When deciding which door is best for a carwash, owners might think the selection is simple since there are only two main door types — polycarbonate or vinyl. But there are a number of important factors to take into consideration when making this decision.

Choosing a door

Josh Hart, president of Airlift Doors Inc., says choosing a door comes down to security, speed, breakaway ability, appearance and reliability.

Security: “If vandalism or theft has been an issue at your location, it may be one of the most important factors in deciding what door style to use,” Hart explains.

Polycarbonate doors provide more security than vinyl doors alone. Hart asserts, “[They] offer an impact strength 200 times that of a glass door…and will not crack or shatter if impacted, offering a security level similar to that of a steel door.”

Vinyl doors, however, can be cut or knocked out of the track compromising wash security, Hart says. “Operators who choose the vinyl rollup style door but still need security may choose to add an overhead door which is only used to close down the wash during nonbusiness hours,” he adds.

Speed: “Most washes are set up to open and close the door between every car. The faster you can do this, the more heat you can retain in the bay, in turn reducing your overall gas bill,” Hart reminds us.  

“A typical overhead poly door with a pneumatic opener will operate at speeds of 18 to 24 inches per second, whereas a vinyl door can operate at speeds up to 34 inches per second.” But, Hart says, “It is important to note that when the doors are closed for an extended period of time, the poly door will offer a slightly better insulation and r-value for your bay, so it may even out in the end.”

Breakaway ability: “Upon impact, [polycarbonate] doors will be damaged and most likely need replacement of the panels and hardware impacted,” explains Hart.

“The vinyl door is constructed so the sections will flex and pop out of the track on impact with no damage to the sections,” he adds. “On the next door cycle the panels will automatically pull back into the track and reset itself for continued operation.”

Appearance: There are style options for each polycarbonate and vinyl door type. Hart notes, “Both doors look very professional, and choosing a door based on appearance really comes down to individual preference.”

For polycarbonate doors, the first and standard style is a five-wall 5/8-inch panel. “This style panel allows approximately 80 percent of the natural light into the bay and allows limited visibility into the bay," he continues.

Another option available for polycarbonate doors is the solid 1/4-inch panel, which offers a glass look, Hart explains.

People are generally unaware of appearance options for poly doors, Hart says. “Anodizing of the aluminum rails is one way to make your door stand out. Bronze, black and silver are a few of the most common, but there [are] a variety of shades available with anodizing," he continues.

“Another way to differentiate your poly door from others is to change the actual polycarbonate material. The standard material is a clear polycarbonate, but bronze, opal, green, blue and red are a few of the other options available,” Hart adds.

The standard style of vinyl doors can be customized to match the color design of a wash. Hart says, the rollup door “comes with three or more full-vision sections depending on the height of the door. The full view panels allow a customer to see if a vehicle is in the bay as the vinyl does not allow any visibility.”

Reliability: Hart considers the reliability of doors to be the most important factor in the selection process, but says it is also probably the most overlooked factor.

“Some companies specialize in applications such as dock doors or dry environment doors. Be sure you choose a manufacturer that specializes in the carwash industry,” Hart warns. “Although the panels may look the same, a company that understands the corrosive nature of the carwash will use hardware options that the other companies do not offer.”

This hardware is essential to choosing a successful door package, says Hart, and includes stainless steel shafts and bearings, plastic or stainless steel hinges and tracks, and plastic rollers with stainless steel shafts for polycarbonate doors; and fiberglass tracks and wind bars, as well as all stainless steel hardware for vinyl doors.

“These unseen items are the key to reliable performance of your products as well to longevity of your overall door package.”

What’s new in doors?

While not new to overhead doors, the strapeze counterbalance system has found new use in rollup doors.

“It is not necessary for the vinyl rollup style, but if added it allows you to disengage the motor from the shaft with a simple pull rope hanging from the motor,” shares Hart. This allows customers to leave in the case of power failure.

Choosing a dryer

As with doors, there is no best choice for every wash, so owners must select the dryer that best suits their needs.

Steve Robinson, vice president of business development for Mark VII Equipment Inc., says to consider space in tunnel washes. “More space allows more blowers to be used, which in turn allows the conveyor to be run at a higher speed for more throughput,” he explains. “But there's a tradeoff between speed and drying results, so it's important to have a realistic expectation of the maximum speed that will achieve the drying quality you want to provide.”

The power needed also should be taken into consideration. Archie Johnson, owner of The Dryer Pros, says, “When replacing an existing dryer, the electrical power required for the new dryer usually cannot exceed that required for the old dryer.”

Robinson also stresses the importance for in-bay automatic washes to consider the freestanding versus onboard drying differences. “A freestanding dryer can increase your throughput by allowing the next car to drive into the bay while the previous car is exiting through the dryer,” he explains. “The downside is if customers don't drive through the dryer at a slow/steady pace, drying quality will suffer.”

Onboard dryers are better for shorter bays, he adds. “[They offer] the advantage of providing consistent drying results, since the car remains in place while it is dried.”

What’s new in dryers?

Robinson and Johnson point out the recent improvements in directed drying, but the biggest modern improvements have been in energy efficiency, they say.

“The focus of new technology is mostly on how to dry effectively while using less electricity and reducing operating costs. This can be accomplished using variable frequency drives or air "dams" to reduce the energy consumed when the dryer is not in use,” says Robinson. “These technologies have been available for several years, but many carwash operators have yet to invest in them.” 

Johnson explains, “Rather than start and stop dryer motors to comply with the presence of vehicles, the air gate is closed between vehicles similar to a rinse arch. When closed between vehicles, motor load is reduced as much as 50 percent, which has a positive impact on power usage.”

As with any new equipment, owners should look at the future costs of dryers. “Before buying new or upgraded dryers, operators should review energy costs to determine the ROI of investing in these options,” Robinson recommends.

Maintaining new dryers

“Dryers are relatively maintenance-free,” says Robinson.

Though, of course, some maintenance is involved. “Growling noises from motors are usually caused by worn or defective bearings. Another more serious warning is excessive vibration, usually caused by an out-of-balance impeller,” Johnson explains. “Oftentimes vibration is caused by debris accumulated on impellor blades. To reduce the possibility of a dangerous impeller failure, blades should be inspected for accumulated debris on a regular basis.”

Likewise, Robinson says the air intake can become blocked and should be checked frequently, as well as checking to ensure “blowers and nozzles remain aligned as recommended by your supplier to achieve the best drying results.”

When it comes time to choose a new dryer for your wash, Johnson says it’s really best to talk to a drying professional. “Consult an expert in dryer technology that’s experienced in assembling dryer components to get maximum drying results.”

Amanda Hosey is assistant editor of our sister publication, Cleanfax. She can be reached at [email protected]