While location, location, location is the mantra of the real estate industry — and it is ultra-important in the professional carwashing and detailing industry as well — without an appealing, clean design, layout and site, customers will pass right by your business, regardless of its primary street’s traffic count and location, in search of a tidier carwash down the road. Why? Because carwash operators are in the business of clean, and for prospective customers, perception is reality.

“How can a carwash clean my car when it can’t clean and maintain itself?” This is a fair question from the countless missed customers that pass by dilapidated carwash sites in this country every day.

In contrast, sites that do elevate their images will reap the rewards and build customer loyalty. In this article, we discuss making over your carwash, starting with your carwash doors.

Similarly, if your carwash doors are not working properly, malfunctioning doors can create frustration and lost business. This article will also cover the proper maintenance checks you need to incorporate with modern carwash doors that will keep your door components in good working order.

Options in today’s market

As stated in previous issues of this magazine as well as in our new video series on Carwash.com, “Carwash Connection,” there are basically two popular styles of carwash doors being used today: vinyl and polycarbonate. Therefore, if your carwash has another type of door, such as a steel-insulated door, step one is to get to know these modern carwash door types better and select the one that is right for your site.

“When retrofitting a carwash with new doors, the [operator] needs to consider the kind of door that he or she needs and the benefits of that particular model of door,” educates William Stokes, who is the senior sales representative for Ultimate Supplies, LLC. “The polycarbonate doors are a sectional overhead. [These] doors offer more insulation and visibility over the curtain doors’ benefit of flexibility, smaller profile and speed.”

Therefore, as an example, if your carwash is in a colder, windier climate, explains Stokes, a polycarbonate door would best fit the application.

Beyond the façade, vinyl and polycarbonate door components and motors must be manufactured for wet environments, such as professional carwashes. Modern, high-quality vinyl doors, for instance, says Stokes, are sold standard with a waterproof electric control and motor system that is made for the wet, corrosive environment of the carwash bays.

“[Leading] pneumatic waterproof control boxes receive pulse signals from the carwash equipment, or other devices, to operate the doors to open and close at the desired time,” explains Stokes.

The leading vinyl carwash doors on the market today, continues Stokes, are manufactured from the highest quality vinyl material that is mounted directly to an aluminum tube supported by a stainless steel bracket, shaft and gear assembly that supports the electric motor. “The curtain travels through a custom-made PVC track with an automatic reset built in to reinsert the doors if ever removed from normal operation due to a vehicle strike or excessive winds. The electric operator controls the open/close of the overhead door by pressing the control box’s open/close buttons and by the inputs from the carwash equipment or auxiliary equipment, such as motion sensors, induction loops or additional safety eyes,” he says.

Polycarbonate carwash doors, which were first introduced in the 1990s, are typically constructed of polycarbonate and anodized aluminum. This door type is considered lightweight and has several working components that operators should be aware of.

According to Jim Johnson, general manager at Airlift Doors Inc., a counterweight system is commonly used, instead of a torsion spring, on these lightweight doors. A quality torsion spring will last for about 100,000 cycles, he says. “However, you need to grease the springs, which can cause dripping on the door. A quality counterbalance system will last five times longer than torsion springs with no maintenance and is a simple replacement when the strap finally does wear or break.”

The working components of common leading polycarbonate carwash doors, Johnson adds, include:

  • An air operator: Preferably a draw-bar style to operate the door, which can last in a carwash environment without concerns of corrosion, since these operators are commonly made of stainless steel.
  • A counterweight system: This system, again replacing springs, typically operates with the use of a belt and stacked weights.
  • Practical upgrades: Today, door manufacturers offer a variety of updated components, such as stainless steel or plastic hinges, plastic tracks, stainless steel shafts, e-coated drums, stainless steel cables and stainless steel/plastic rollers. These enhancements have been instrumental in making door packages more efficient and durable.

