a touchless arch. The idea here being that the mitter massages the pre-soak in and prevents the mist created by the touchless arch from flowing back towards the entrance.

The problem is that mitters have to be supplied with fresh water. Doing so this close to the pre-soak only eliminates any dwell time the pre-soak has on the vehicle. Dwell time is the operating premise behind effective touchless washing. Eliminating dwell time by applying water immediately after the application of pre-soak simply dilutes it and rinses it prematurely.

In addition, it’s not the best idea in the world to run a touchless pre-soak and then agitate it. It can easily result in too much chemical and too much mechanical agitation that can negatively impact a vehicle’s surface.

So why not just lower the chemical dilution? You can, of course, if you don’t mind your touchless investment not being nearly as effective, forcing you to continue extensive manual vehicle prepping. The very thing the addition of the touchless equipment is meant to curtail.

Take a look at hybrid systems that feature cloth first and you will notice they all have something in common. That is, while the top half of the mitter is the original color (blue, red, yellow, etc.) the bottom half is always black. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be that the mitter, exposed to the heaviest dirt on vehicles, retains the dirt?

What about the customer in the vehicle seeing this black cloth dragging across their vehicle? What do you think is running through her mind when she sees this?

Of course, this may not happen with the newer, closed cell wash materials, yet the diluting effect of feeding it with water is undeniable. Uninterrupted dwell time for pre-soak before the high pressure not only is preferable, but essential if the touchless arch is to be able to perform its job effectively.

And the pre-soak?
If one is investing in touchless equipment in an attempt to get cleaner vehicles with little or no prepping, then you also have to invest in a pre-soak set-up that applies a touchless pre-soak and to the entire vehicle, especially fronts and rears.

It does not have to be applied at anywhere near the strength one would use in a completely touchless carwash. If all alkaline, then a ratio of 25-32:1 should be sufficient. As we have always been a believer in the one-step, high-pH approach, I cannot speak to the acidic end of the scale other than to say the two-step chemical regime is an alternative if one is operating a totally touchless carwash. However, for a hybrid system, a two-step solution regimen is simply overkill and unnecessarily expensive.
Once a vehicle comes through pre-soak and touchless arch, vehicles should be very clean — except perhaps for a very slight road film that totally touchless washing can leaves behind on some vehicles. All the cloth equipment has to do is detail the slight film off the car. This not only allows you to use far less aggressive cloth equipment, but greatly aids in keeping the cloth looking cleaner and lasting longer.

The cloth controls mist?
As for using the cloth-first approach to help control the mist created by the touchless arch, there are easier and far less costly ways to control mist than by sabotaging your $20-30,000 investment in touchless equipment.

A simple mist containment curtain can be created by hanging two rows of 6” wide strips of cloth wall to wall from the ceiling to the floor, cut out to frame the pre-soak arch such that between the cloth and the vehicle going through it, the mist is contained. Cost? About $300.

Some operators feel they need to put the high pressure in after their triple coat in order to get a well rinsed car, so they put it after the last curtain or top brush just before the rinse area. While nice in theory, the negatives far outweigh the positives.

First of all, do you really want to invest in a $30,000 rinse arch? Next, high pressure in the rinse area creates a tremendous amount of mist. Not only will this interfere with your low pressure rinse and wax applications, but all that mist will also get sucked into your air dryer intakes making it that much harder to dry vehicles.

I admit that rinsing triple coat is a vexing issue for many operators. However, just as snow and ice are far easier to remove with high volume than they are with high pressure, so too is triple coat easier to remove. This task can easily be accomplished with a standard rinse arch with a 2-3 HP centrifugal pump with 1/10 the misting of and 1/10th of the investment.

Certainly, making the investment in a touchless arch and putting it before the cloth is far easier to do for the new investor than it is for the existing operator. For existing operators, if the investment in touchless is to come before the cloth, it will entail a large effort in squeezing existing cloth equipment together if possible or even eliminating some or all of the first cloth section entirely.

Spaced correctly, the switch to a hybrid system with the touchless first, should take up 20’ without tire washers and 25’ if tire washers are used. These would be placed between the pre-soak and the high pressure arch. This will give you anywhere from 10-15’ of dwell time for the pre-soak. Once again, this time is essential for proper touchless cleaning.

A hybrid washing process does indeed present operators with the best of both worlds — touchless washing and cloth polishing working in unison. However, it is only able to achieve its goals of cleaner vehicles and less labor if the cart is placed before the horse.

The choice of where to put your touchless equipment in relation to the cloth equipment boils down to a simple choice that every operator has to make for themselves. Do you want to be an operator of a touchless carwash with a cloth polishing process? Or, do you want to operate a cloth carwash with a high pressure rinse process? This is the choice that you must not only make, but live with for a long time to come.


Bill Consolo is the owner of Chief’s Auto Wash and Chief’s Manufacturing & Equipment Co. in Cleveland, OH.
Consolo can be contacted at: bconsolo@aol.com.

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