Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Tunneling to success

October 11, 2010

All of a wash owner’s equipment is wired into the controller’s outputs (or relays) and the software on the tunnel controller will turn the outputs on and off at the right time.

The tunnel controller is a critical part of a carwash owner’s business; they should take choosing this equipment very seriously and several considerations must be taken into account before a final decision is made, such as:

Finding reliable control
The tunnel controller is an essential element needed for the successful operation of a site. If the controller goes down, business stops.

Some owners like to avoid PC driven controllers because it adds an additional point of failure. Not only do they have to worry about the controller failing, they now have to worry about keeping the PC operational.

Deciding whether or not to invest in a PC run controller is a personal decision, and is one that should not be taken lightly.

Input simulation is another crucial part to keeping a tunnel operational when devices such as the entrance photo eyes and the pulse switch fail. Choose a controller that can simulate these devices when they are down.

Owners should choose a controller that has a proven track record. They can do this by calling other operators and asking:

  • How long has the controller been in operation?
  • How often does it have to be serviced?
  • When and why did problems arise?
  • How much did the owner pay for replacement parts?
  • How was the technical support from the manufacturer/distributor?

Another smart thing to do when purchasing a new controller is to find out what parts should be kept at the wash site to use as spares.

The cost of the spare parts will pay for itself the first day there is a problem.

Accuracy is really the best policy
It is imperative that the carwash equipment turns on and off at the appropriate time. If it doesn’t, the carwash owner is losing money, wasting chemicals and utility usage, and sacrificing quality.

If the equipment timing is off, normally, it can be adjusted. The owner or operator should have the ability to make these changes on his or her own.

Be sure to look for a controller that allows for easy adjustments. If the owner or operator can’t make these changes on his or her own, they should look for another controller.

Cash control
While a tunnel controller alone cannot give an owner complete cash control, a good tunnel controller can help the process along. A tunnel controller is only one piece of the puzzle to complete cash control.

Combining a point of sale system with a tunnel controller will give the owner or operator complete cash control; however, some simple reporting is a great first step.

Owners obviously want to be able to see how many cars the site washed, and how many of each kind of service was completed. This can then be compared to the cash register totals to ensure the proper amount has been collected to cover the cars that were washed.

Another important piece of information to have is override activity. This means an employee is manually turning equipment on without properly programming the car.

This technique is commonly associated with theft of services or money. Owners should look for a controller that accurately reports override activity.

Owners and operators also want to look for a report that will show if a car went through the tunnel without being programmed. This is another way an employee can steal from the wash.

Future expansion capabilities
Expansion and upgrade capabilities are a nice feature to look into. Some things to consider are:

  • What does it take to add additional outputs?
  • What does it take to upgrade the software on the controller?
  • Can a point of sale be added to the controller?

The purchaser should also find out what it takes to upgrade the software on the controller.

The controller company should always be adding additional features to the controller that may benefit an owner’s carwash business. These upgrades should be available to an owner and should be easy to implement.

Having the ability to add a point of sale is a strong feature. An owner may not have the need for a point of sale today, but knowing that they can tie one to their controller at any time in the future should give them some peace of mind.

Reduce labor cost
Features that automate the loading process help cut labor costs and keep a carwash consistent.

The ability to have the roller pop up automatically, rather than having the employee push a button, will greatly reduce the loading time.

Also adding a delay to this automatic roller up function will increase production while allowing the prep time to remain the same for every car.

In general, using the appropriate tunnel controller can simplify a carwash owner’s procedures and speed up the wash process to allow more cars to be cleaned in less time.

Jim Rowland is currently the Northeast sales rep for Innovative Control Systems (ICS). His technical expertise comes from his previous position at ICS as the technical support manager. He can be reached by email at: