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Dirty Work by Double D Dwyer

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David "Double D" Dwyer is a 20-year veteran of the carwashing industry, having owned Dubble D's Car Wash in Plymouth, MN, and is currently a content marketing and operations specialist consultant. He can be reached at ddwyer500@gmail.com.

The impact wrench

July 15, 2014
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A manager of a carwash recently called me seeking advice regarding an incident that occurred at his facility. We should all pay heed to this cautionary story; it could happen to any of us.

A few weeks ago, his supervisor was working after hours on maintenance. He grabbed the ladder and climbed up to replace a leaky hydraulic fitting on a set of front to back mitters. The motor and fitting are located on top of an aluminum crossbar about 10 feet above the floor – a sizeable drop.

Upon completing the necessary repairs the staff member climbed down, moved the ladder out of the way and tripped the wash a few times to ensure a snug fit. Anyone who has experienced the headache of hydraulic fluid on cloth and vehicles can understand the need to get it fixed.

All was good, no more leaking with the new part and time for him get home after a long workday. Tomorrow was his scheduled day off. Except one minor problem, the supervisor forgot the wrench up on the crossbar.  

This was not some small crescent wrench, but rather a cast iron 18 inch pipe wrench that weighed about 7 pounds. Everybody knows what I’m describing, because anyone that operates a wash has at least two of them somewhere at their site. Suddenly a very dangerous, even lethal situation existed and nobody knew.

After a day of fairly heavy wash volume, vibrating equipment and wind tunnel effect from the blowers, the wrench became unstable. As a new minivan occupied by a mom and two young kids passed underneath, the wrench fell and impacted the windshield. It landed with such force that it smashed straight through, bounced off the dash and landed on the passenger front seat. Glass went everywhere, water and soap poured in, the kids were terrified and the air from the blowers added to the chaos and mess.

The wash employees said they heard something strange, but with hearing protection and tunnel noise nobody understood what had happened until the van was going through the drying process.

Luckily, no one was physically injured. The van was another story. Windshield replacement, body damage to roof, electrical damage to navigation system and satellite radio, torn leather on passenger seat and the carpeting was so drenched that matting had to be replaced at customer’s request. Total cost was $4,750.

His insurance deductible is $5,000. This was a total out of pocket expense for him. Ouch.

In addition the manager had one extremely upset (and well-connected in the community) mom on his hands. He was seeking my advice on how to handle the fall out and mitigate negative attention in traditional media, social media and plain word of mouth. After helping him navigate the publicity minefield, we had time to reflect and draw a few simple conclusions.

How many of us have forgotten screwdrivers, pliers, nuts, bolts, washers and even wrenches sitting atop of our tunnel equipment? When is the last time you got up on a ladder and took a look around? You may very well be surprised by forgotten items waiting to cost you money and embarrassment.

Do you have designated places for your tools, or are they just thrown haphazardly in your backroom tool bucket? Would you know if something was missing and cause you to look around before opening up for the day?

How do you handle such an upset customer when all blame, liability and fault lay directly on you? What is the best course forward on the road to redemption?

Lastly, how do you handle the employee who left the wrench up there in the first place? Dismissal? Warning? Teaching moment for the entire crew?

The manager learned an expensive lesson, and the staff member did also. Happily, both of their jobs are secure. Of equal importance, because of the positive way the customer was handled during a very negative situation, she has regularly returned with her van (and kids). I advised the manager to fully own the situation, and it worked well.

Finally, the manager put up pegboard and hooks in the backroom, he labeled places for his main tools and even outlined their shape with magic marker so employees can plainly see where they belong.

What could have been a very bad ending wound up being well handled fairly quietly with compassion, class and of course money. Next time you have a minute, look up and around. You may just save yourself an expensive accident waiting to happen.