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Writing in opposition to prep-less washing

May 11, 2006
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Writing in opposition to prep-less washing
Todd Oliveri

All cars are not created equal. From varying angles on the front and rear, wide mirrors, rear wipers, spare tires — I haven't even mentioned wheels yet — setting up a wash to clean every vehicle effectively without some sort of prep means low quality for some.

Streamline your labor to save money and operate efficiently, but don't throw out the baby with the bath water!

I'm all in favor of pushing a button and sending cars down the tunnel, but I don't think the equipment/chemical technology is there yet to produce an acceptable level of clean. If you sell quality, manually prep it before you send it.

Oops, missed a spot

I've spent countless hours watching cars going into my tunnel and out the exit, looking for areas that were missed and why.

Did the equipment do a poor job? Was it just one of those cars that is impossible to get 100 percent of or did we do a poor job of prepping?

Equipment doesn't occasionally miss. Once set up, it will either always get the areas it is supposed to or always miss them.

There isn't any such thing as a car that can't be washed. It inevitably comes down to preparation. You have to prep those troublesome areas if you want to produce a clean car.

As a professional operator I take responsibility and pride in delivering a clean product.

With that philosophy, I offer an express wash, no towel dry. There are many full service washes that keep the car 15-20 minutes or longer and do a fantastic job. I keep the car on my lot for less than five minutes and aim to produce the same level of clean.

As many exterior wash owners can attest to, this is no easy task.

I've visited many washes, mostly on the West coast, to see how different operators clean a car and there are many different practices, from very fast to quite slow; too much prep to none at all.

One wash in particular spent over five minutes prepping before the car went into the tunnel. By this point all they really needed was a rinse arch. The car was pretty much washed on the prep deck.

When I asked why, they said they take a lot of care in preparing the car for a thorough clean. What they should have said was their equipment is antiquated and isn't capable of cleaning.

A quick prep

Done right, prepping needs to be done efficiently. My belief is to set up the equipment to do as much of the wash process as possible.

My two prep workers are not to spend more than 25 seconds on a car before they push the send button.

I could do it faster for people who don't order a wheel clean with the wash, but I won't use hydrofluoric acid, so wheel cleaning slows me down.

My tunnel consists of ample equipment — prep guns, hogs hair brushes, wraps, low sides, CTAs, two mitters, high sides, high pressure for the wheels and top, multiple presoak and rinse arches, triple foams, etc.

I've visited no-prep washes and for the most part, cars look clean when they come out. While some do a decent job, others should be ashamed of the product they produce.

Yet when I go to the vacuum area and look at a car as it dries, I notice the same shortcomings. There seems to be a haze of dirt left in some of the problem areas, such as below the wiper blades, around license plate areas and the rears of SUVs.

This is not an acceptable product.

Some people aim for 95 percent clean as acceptable. Yet if you wore a shirt with a quarter-size coffee stain on it, it would be 98 percent clean. That spot, however, is very noticeable and the shirt is dirty.

Nothing looks worse than a shiny black SUV with a small percentage of the dirt. It stands out like a coffee stain on a shirt.

Prep it or lose it

The only way to get a good product is to manually prep the cars in a fast and efficient manner that doesn't slow the process to an unacceptable pace.

Utilizing prep guns or hogs hair brushes is mandatory at this point in carwash technology. It gets bird droppings, puts soap on dirty areas sooner for longer dwell times and helps the tunnel's equipment which can't be set up to clean every make of car out there.

Longer tunnels help, but they are not a cure-all. While longer, they are typically set up at higher conveyor speeds so they need some additional equipment.

A 90-foot conveyor set at 90 cars per hour (cph) is roughly the same as a 120-foot conveyor set up at 140 cph.

Length is relative to the speed of the car passing through it. Dwell times are roughly the same and even if you run a longer tunnel at slower speeds, you can't reliably clean problem areas without prep.

At the most recent ICA show did anyone guarantee you a product that will clean wheels? The best I heard was a product that aimed to clean "most" wheels.

This is not a shot at equipment or chemical suppliers. It supports my point — you have to do some prep to get everyone.

Are you going to rely on your entrance guy to decide which cars to prep and which to just send, or are you going to accept poor quality for 10 percent of your customers each day.

If you rely on your entrance people to decide, I guarantee they will just send most through rather than do additional work, especially as the day goes on.

I only have seven years of experience washing cars, but here in the Northwest, we have some of the most successful wash operators in the business; Brown Bear, Kaady, and Mister Car Wash. These operators have the knowledge, experience and success to buy any equipment or chemicals,, but every one of them still preps in one form or another.

Don't try to squeeze your bottom line so tight that you lose quality. You can wash big numbers with prep.

Putting down the prep gun means putting down your standards for clean.

Todd Oliveri is the operator of Super Bright Car Wash in Redmond, WA.