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Operations and Management

Problems & solutions: Conveyor carwashes

Issues come up in the carwash business, but operators can effectively prevent and resolve them if they know what to watch for.


Modern washes have learned how technology can help them run smoother and more efficiently while remaining profitable. Advances in lighting, equipment and chemistry have all helped to streamline the carwash process and make it easier and even more fun for customers.

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As every operator knows, seemingly small problems can have major impacts on the operations of a business. Some of these problems, like weather, can be outside a carwash’s control. However, many problems can be prevented or easily and quickly fixed if an operator is prepared. Technology-dependent carwashes have their own set of unique problems that can affect profits.

Problem 1: Controller loss

According to John Pinson, director of operations for the Palms Car Wash, the biggest malfunction a tunnel carwash can have is to lose a tunnel controller. “Without the brain keeping time, telling all applications to fire on time, and keeping accurate track of functions then the location is flying blind,” he says.


Pinson explains that preventative maintenance for this problem involves backing up controller files. It can be as simple as operators utilizing fresh memory sticks.

“Some companies … have an EOD (emergency operations disk) so that if the tunnel watch goes down, you can still function,” he adds.

Problem 2: Long lines

Another issue carwashes face is a choking, slow flow causing a line of vehicles out to the street, shares Pinson.

“I truly believe that ‘Your Line is Your Sign.’ So if you have a line out to the street then you are not going to stack business. You are actually choking your business,” he states.


To prevent this problem, Pinson says managing throughput is key. “You have to establish a culture that breeds how to hustle. There [was] a sportscaster one Sunday that I heard say ‘it doesn’t take talent to hustle.’ There is a lot of truth to that. If you hustle and want your people to hustle, they will,” he shares.

Pinson continues that it takes everyone to keep vehicles from stacking. Specific problems that must be addressed are:

  • Pay stations working efficiently.
  • Preppers communicating clearly with customers to load the tunnel safely.
  • Chain speed and equipment functioning properly.
  • Towel dryers not stopping the conveyor, constricting flow.

Problem 3: Ensuring quality

A number of operational challenges face carwashes, but Pinson says the biggest challenge is quality.


“All carwash companies do a good job,” notes Pinson. “It is the companies that care about quality that will be set apart from the pack."

Training is essential, according to Pinson. "You can never stop training. If you stay focused and lead by example, your folks will follow.”

To rise above competition, Pinson adds carwashes (and all businesses) need to instill efficiency in the culture of the company.

“Operationally I look at a lot of companies, not just in the carwash business. I look at fast-food chains, five-star restaurants, retail cashier lines and amusement park facilities,” explains Pinson. “I like to see how they react in high-volume situations. Think about it next time. How was your experience when you were there? How much better it is when you see that the crew is really efficient.”

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