Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Tunnel technology

October 11, 2010
As long as I can remember, customers have loaded themselves on the conveyor at our express washes. Thanks to new technology, the industry is shifting from Mom and Pop to the mainstream. Here’s what I believe the next few hurdles for the conveyorized carwash industry will be:
  • Going green;
  • Compensating for decreasing wash volumes;
  • Reducing operator failure;
  • Building shorter tunnels with higher capacity; and
  • Creating a more consistent wash process.
Going green
Let’s face it: Green is in. City councils are demanding green features in new carwashes. There are many things that can be done to build an environmentally-friendly site beyond reclaim. Technology is being developed to create efficiency by using one energy source for dual purposes. If heat and hot water are needed, a single energy source can be used.

It is also possible to circulate hot water through floor heat systems in order to heat the entire wash bay. Heat, generated in hydraulic systems, allows the removal of energy from that source to heat water.

A polycarbonate roof system has proven to be energy efficient by heating the wash bay like a greenhouse, and providing sunlight during most operating hours.

Capturing rain water off the carwash roof or property allows the reduction of water consumption, and it’s a real crowd pleaser — the public will love to read about it in the local newspaper and the city council will not hesitate to approve the technology. Being conscious of water quality and especially water softening can save greatly on chemical waste. Having a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building will help attract customers, advertising the business’ advocacy for the environment.

Compensate for decreasing wash volumes
In many regions, there has been a decline in wash volumes over the last five years. In my experience, a combination of reasons has contributed to this decrease, including weather patterns, rising gas prices and also the housing market. One reason that is not discussed as much is varying values in the younger generation.

Thirty years ago, it was very important to drive a clean car, whether to church, a funeral, or public event. Today, the younger generation doesn’t see the value in impressing value in the quality of personal image. Carwash owners need to compensate for that loss.

The best way is to seek business from the driveway washer. Increased volume can be achieved in this market segment by providing a high quality wash and advertising safe cleaning methods.

Volume decreases can also be compensated for by reducing labor. This is largely achieved through the use of new technology. Entrance modules that load cars without an attendant, have fully automated cleaning and drying systems and auto teller payment systems will greatly reduce labor costs.

Loss to the bottom line can be compensated by increasing the average ticket price with products like a total car protectant and tire shine. Unique approaches to increasing average ticket include adding fragrances, air freshener sales, free vacs with token (allows customers to feed in more money than they normally would) express detail services, or even brushes that turn on with an additional purchase.

Shorter tunnels, higher capacity, less space
With real estate prices constantly on the rise, justifying land usage has become an even greater task. Filling a tunnel with equipment increases capacity (cars per hour) and therefore best utilizes your real estate. Following technology also improves production by jumping back and forth between cars. This allows you to clean at a lower conveyor speed than the car is actually going. Removing a large gap between cars allows quality improvement without slowing the conveyor.

In the future, carwashing will focus on multi-tasking equipment. I think belt conveyors will be the standard of all new washes within three years. Loading will be reduced by 15 feet, customer intimidation will decrease (attracting home washers); bumping, jerking, or uncomfortable noises will also be reduced.

Reducing operator failure
In the good old days, carwashing was a passionate lifelong joy. You lived it, worked at it, and were blessed from it. The tire kickers have left the industry. We are on a whole new age of investor carwashing. The problem is that carwashing and investors don’t work well together. Most successful operators are hands on.

A carwash is an oil rig and the rig takes a team of dedicated people constantly maintaining and pumping the rig for oil. This includes the management of pump stations, water quality, hardness and total dissolved solids, filters and membranes, volumetric and chemical titrating. A hands-off approach and ignorance will lead toward failure.

When one operator fails, we all fail. The owner fails, the manager fails, the bank fails, the consultant fails, the equipment supplier fails, and the industry fails. It is important to win over competition, but just imagine, if we could eliminate home washing completely, there wouldn’t be enough carwashes to handle the 50 percent increase in volume.

Creating a consistent wash process
One of the most challenging aspects in the carwash process is ensuring consistency. A lack of consistency is the largest reason for the lack of national chains or franchises in the industry. Consistency is hard to achieve. There are over 50 different variables that impact the quality of vehicle turned out of the carwash.

In the future, controller technology will take over monitoring a consistent wash process. For instance, one of most important factors in carwash success is pump station maintenance. If chemical goes bad, the whole wash goes bad and customers see lack of maintenance. Soon, computerized maintenance schedules will be the standard and your pump station will be regularly checked. This control will also allow reminders to be set and lists generated automatically for the operator with the equipment manufacturer’s maintenance requirements. This will require operators to log maintenance activities which will be reported back to the equipment manufacturer.

Controllers can monitor water pressure, water in air systems, hardness of water, humidity of room, temperature of wash bay, and through computer formula’s this will in the future operate the carwash for the owner, allowing more hand’s off operations.

Ryan Essenburg is chief operating officer of Tommy Car Wash Systems. Essenburg can be reached at: