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Car wash doors 101

7 tips, tactics and techniques to keep your site running like a well-oiled machine.
Mark Hacking profile shot in front of a car
white BMW exiting via car wash door in the winter
Photo: Gary Davidson

If you’re already an operator of a car wash, you know how valuable your business can be. If you’re considering adding a car wash to your location, you’re about to find out. But there’s one inescapable fact about this business: downtime is the enemy. If the car wash door is closed, the cash runs dry.

So it’s in your best interest to invest in car wash equipment that’s going to boost your rate of return and keep customers coming back for more. Regardless of the specific type of car wash you’re running or you plan to open, one of the key pieces of equipment is the door. 

Yes, the door.

While it might seem relatively straightforward to have a power-operated door for your carwash, there are many factors to consider. Here are some tips, tactics and techniques engineered to help you make the right purchase and maintenance decisions.

1/ Measure your volume

No, we’re not talking about the sweet sound system you’ve installed in your location. We’re talking about an estimate of how many car wash customers you see over the course of the year, broken down by season and by month. This number will give you a good sense of how much wear and tear your car wash door will sustain. It will also help you determine when to schedule service intervals. 

Remember: The goal here is to reduce downtime, so you need a door that’s capable of withstanding a certain level of use and abuse. You also need to ensure your doors are working properly by taking advantage of slow periods to perform critical maintenance and repairs.  

2/ Take your temperature 

Anyone who’s lived through a Canadian winter in the Prairies or on the Atlantic Coast knows that it can be a brutal, unrelenting experience. A classic Canadian winter also has the capacity to exact a unique form of punishment on anything it comes in contact with, including your car wash doors. 

You could take a flyer and buy the exact same doors you saw at that car wash in Phoenix, but be prepared for disappointment—and keep a pick axe handy to chip away all that ice. There are certain door designs, features and materials that are made for the heavy lifting of winter and others that are not. Think long-term, choose wisely, celebrate your win.

3/ Consider the material evidence 

When choosing a car wash door, it’s important to assess the design of the door itself, how it’s intended to function and what it’s made of. The modern car wash door has many advanced features, including counterweight systems, couplers and heavy-duty track construction. 

In terms of materials used, stainless steel is a solid bet for the cables, tracks and hardware, while the most sophisticated doors are made from polycarbonate blended with anodized aluminum. These lightweight doors eliminate the need for torsion springs and instead use a counterweight system that can last 500,000 cycles or more.

4/ Initiate damage control 

One of the most common causes of car wash door damage is customer error—a simple case of a driver misjudging his entry and exit. But there are technological solutions available to help mitigate the damage. Safety features such as photo eyes, which track motion near the door and prevent it from closing, are worth their weight in gold. 

Another safety feature to consider is an emergency open system that works in the event of a power failure, allowing the door to be operated independently. You can also adjust the open and close limits of your door to ensure it reaches the proper height every time.

5/ Make it an open and shut case

In the warmer months, it can be tempting to keep your car wash doors open. While this may seem like a solid plan for extending the lifespan of your doors and all the related equipment, it’s not the case. Anything mechanical in nature needs to be in operation regularly; in fact, leading door manufacturers recommend consistently cycling doors to keep all the working parts well-lubricated. 

After all, even if the door is open, it’s still subjected to the same harsh conditions coming from the car wash itself. Temperature changes. High-pressure jets of water. Chemicals, dirt, muck and grime. All of these can affect door performance, especially if the door has been sitting idle for some time. In particular, lubricant will naturally gravitate to the lower areas of bearings, so regular operation helps ensure the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak.

6/ Plan your schedule, schedule your plan

According to the experts at Airlift Doors Inc., the best time to think about door maintenance is before “winter panic” begins. This is especially true in our country, where the percentage of car washes purchased in winter easily outpaces any other season. 

A solid maintenance plan should include making sure weather stripping around the door is in good shape and there’s no damage to the door itself. You should also check that the roller bearings are well-lubricated, the frame rails are clear of debris, the seals are in good shape, and all mounting hardware and anchors are secure. 

After all that, you should cycle the door a few times to make sure it’s in top working condition. At minimum, says Kevin Baumgartner of American Garage Door Supply Inc., you should check and tune your car wash doors and rollers twice a year. 

7/ Keep it clean 

Another form of door maintenance—one that might seem unnecessary—is cleaning. Yes, cleaning your car wash door! For the polycarbonate or vinyl panels, a specific cleaner and cotton cloth will do the trick. For the clear vision panels, spritz with a regular glass cleaner and wipe away the streaks. 

The experts call for cleaning doors on a monthly basis to give the carwash a more attractive appearance and allow passersby to clearly see activity inside, making it more inviting to the customer. Remember: If your car wash door is not becoming to your customers, you customers will not be coming to you!

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