Managing Your Tunnel to Maximize Performance and Profit

There are many facets to running a car wash to maximize the performance and profitability of your wash. In this article we will discuss the management and operation of the facility to insure it is functioning at its best. Next month we will deal with marketing and other aspects for increasing revenue and improving the bottom line. Sometimes we often forget that your customers are not buying a wash but the results it produces – a clean, dry, shiny vehicle. It is no easy task to produce the best results for your wash. You must take control and make it a daily process to make sure everything is going smoothly and act quickly went something goes wrong.


Creating a Strong Infrastructure for Your Operation

A well run operation saves time and money. An important aspect of improving a tunnel wash's efficiency involves developing a strong infrastructure as well as keeping your equipment well-maintained and utilizing good chemistry. Good management starts with developing a knowledgeable, well-trained staff. Every conveyor operation should have complete operational and employee manuals that spell out all procedures and responsibilities and a well conceived on-going training program for all employees. A lack of quality employee training based on established procedures can create problems in your operation. Employees must know what their duties are and how to perform them properly and in a timely fashion. This includes not only their duties but also how you expect them to perform and complete company rules and regulations. Don't forget to also have an OSHA Right to Know program in place for safety of both your employees and your customers.


Keeping Your Equipment in Good Running Condition

After creating a sound infrastructure in your operation, the next step in managing any wash is to make sure your equipment is always in good working condition. No one's equipment will do the job if it is not well maintained and operating properly. Develop written maintenance schedules with checklists. Perform regularly scheduled maintenance on the equipment yourself or have it done by your local equipment distributor to minimize the chance of breakdowns. Well maintained equipment not only performs better but lasts longer. If you are not sure exactly what procedures are involved your local equipment distributor or the manufacturer should have guidelines you can use to establish one.. A poorly maintained wash creates problems that can affect the bottom line. Equipment must be kept in peak operational condition. Equipment breakdowns during business hours are costly while inefficiencies may mean poor wash performance and loss of repeat business. Every employee should know what their responsibilities are in regards to maintaining and troubleshooting the equipment


Proper Chemical Application Is Essential

Even if your equipment is in good shape and operating properly inefficient or improper application of the chemicals can cost your dearly in more ways than one. Wasting or misusing chemicals may not only increase operating costs but create unhappy customers. Good chemistry involves coordination of the products with the proper application. Make sure chemical applications are applied properly. . There is nothing wrong with making sure chemical costs are in line but not to sacrifice quality. If you make changes in suppliers or products do so for equal or better performance at equal or better cost not just to save money. Do not concentrate on how much each chemical costs per gallon. You must find out what the real cost is – the use cost or in other words how much you are using. Watered down or weak chemicals may actually increase your use cost due to the fact you would be using more chemical to get the job done than with a quality product. It may also adversely affect your wash's performance.


Chemical safety is an absolute must in your operation. It is a good practice to limit your employee's access to your wash chemicals. Most chemicals are reasonably safe to people when applied properly in the tunnel. However, in their concentrated form in the equipment room special care must be exercised in the storage and use of all car wash chemicals. Any employee entering the area where chemicals are stored or in use should be made aware of their dangers, first aid treatments in case of improper contact and proper chemical application techniques. Safety equipment should be easily accessible and in good condition. As a general rule, the equipment room should be locked at all times and only management should have the keys. They should also be required to be present if non-management personnel have access to the room.


Making Equipment and Chemistry Work Together

For maximum performance and profitability in you tunnel it is important that you have an understanding on how your equipment and chemistry work together to clean a vehicle. As mentioned before, using the wrong product or too little product might save you money at the cost of return customers. Using too much product will not necessarily clean the vehicles any better than using the proper amount yet will unnecessarily increase costs. Running your conveyor too fast may cause cleaning issues as well as staffing concerns. Running your conveyor too slow may increase chemical costs but not cleaning efficiency. The right selection of chemical products and friction media may improve cleaning quality without increased cost. Understanding the basics of balancing or tuning your tunnel is essential to maximizing your potential as an operator/owner.


An important aspect of balancing any tunnel is conveyor speed. For years there has been a never ending debate in the tunnel industry regarding conveyor speed. Generally operators tend to run conveyors at a much higher rate than necessary. They should be set to handle the volume of cars that are normally done at the wash if it has been properly staffed. The other factors involved are the day of the week, weather conditions and time of day. On a slow day you can allow for greater spacing and maybe allow you to operate with less staff. At high volume times, space them as close as you are able to handle with the staff on hand. If you are running too fast it may require higher chemical concentrations to get maximum cleaning. If run too slowly, raising dilution ratios may not be able to achieve a good cost per car. Keep in mind, any changes in conveyor speed done after the wash has been set up will require adjustment of the chemical dilutions. For best results once you have arrived at the speed you can live with set it and don't change it. Once the speed is set, you can work on balancing your chemicals. Don't forget your dryers. Dryers are expensive to operate. They need to be run as efficiently as possible. They also require periodic maintenance. Running them too long costs money while turning them off too soon could negatively affect drying performance.


Understanding How Your Equipment Set Up Works Best

The equipment configuration and form of friction used in a friction wash varies a great deal. There are still a few washes using brushes but most washes use some form of cloth or closed cell foam type material or a combination of both as their friction media. Today's trend is towards the new dense foam material that tends to avoid the potential problem with brushes or cloth of retaining large amounts of water and soil which may damage the vehicle's surface. Normally a friction wash contains some form of friction on all sides of the vehicle. For cleaning the top of the vehicles you may see a mitter curtain, mitters or a top brush. On the sides you may see some form of side brush or rocker panel brush. Many also have wrap around units to clean fronts and backs of vehicles.


The most popular form of conveyor wash in today's market is the hybrid. A hybrid car wash blends the best features of friction and touch free washing. In the typical hybrid car wash you will find a limited amount of friction, usually some form of mitter or top brush and probably a side brush. In recent years tires brushes have become less popular due to the potential damage to expensive rims and tires although when used properly they do a great job on an area the customers look at carefully when deciding on the quality of the wash. Also involved in the process normally is some form of two step chemical application followed by high pressure. The exception would be the new exterior express tunnels that not only utilize two step chemistry as well as extensive friction. Normally two presoaks are applied followed by a shampoo. Many will use an acidic (low pH) and alkaline (high pH) presoak while others utilize two alkaline applications. In a hybrid, especially with a short conveyor, I would highly recommend that you use a low pH shampoo for better drying results. In today's market, the hybrid technique is found in most of the washes using some form of friction. It is especially popular in short tunnel (85 feet or less) configurations due to the length of time devoted to the cleaning process


A Final Word

Maximizing the performance of your wash involves both the proper management and training of your staff as well as balancing the performance of your equipment and chemistry. Poorly trained and motivated staff members cannot only affect the operation of the wash but create “attitude” problems. If a good infrastructure has been laid out not only is it easier to manage the staff but also more efficient. Equally important is the best use and operation of your equipment and chemicals. Make sure you take the time to be familiar with how these elements work together. Each tunnel has its unique "quirks" that need to be dealt with on an individual basis. As an operator/owner there is no substitute for gaining an understanding and experience with what works best in developing a qualified staff and creating and maintaining the top performance in your tunnel. Hopefully this article will increase your awareness of the importance of both aspects of the business.