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When all else fails, read the directions

October 11, 2010
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One day a woman came into the self-serve wash and had no idea how to wash her car. I talked her through the wash cycle, letting her do the work while I explained the what, when, and how of the different steps we took.

When she left she thanked me, said she was very happy with the wash and I captured a self-serve customer for life.

Instructions included
At our carwash we have 11 self-serve bays and no in-bay automatics (by choice). Originally, we had 12 bays, but we just converted one to a dog wash with two tubs and room for two more.

As a self-serve carwash owner, it occurred to me that I was complacent about our customers going to the automatics for their washes. Maybe, if we worked at it a little more we could make it “fun” for more customers to wash their own cars and get a few of those automatic customers back.

Following that logic, I created an instruction sheet and put copies on the counter for anyone who wanted it. Our wash is a bit unique, but if you like the instructions, you can easily adapt them to your carwash.

Tip: Be sure to mention the instruction sheets in your advertising to entice automatic customers to try the self-serve.

Save money, time and water.

These instructions are intended for the self-service carwashing customer that would like not only to have a clean car, but would also like to save money, time and water. If one uses these instructions, they will have the cleanest car possible for the least cost, effort, time and the most water savings possible.

First, a note about using our carwash. Our bays have no back doors (due to that infamous Casper, WY wind) so it might be best to back into the bay and pull out.

After pulling into the bay, make sure to have your change ready, $1.50 to start. Bill changers are available in front of both equipment rooms, but each coin acceptor in the bay will accept quarters, dollar coins, tokens, $1 and $5 bills.

You can also use your credit card in the bay.

Remove and hang up the floor mats.

If using a credit card, insert the card and remove it quickly. Follow the instructions on the screen. If using coins, tokens or bills, insert them now. Use about $1 less than you think you’ll need. Have that last $1 available for when you hear the 60-second warning. If you think you’ll need the extra time, insert the last $1 when the warning prompts.

If it is summer and the car’s surface is hot, press RINSE. Spray car to moisten and cool the surface so the soap will not bake on to the car, making it more difficult to rinse off.

Press TIRE CLEANER. This is the low-pressure green foam. Spray tires and floor mats (rubber), leaving both to soak.

NOTE: It is important to use both PRE-SOAK and HIGH PRESSURE SOAP, one is PH positive and the other is PH negative. These complement each other in the cleaning process.

WATER SAVING TIP: PRE-SOAK soap at low pressure uses only 12 percent of the water that high pressure SOAP uses. Use the PRE-SOAK first and you’ll need less of the high pressure SOAP.

Press PRE-SOAK. It takes a few seconds for the low-pressure foam to work it‘s way down the hose from the ceiling mounted manifold so spray the water that comes out first on the car to moisten. Soak entire car starting at the front fender closest to the coin drop, spray the front facing areas of the car paying particular attention to the bugs (dwell time).

Work your way around the car spraying from bottom up in order to see where you have sprayed, until you get back to the front tire where you started. Cover the car quickly but efficiently without missing anywhere. The PRE-SOAK will loosen the bond between the dirt and paint, but you still have to remove the dirt with high pressure SOAP.

WATER SAVING TIP: The PRE-SOAK, if applied per the instructions, will have already have loosened the bond between the dirt and paint so one can use the HIGH PRESSURE SOAP quickly.

In most conditions using the PRE-SOAK should not require the use of the FOAMING BRUSH and we don’t recommend using the foaming brush because you are pushing that dirt around, on, and into the paint. But there are times when the car might have a film from something (usually road construction), or let’s face it, some people just love the foaming brush, they’ve used it for years and it’s just the way they wash a car.

If you do use the FOAMING BRUSH, wash any dirt particles out of the brush that were left by the previous user with the HIGH PRESSURE SOAP and RINSE the car first leaving no dirt particles on the paint to push around.

Press SOAP. Immediately point the wand at the tire you ended with when pre-soaking. The high pressure will force the remaining pre-soak out to wash that tire with until the high pressure soap catches up.

