Professional Carwashing & Detailing

News from the Industry

October 11, 2010

Out-of-control Jeep kills carwash worker
Carwash owner Charlie Gates believes a vehicle malfunction is the cause of an accident that killed one of his employees and police are investigating that possibility after a carwash worker lost control of a Jeep Grand Cherokee as it exited the conveyor at Octopus Car Wash.

The 30-year-old female victim was waiting to dry cars at the exit end of the tunnel when another worker swerved to avoid a vehicle as the Jeep suddenly accelerated. She was hit and later died from her injuries.

Gates said this was the first incident of its kind in the company’s 50-year history. “There’s no driver error, there was no mistake on anybody’s part other than the vehicle redlined when it started up and put into gear,” he said.

The carwash industry has pointed to incidents of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) over the years which have caused property damage, injuries and even death among carwash workers and customers, particularly those involving Jeep vehicles. In 2008, at least six Jeep incidents were reported at carwashes throughout the country, one of which involved a death.

Two years earlier, an incident that resulted in the death of a carwash customer prompted the International Carwash Association™ to create an advisory board that was specifically tasked with collecting data on SUA incidents and creating safety protocol for carwash operators.

Representatives of Daimler Chrysler have strongly denied any malfunction in the Jeep vehicle causing such incidents. In August of 2008, carwash owner Doug Newman created a website devoted to creating awareness about sudden unintended acceleration in the carwash industry.

Police working on the case at Octopus Car Wash said it may be impossible to test the vehicle for mechanical error now that it has been wrecked. Instead, the police will rely on physical evidence that is available and witness statements.

Only a few weeks later, Professional Carwashing & Detailing reported a new investigation into whether electromagnetic interference could be the cause of sudden unintended acceleration had been started by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motivated by concerns about Toyota vehicles which have recently been recalled by the company.

The NHTSA has said it has not yet found evidence to support that theory, and electronic experts believe it may be nearly impossible to prove such a connection exists.

“It can be a tremendously difficult thing to spot,” said Ronald Jurgen, an electrical engineer who edits the Automotive Electronics Reliability guidebook for the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Car manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp. and DaimlerChrysler, have strongly denied that vehicle electronics could be to blame for sudden unintended acceleration. A recall based on that kind of defect would be devastating.

But according to Jurgen, “code errors in programs, electromagnetic interference or design problems in circuit boards could create issues that appear only in extremely rare instances.”

Autobell continues expansion in Georgia
Less than five weeks after Autobell Car Wash Inc. announced it had opened its 57th location, the country’s third largest conveyor carwash chain has cut the ribbon on its 58th site in southern Forsyth County, GA.

This is the fourth site for the family-owned and operated company in the metro Atlanta area. Justin Adams has been named store manager.

Like the majority of Autobell’s newest locations, the store on Faircroft Drive features an Aqua Bio 100% reclaim water treatment system.

“We continue to look for strategic locations from which to serve this expansive metro region,” explained Autobell President and CEO Chuck Howard, “and to bring more customers in the greater Atlanta area a truly full-service carwash option that takes 15 minutes or less.”

Turtle Wax will sell carwash locations in Chicago
Turtle Wax, a manufacturer of chemicals and products for the car care industry, plans to sell its 12 retail carwash facilities in order to focus on its core business.

The company will continue to operate the washes during the sales process, although the purchase of new gift certificates and the renewal of club cards will vary by location. The Turtle Wax chain is currently one of the 50 largest conveyor carwash chains in the nation.

“This investment lays a strong foundation for long-term growth, enhancement of product offerings and the continuation of providing our customers and consumers the industry-leading products on which they have come to rely,” Turtle Wax CEO Denis John Healy said.

Healy noted that the company’s new direction will “enhance its product offerings, expedite concept–to-market timelines and further increase market share and revenues.”

The release did not reveal if a sale was already in the works or specify if the locations (nine in the Chicago area and three in the Kansas City, KS, market) would be sold one by one or as a group.

ICA expands WaterSavers to include vendors
The International Carwash Association™ (ICA) has expanded its WaterSavers™ program to include vendor members of the Association.

The WaterSavers™ Partner program allows vendors to further demonstrate their commitment and dedication to environmental protection by encouraging their operator customers to join the WaterSavers program.

To assist WaterSavers Partners in this role, the ICA provides all partners with informational brochures to educate their operator customers on the WaterSavers program, as well as a sell sheet guide for initial communications with their customers.

To date, the following companies have joined the WaterSavers Partner program: PurClean, Hydrospray and Reclaim Equipment Company. To learn more about the WaterSavers or WaterSavers Partner programs, visit www.icawatersavers.org.

The ICA launched WaterSavers at Car Care World Expo 2009 as a marketing and recognition program for carwash operators “who practice environmentally responsible water treatment practices,” such as recycling water and discharging to a treatment facility or leech field.

P&G plans expansion into Chicago market
Procter & Gamble (P&G) has announced it plans to open 10 to 12 Mr. Clean Car Washes within the Chicago region as part of its effort to expand nationwide.

The company, which now has 15 carwashes in Ohio and Atlanta, said each of the full-serve carwashes will have around 40 employees.

As Professional Carwashing & Detailing previously reported, the company earlier said it intends to focus its expansion in six key markets: GA, OH, IL, KY, NC and TX. The first Texas franchise in Round Rock, just outside Austin, is to be open by spring 2010.

Bank attempts to seize three Danny’s Family Car Washes
Danny’s Family Car Washes, a chain of carwashes and convenience stores in Phoenix, AZ, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after its bank claimed it owes $12.9 million in loan payments for three carwashes and one Danny’s convenience store.

M&I Marshall & Ilsley Bank requested on Feb. 1 in Superior Court that a court-ordered receiver seize the carwashes and convenience store. The bank claims Danny’s, founded by Danny Hendon, defaulted on loan payments which were due Jan. 28.

But a written statement from Danny’s Family Cos., said M&I used “aggressive lending tactics” and stated Danny’s was up to date with its payments and accused M&I of doubling the interest rates.

Now M&I has asked the court to see if Danny’s improperly used cash collateral to pay off other debts and has requested a full accounting of the operations of the four businesses, including inventory, operating cash, equipment, fixture and deposit reports.