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Operations and Management

Compressed Air Systems

In a compressed air system, as in any car wash system, problems will occur during normal operation.



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In a compressed air system, as in any car wash system, problems will occur during normal operation. Most of these problems are minor and can be eliminated by simple routine maintenance and a basic understanding of the system. Most, if not all, of the chemical applications, the wraps, and many other car wash components rely on air. A failure in the system could cause downtime, potentially causing the loss of thousands of dollars.

Air compressor maintenance should be performed daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annually, and annually. It’s important to note that there are several steps in each one of the maintenance areas. It’s a good idea to check with the air compressor manufacturer to get the maintenance schedule for your specific compressor. My experience has shown that people usually don’t perform routine maintenance and only think about air compressors when they stop working. The following tips will help eliminate the problems before they arise:

  1. Air compressors have only a few things that can go wrong. The first problem is due to too much moisture in the lines and in the air tank. The moisture will carry through the air lines to the components, causing premature failure. To avoid this drain the air compressor on a daily basis. In most cases the drain can be found on the bottom of the compressor. Adding an automatic drain that can be set for specific times will make sure that the air compressor is being drained on a daily basis. When excessive amounts of moisture in the lines are accumulating, it’s recommended that an air dryer system be added.
  2. Components of the system can also cause air equipment failure. In the car wash equipment room you will find the filter, regulator, and lubricator. These are used to adjust air pressure, filter the air, and add lubricant to the air lines. It is not uncommon for people to find oil coming out of air-controlled valves in a car wash. Most people are unaware that there is a knob for adjusting the oil drip rate. In most cases this knob can be found on the top of the lubricator. The drip rate should be about one drop per minute.

    Air powered tools and valves that are not lubricated properly can fail prematurely. Valves that are not properly lubricated can stick, causing the chemical pump to stay on and wasting chemical. That can be costly. Any valves that are stuck open could also allow air to freely flow, making the compressor run all day.


Filters should be inspected periodically. A clogged filter will increase pressure drop, which can either reduce pressure at the point of use, or increase the pressure required from the compressor. Both of these situations can result in excessive energy consumption.

  • The air compressor can also have problems, due to the system overheating. Elevated compressor temperature can cause many problems. These are the most common problems and what to do when they occur:
    1. Low oil level is the most common. Check the compressor oil, and if low, refill with the manufacturer’s recommended oil.
    2. If the oil level is full and the compressor is still running hot, check with the manufacturer to determine the maximum operating temperature.
    3. If the temperature is being exceeded, you will need to either increase ventilation to the room housing the air compressor, or provide more space between the air compressor and the wall.

    These tips can save you money in many ways. The two biggest money savings would come from reduced downtime, and not having to replace the air compressor. Let’s assume you are full service car wash and you are down for three hours, at 60 cars per hour and a ticket average of $16.00 per car. The three hours of downtime would cost you $2,880.00 in lost revenue. The cost to replace an air compressor would be in the range of $4,000.00. Just performing the proper maintenance above could save you $6880.00 in one day. That is a pretty good return on your investment on time.


    Robert Andre is the President of CarWash College™. Robert can be reached at [email protected]. For more information about CarWash College™ certification programs, visit or call the registrar’s office at 1-866-492-7422.

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