Wash the white sidewalls with the nozzle 2-3 inches away from the tire at an angle so the spray will reflect away from you. Holding the nozzle 12 inches from the car, wash the top and then sides. Work your way around the car back in the opposite direction you used with the pre-soak leaving the front (bugs) of the car for last (more dwell time for the PRE-SOAK).

Wash the tires at 2-3 inches, back off to 12 inches for the car and don’t forget the wheel wells (street salt). Spray up and under the doors and bumpers (bend the wand) to remove the salt and road tar. Wash the front of the car last, holding the nozzle at two inches for the real stubborn bugs. Wash the floor mats.

WATER SAVING TIP: Water use for SPOT FREE RINSE is about 37 percent of high pressure rinse.

Press RINSE. Rinse car completely from top to bottom with nozzle approximately two feet away. Pay more attention to the horizontal surfaces, the rain gutter on the roof (all cars have them even if they’re hidden from sight), around the windows, doors and the seams on the hood and trunk, anywhere the soap might have collected. In order for the clear coat protectant (or wax) and spot free to work properly one must wash off all the soap. Rinse off the floor mats.

WATER SAVING TIP: CLEAR COAT (PROTECTANT) or WAX not only protects the paint, it makes washing the car next time easier and quicker particularly in the summer with all the bugs.

Press CLEAR COAT (PROTECTANT). This is applied with the third expanding hose and works like wax but has a special hardening palmer in it to protect the clear coat paint on all the new cars. Starting at the top, spray the car, letting the foam run down the sides, windows also if you want, it might be easier to remove the bugs during the next wash.

The molecular structure of the protectant is such that it will adhere mostly to the metal. Cover the car but if you should miss a spot, rinsing in the next step should spread it around. This may be the most important step in protecting your car’s finish.

For older cars, without clearcoat paint, press WAX. Apply as with the clear coat protectant above. Skip wax if you used clear coat protectant.

Press RINSE. Holding the nozzle about two feet away, quickly rinse off the excess CLEAR COAT (PROTECTANT) (or wax) from the vehicle.

Press SPOT-FREE RINSE. (Medium pressure) Rinse car from top down. Be sure to get all soap and dirty rinse water off your car (remember rain gutters etc.). Don’t shorten your time on this cycle as it is very important to insure a SPOT-FREE car.

Rinse out all cracks and seams. If you see bubbles, that’s soap that you missed during the high pressure rinsing. SPOT-FREE rinse is super clean filtered water that leaves no residue to spot the finish after air drying.

Open your trunk, shake your floor mats, place in trunk for drying and installation later. Pull car out slowly especially if you did not back in.

Pull around through the DRYER, then under the drying canopy for vacuum and interior cleaning. Vending for towels, armor all, etc. are in front of east building and on the west side. You can use coins or bills.

Pull into the DRYER (only $1). Insert four quarters, $1 coin, token or $1 bill. The DRYER will remove ninety percent of the surface water from ninety percent of the car making it easier to wipe dry. Watch the count down timer to gage your travel time through the air flow.

For a totally clean car, use our WET TOWEL for the inside of the windows. Then wipe ARMORALL on the dash and vinyl. Be sure to VACUUM the seats and floor.

NOTE: The dust re-circulated by the heater or air conditioner causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. You’ll actually feel better after vacuuming your car, especially if you have airborne allergies.

If you did not wash your floor mats (carpet type) while washing the car use the RUG-BEATER to remove the dust and dirt then VACUUM.

All of our water is softened, we have heated floors, strongest vacuums, covered drying area, a car dryer and thousands of watts of night lighting with 16 recorded cameras for security.

Dennis Ryan has been in the carwash business since 1988 and the construction business for 40 years. At one time he owned and operated five self-service carwashes. Currently he owns and operates American Pride Carwash in Casper/Evansville, WY. He can be contacted at

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