Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Are centralized vacuums right for your self-serve?

August 23, 2012

An application that is fairly new to the industry — central self-serve vacuums — offer a solution to bothersome challenges for self-serve carwash owners, help boost profits, and improve the customers’ experience.

Using space wisely
One of the latest trends for many self-serve carwashes is the installation of a central self-serve vacuum in the equipment room. Then you pipe the suction to coin-operated hoses at the customer vacuum islands.

Piping systems from the central vacuums to the islands can be installed overhead or underground.

The vacuum drops take up much less space than traditional stand-alone vacuum canisters placed at each vacuum island. The extra space in the customer vacuum area allows room for more cars, vacuuming at the same time, and room for add-on amenities like fragrance, spot remover, detailing towels, and more.

More drops mean shorter lines, allowing carwash owners to capture customers who might have driven away rather than wait for a vacuum to open up.

Owners can then capitalize on this extended stay by using the opportunity to sell detailing items.

Quiet the noise
Sometimes self-serve vacuums can be loud and therefore cause customers to rush through the vacuuming process. Central vacuums solve this problem because the vacuum that powers the hoses is located away from the actual vacuum islands. All the guests see and hear is the vacuum hose and its suction.

Customers will likely spend more time vacuuming and detailing their vehicles. Since there is room for plenty of hose drops, this extended vacuuming does not create a backlog of cars.

Carwash owners who face noise abatement regulations also benefit from the quieter self-serve central vacuums. Residential zoning requirements often preclude vacuum stations or limit the hours of operation because of their high noise level.

How it works
The technology that makes self-serve central vacuums possible is not new. The key is a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) unit that controls the central vacuum’s motor, adjusting the RPMs to match demand.

When a customer arrives at the vacuum island, he or she chooses a vacuum hose and inserts the appropriate coins in the coin acceptor. If that person is the only customer at the time, and the central vacuum is not running, the coins will soft-start the vacuum’s motor within seconds.

Instantaneously, the coins trigger a solenoid to open a non-clog valve connected to the central vacuum through a manifold in the equipment room.

This provides suction to the customer’s vacuum hose for a designated time. Suction is only provided to the vacuum hose the customer selected and paid for.

With the use of a VFD unit, the vacuum operates at just the right RPM to match the number of hoses in use.

When a second or third customer pays for other hoses, the VFD kicks in and boosts the RPMs to match the demand.

Likewise, as users finish their vacuuming, the RPMs drop down to the appropriate level — still matching the demand but keeping electrical costs to a minimum.

Worth the investment?
The initial cost of a central self-serve vacuum is slightly higher than the initial cost of stand-alone units at each island. This is partly due to the cost of the equipment and partly because a central vacuum requires the installation of piping.

Carwash owners will have to balance the benefits of the new equipment with these initial costs.

The decision to install a central self-serve vacuum depends on the number of vacuum hoses each carwash owner wants to provide for his or her customers.

He or she will obviously have to weigh the benefits of the improved security, decreased labor costs, noise reduction, and better space utilization provided against the slightly higher costs of a central self-serve vacuum system.

For example, a central vacuum may be a viable solution if the demand for vacuuming exceeds existing supply.

If space is an issue and a carwash is currently using two stand-alone units to service two lanes of cars, vacuum service would be doubled.

A central self-serve vacuum would allow four vacuum hoses in the same space that was offering just two stand-alone vacuums.

Cash security
The central vacuums available to self-serve carwash owners also allow coin boxes to automatically empty themselves and deposit their money into a secure, vaulted area.

The central vacuum can be programmed to turn on at a designated time(s) and literally suck the coins from their collection boxes at the vacuum islands, and deposit them into a secure location in the equipment room.

Would-be vandalism is deterred by posting the fact that coins are automatically emptied from the collection box. The threat of theft is minimized and so are maintenance costs since the need to manually empty the coins is eliminated.


Steve Tucker Jr. is president of G2 Equipment LLC, manufacturer of industrial vacuums, parts and accessories is headquartered in San Diego, CA. Tucker has more than 15 years experience in the carwash industry and can be reached at Steve@G2Equipment.com.