News from the Industry
Carwash operator: Write to your local rep about SUA
Doug Newman, the carwash operator who created a website devoted to increasing awareness of incidents of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) in the carwash industry, is encouraging operators across the country to write to their local representatives in the wake of a string of recalls by Toyota Motor Corp. and a recent death at a carwash facility.
Newman is joined by David Bizzak, a Ph. D. of mechanical engineering and member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, who has specialized in the analysis of machine and consumer product design and manufacturing defects, as well as handled investigations of Jeep vehicles as a consulting engineer for Romualdi, Davidson & Associates.
Bizzak penned a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) which Newman urged other operators to include when reaching out to their own local representatives. (The letter is available, in its entirety, on Professional Carwashing & Detailing’s website,www.carwash.com. Use the keyword search: Bizzak).
Bizzak’s letter, dated Feb. 23, urges Waxman to consider the possibility of an electronic defect in Jeep vehicles as the House Committee on Energy & Commerce conducts hearings on the issue of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
“Extensive testing and analysis conducted by myself and others over the course of many years, which included the examination of many Jeep vehicles involved in sudden acceleration incidents (SAIs), revealed that these events in Jeep Cherokees and Grand Cherokees were attributed to an electronic defect,” Bizzak wrote.
He continued, “Although Toyota SAIs have garnered much publicity, sudden accelerations in the current generation Jeep Grand Cherokees continue to occur, with serious consequence. The most recent event, which occurred on February 1, 2010 in Albuquerque, NM, resulted in fatal injuries to a carwash employee.”
One month after Bizzak penned the letter, a report by Bloomberg News highlighted instances of SUA at carwashes, specifically incidents involving Jeep vehicles, and revealed some adverse reactions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The March 15 report said the NHTSA has received 15,174 grievances related to SUA in the last 30 years, and has investigated 141 of those complaints. Less than 30 resulted in corrective action.
Among those complaints were 110 fatalities, 59 of which were attributed to Toyota vehicles. Another 56 models were involved in the remaining deaths, and Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee is among the models generating multiple complaints for taking off at carwashes and service stations.
Some NHTSA employees have notably dismissed the acceleration complaints. Bloomberg reported that “[a] Toyota employee who visited NHTSA in August 2007 wrote that the agency’s staff ‘laughed or rolled their eyes in disbelief’ when he told them he was at their offices as part of a sudden acceleration allegation involving floor mats.”
The news agency said this reaction may have been attributed to a 1989 report by the NHTSA which revealed most incidents of SUA were the result of human error. The report was written in response to numerous complaints of SUA in Audi 5000 sedans and was written before electronic systems that now guide most automotive functions were common, the report said.
Lawmakers have urged NHTSA to start a new report, and at a Feb. 23 congressional hearing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seemed to indicate the agency may do just that.
The Bloomberg News story also pointed out that two expert witnesses (one of whom was Bizzak) asked the NHTSA to do the same in March 2002 after they wrote an 84-page report on crashes involving Grand Cherokees. The report included research into 665 acceleration complaints involving 1987 to 1998 Jeep models.
The request was denied in September 2002, after the agency said it was satisfied with steps Chrysler had taken to recall certain Jeep models and that it believed driver error was a major factor in the complaints.
More creditors come after Danny’s
Danny’s Family Car Washes, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, is in hot water again after four more creditors filed suit against the company, collectively claiming a total debt of more that $50 million from businesses related to carwash owner Danny Hendron.
The lawsuits have targeted Hendron and business partners who are part of Danny’s Family Companies LLC and Barcelona Restaurants III LLC. Hendron is a developer and restaurateur, and owns a chain of carwashes and a convenience store.
The creditors have filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Dennis Naughton, Hendron’s attorney for Danny’s Family Companies LLC, said the latest lawsuits are part of a domino effect stemming from the recent non-payment loan complaints from M&I bank.
“We’ve been working furiously and in good faith to resolve these issues amicably,” Naughton said.
Naughton said that Hendon is more worried about protecting the 2,000 workers he employs at his 90 businesses.
Bert Roos, the attorney representing the Danny’s Family carwashes and one convenience store, said all four of those businesses have “good cash flow” and should be able to work out an arrangement with creditor M&I.
IRS wants its nickel from carwash owner
The IRS showing up at your carwash? That’s no joke. But the amount they were demanding from Aaron Zeff, owner of Harv’s Metro Carwash, is sure to tickle your funny bone: A mere four cents.
Late fees and penalties brought the four-cent debt to $202.35, but Zeff insisted he never received a notice about the mistake, and instead has an October 2009 letter from the IRS that states his returns have been filed and his tax balance is zero.
“If we knew anything about it, if we received any correspondence we would’ve immediately addressed it,” Zeff’s attorney, Ashley West said. Instead, IRS agents showed up at the wash recently to ask for the payment.
“They always pay their taxes, they’ve never had any issues like this come up,” the attorney continued.
The story made headlines across the country, and customers have been commenting, too, according to cashier Ana Makhely.
“Oh it’s been hilarious. People have been coming, like, would you like four cents? Help you out with your little bills…,” she recounted.
For his part, Zeff is taking it all in stride, even suggesting the tax agents had another motive for showing up at his carwash.
“The good men and women of the IRS said, let’s go down to Harv’s Carwash and get our car washed,” Zeff joked.
Mace sells its last Texas carwash
Mace, a company that at one time owned as many as 58 carwashes, has sold its last site in Texas and now has only six remaining locations for sale. The chain announced it was exiting the carwash industry in late 2004.
The carwash sold for $750,000 and the company netted a total of $733,000.
The chain recently sold three washes in Austin, TX, late last year, and still leases one there.
Dennis Raefield, Mace’s CEO and President said, “We are pleased to announce this sale as it displays continued progress in achieving our goal of exiting the carwash business.”
Mr. Clean sets up shop in Texas
Procter & Gamble (P&G) recently presented its plan for a national Mr. Clean Car Wash franchise in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, telling potential investors they hope to open 20-25 franchised locations in the two market areas. Mr. Clean is operated by Agile Pursuits Franchising Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of P&G.
The ambitious chain did not specify an intended operational date for these sites, but already the company has 15 locations thanks to its two pioneering sites in the Cincinnati area and its acquisition of the Carnett’s Car Wash franchise. The company also has another six facilities under development.
A few months ago, representatives of Mr. Clean held a similar presentation in the Chicago area, telling investors there they hoped to have 10-12 locations in the area.
“Mr. Clean Car Wash takes a brand name with over 50 years of consumer trust and delivers a delightful car cleaning experience,” said Bruce Arnett Sr., CEO of Mr. Clean Car Wash. “It’s really a new day in carwashing — and a whole new franchising opportunity.”
Mr. Clean’s first Texas location opened in Round Rock, TX, this April.
“Our vision is to become the first national chain of branded carwashes — which presents a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to get in early in the growth curve,” said Arnett.