Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Pursuing the perfect wheel

August 9, 2011

Last month, industry experts explained to PC&D how wheel cleaning chemicals are designed and formulated to remove stubborn road grime. Still, many carwash owners pursue the perfect wheel by pairing these chemicals with different nozzles, dispensers and brushes. From heated chemical dispensers to shaped and textured wheel brushes, there are plenty of options available for cleaning a set of decidedly dirty wheels.

Different chemical dispensers

Tim Taylor, a carwash owner and the inventor of a heated chemical applicator, said there are different spray nozzle configurations for all types of equipment in the carwash industry. When it comes to cleaning wheels and tires, Taylor recommended a foaming v-jet aerated nozzle and a system that applies heated chemical. “Anytime you have foam or bubbles, you have movement which will help facilitate better activity in cleaning,” he said. Heating the chemical also encourages the cleaning activity. “I have experimented with many wheel and tire cleaners, and it has been known for years that when you apply heat to these cleaners they are activated to work better.”.

Even with the proper nozzle and heat, it is still very important to have the correct chemical dilution. Taylor said an easy way to understand this is by thinking of a dishwasher. The water is heated, and there is a compartment in the door that holds a certain amount of detergent. If too little detergent is used, your dishes will not come clean, even with heated water. But, if too much detergent is used, the dishes will not rinse properly.

What about brushes?

Wheel cleaning brushes have been available to the conveyor carwash market since the 1950s, according to Daniel Pecora with Erie Brush & Manufacturing Corp. Over the past few years, wheel brushes have improved and now include:

  • Stronger brush cores;
  • Softer wash materials;
  • Varied choices of wash material lengths;
  • Adjustable force;
  • Adjustable penetration; and
  • Adjustable RPMs.

Today, there are a number of wheel brushes available on the market, and many of them differ in two ways: the length and stiffness of the filament, cloth or foam they use to clean. Straight brushes will clean most wheel surfaces with one length and one stiffness of filament, cloth or foam. Stacked brushes clean with one or more lengths and one or more stiffnesses, Pecora said. Two level brushes clean most wheel surfaces with two distinct filament, cloth or foam lengths and two distinct stiffnesses. Other types of brushes can clean most wheel surfaces with many different filament, foam or cloth lengths and stiffnesses.

“The design of the brush and the brush material must be matched to the vehicles and the specific vehicle parts that are being washed,” Pecora explained. Tires, with the exception of long valve stems, can take an incredibly hard scrubbing without damage. Normally nylon and polypropylene are the materials of choice to clean the tires completely.

How much scrubbing different types of wheels can stand is based on the wheel’s material. Stainless steel wheels will take aggressive scrubbing, while plastic wheel covers are very soft and easily show marks. Pecora said plastic wheel covers must be washed without abrasion, so the best option would be to use ultra soft filaments, cloth or foam. Aluminum alloy wheels, coated and not coated, can also be damaged with abrasive scrubbing or strong chemicals, so a softer wash material is the better choice.

Installing dispensers

Brent McCurdy, senior vice president of Blendco Systems, said installing a chemical dispensing unit is easy. All it typically requires is a chemical injection point or a dilution tank, a small pump and an activator. The activator can either be computer generated or a mechanical tire switch. McCurdy said the cost for installation can be as little as $500 for everything needed, and even less if there is equipment on hand that can be converted.

Adding a system where the chemical cleaners are heated at the point of application is a breeze as well. “To add a wheel chemical applicator is probably one of the easiest pieces of equipment to install,” Taylor said. “It does not require but inches of [tunnel] space.”

Working together

Pecora said it is necessary to pair a tire brush with soap or chemical solution to produce a clean tire or wheel. “It is extremely difficult to get tires or wheels clean without using a good soap/chemical solution or abrasion [for tires],” he explained. The chemicals will loosen the bond between the wheel and tire and the dirt, mud, dust and oil so that the brush can remove everything and produce a “shining wheel and a super clean tire.”

Also, to get a wheel or tire completely clean, the solution applicators must be built into the brush equipment. If not, the operator has to figure out a way to apply complete coverage of soap or chemical to both the brush material and the wheel and tire before and while the brush contacts the surface.

Mark Weiss, senior chemist with Blendco Systems, said brush products rely more on mechanical energy instead of chemical energy for cleaning. Because of this, the chemicals used with brushes tend to be less alkaline to neutral and less concentrated, and they contain surfactants that help to lubricate the brushes. In many cases, you can get by with an economical product when using a brush because you are relying more on friction to remove soils. But, a premium product will help to optimize results in hard-to-clean areas.

The no-friction setup used in touchless wheel cleaning relies heavily on chemical energy, according to Weiss. In this case, premium, highly effective, high acid or high alkaline strength concentrated products are required.

Reducing labor, increasing profits

Pecora said it is possible for a high-volume carwash to do an excellent job on wheels without using any manual labor. This means the average carwash can save labor costs for one or two employees, the cost of supervision and the mandated benefit costs for these employees.

“I think that anytime you can implement anything to reduce labor in any business, especially in the carwash industry, you’ve done something great,” Taylor said. “The equipment does not tire and it shows up ready to go. The less time you can spend touching up a car at the end, especially on those big days, the better your bottom line will be.”

Taylor said the best way to sell a wheel cleaning service is to show your customer value for their dollar. With heated chemical cleaners, it is good to communicate to the customer and let him or her know that the wash can get wheels and tires clean without brushes or abrasion.

Pecora said that the service can sell itself by producing four 100 percent clean wheels. “When a car owner sees the wheels are 100 percent clean after buying the wheel cleaning service, he will buy again the next time he feels that the wheels are dirty, and he can be confident that the cleaning job done will be 100 percent again,” concludes Pecora.