“The other type of door that is becoming more popular in the industry is vinyl roll-up doors,” reports Johnson. “It’s made of vinyl, so its level of security is lower, but these doors have fewer moving parts compared to polycarbonate doors, and that makes them very appealing to the carwash owner.” According to Johnson, the working components and features of a vinyl roll-up door include:

  • Electric motor: This motor can be operated using a variable frequency drive (VFD) in the control panel, which actually converts power from a 110-volt supply to 240-volt — a three-phase power to the motor. VFD will also help to control the speed of operation.
  • Opener options: There are two models of roll-ups. One uses a counterweight system, similar to polycarbonate doors, in order to balance the door. This system is especially useful in emergency situations, as the operator simply needs to pull a release rope and the door opens on its own, using the counterweight. The other roll-up model, without the counterweight system, can still be operated manually, but it requires the use of a drill, which turns the motor to open the door in the case of a power failure.   
  • Impact benefit: Roll-up doors have the ability to pop out of the track on impact and automatically reset on the next cycle.
  • Practical upgrades: Extensive modifications, such as a tighter weather seal to eliminate any air gaps, stainless steel and corrosion-resistant construction and hardware, and the elimination of cables and rollers have also advanced vinyl roll-up doors.

“Make sure you buy a door that resets at 8 feet so you don’t have to open the full 10 feet,” advises Johnson. “This will save on heat in the winter.”

Modern carwash doors will also require specific maintenance, inspection and checks, which should be performed following the seasons. With proper cleaning and maintenance steps in place, which we will cover in more detail in the next section, regular use should not be an issue for leading carwash doors on the market today. However, according to the experts, infrequent use may lead to issues if proactive strategies are not applied.

“Keep doors clean and lubricated as needed to guarantee smooth operation during the slower seasons when doors are used less frequently. We recommend that doors are operated and inspected during the summer to observe any issues that would need to be addressed before they are put back into normal operation,” notes Stokes.

Cleaning and maintenance requirements

The best way to ensure that prospective customers are attracted to your carwash — and not deterred, heading the competition’s way — is through proper cleaning and care of your entire site, including its carwash doors.

Regular carwash door cleaning is required due to the environment this equipment is operating in. Both popular door types on the market today — polycarbonate and vinyl — can be cleaned by using a soft cloth and a plastic polish or cleaner, which, adds Stokes, is readily available at most retail outlets in the U.S. In terms of maintenance, he also shares some tips for the working components.

“The electric operators require very little maintenance but must be operated following the operational guidelines,” asserts Stokes, adding that regular maintenance should always start with inspection of all components, hardware and operating systems to make sure they are working normally and as desired. “The air operators require a clean, dry air source and an inline air dryer to reduce maintenance and prevent water/condensation from getting into the air operators. If excess water or condensation gets into the operator, it could remove the lubricant that allows the pistons to function properly. If you develop leaks, an inexpensive rebuild kit with seals, O-rings and various components is available.”

Related: Autumnal door maintenance

When performing maintenance, on a regular schedule, Johnson also recommends applying proper lubrication to all moving parts. First and foremost, he explains, is to grease shaft flange bearings, because if you do not and they go bad, it is a major repair.

“Also, rollers, hinges and operators do need a good spray lubing,” adds Johnson. “As you lubricate these areas, inspect cables, hinges, etc. Repairing before they break will be a lot easier than after they break.”

As with all carwash equipment, you should leverage the experience and knowledge of your carwash door suppliers and manufacturers. The door’s maintenance manual will also walk you through the specific steps you need to properly maintain and clean the doors that your carwash selects.

If your carwash is currently remodeling or considering a remodeling project, Johnson warns that it is very important to consider the wash and dryer height as well as ceiling height, as many older washes have lower ceilings. Some newer washes have much higher ceilings, causing challenges when looking to fit the door.

“As a general rule, for a sectional overhead door, you need 10 inches from the ceiling down to fit. A roll-up door does not go back into the bay, so it fits where an overhead door does not,” notes Johnson.

When selecting doors, it is important to know your wash’s needs. Are impacts a consideration? Is security needed? Is speed a factor? The answers to these questions and some others will lead you to an attractive, reliable and durable door.