Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Buying an IBA

October 11, 2010
All in-bay automatic machines have some things that they do better than others, as well as things that they don’t. Friction machines generally clean with less water and chemicals. They can also damage a car easier than a touchless, and they have a harder time cleaning something that isn’t shaped like a box, such as raised pick-ups. Touchless machines will get into the harder to reach places, and are much less prone to damaging a car. They will also use more water and chemical and require more attention to clean consistently.

So how do you choose a new machine? Many times, the friction/touchless debate is settled by location. If you are in a mostly urban area where most of your customers drive city cars, friction may have the edge. If you are out in the country where every other vehicle is a dually pick-up, touchless has the edge.

It’s important to remember that any of these machines are going to offer a wash in the $6 - $10 dollar range, and it won’t be perfect. If your customer wants a perfect wash, they need to find a full-serve tunnel.

Before you buy, remember this:
When adding an automatic you will most likely need more water, electric, softener, and spot free water capacity. The city or county where you live may require you to add a water reclaim system if you don’t have one. It’s very important to ask the salesman what is required, and add that to your cost.

The bay size should be scrutinized. Just because a machine can fit in a place doesn’t mean it will work well there. Remember, you will be performing most of the maintenance. Can the access panels be removed and provide space for you? Is there enough ceiling height to accommodate the overhead boom?

Will you have space to place some type of money acceptor in the lot? Will you have stacking room for your busy days that will not interfere with the other bays? Will the bays lighting interfere with the gantry movement? And last but not least, does the bay sit and face the main road, or is it at a ninety-degree angle?

The distributor
It is important to remember that the distributor is responsible for making sure the machine arrives on time, is installed correctly, operates to your satisfaction, and maintains parts and tech support to keep it going. Just as marriages and partnerships sometimes fail, so do relationships with a distributor. It’s prudent to ask if that happens, who can purchase replacement parts and service your machine.

Many manufacturers will only support their particular distributor. Make sure to investigate this before you buy. If you want to have Bob’s Repair Company do work on your machine, it may be difficult, at best. This is nice to know before you start writing checks.

The contract
I am not a lawyer. I don’t even like to play one. There are times when a lawyer can really pay for himself, and this is one of those times. I would use the contract your distributor offers and make sure these items are included:

1. Just the facts ma’am. Everything that is being purchased should be listed by make and model. In most cases, serial numbers won’t be available until the equipment is ready to ship. If you are promised a water softener, it should say which one and list its specifications. The same goes for air compressors, reverse osmosis machines, auto cashiers, signage, etc.

It is easy to forget items. Make sure the contract states who pays for building improvements, and that all subcontractors have filed lien release forms.

2. Responsibilities. The responsibilities of the buyer and seller should be listed. Who checks to see if the proper utilities are in place? Who coordinates any building changes? Who determines delivery date? Who pays for unexpected changes? Who makes sure the proper permits are pulled? When are the monies exchanged?

Typically you put down a deposit and pay the equipment balance when the machine arrives. Always hold back the installation figure until it is completely done. Most professional companies will have an installation completion form that you sign acknowledging that you are a happy camper and exactly when the warranty starts. This is very important: If the salesman screws up, he or she should be held responsible.

3. Performance of the distributor. A reasonable installation time should be listed, normally one to two weeks. If the project takes longer than two weeks, there should be a performance penalty. Remember that when the machine hits the wash, you own it and you’re paying on it.

The performance should have some qualifications as to cleaning results and downtime. The IBA should clean to your satisfaction. Please be reasonable here and remember that no machine offers a perfect wash. Don’t quibble about three spot marks on the hood, but make sure that the IBA cleans well enough that your customers won’t be calling you to complain.

Find out now how warranty replacement parts are delivered. If something expensive breaks on Friday afternoon, how soon is a part shipped, and who pays for the freight? This will vary, but you should ask now. It can get expensive real fast having parts sent for overnight delivery on a Saturday.

Have the seller state what his response time is when the machine is down, and have something in the contract to keep his feet to the fire. Ask if he has any chemical or maintenance policies that will affect you. Remember, don’t just discuss this with the distributor, but insist it be in the sales contract.

Hats off to your new IBA
Keep your eyes wide open during the whole process. Use any mistakes that you make as a learning tool for future use. Try to be realistic about projected sales volumes. I always use the figures published in the annual surveys by Professional Carwashing & Detailing magazine as a benchmark. If your business plan will cash flow positive with those numbers, you should feel confident this is a good decision. When it does do well, then you can do the bragging to your fellow operators.

John “Mac” McCarthy has been active in the carwashing business since the 1970s. He currently is a distributor for Magic Wand Car Wash Systems in Florida, doing business as Technology At Work. He can be reached via email at: or phone at: 1-877-927-4352.