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Is your car wash ready for winter?

Winter weather can be tough on car wash equipment. Is yours ready for the big chill?


With winter coming now is the time to prepare your wash. Once harsh weather hits problem areas can cause complete shut downs with lost business as a result. Consider that a location with a three-day shut down due to something as simple as a frozen door can mean tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue as well as customers lost to the competition.

In Alberta, Rudy van Woerkom operates Belvedere Technical Service Ltd. He is on the front line of support for car washes in a province well known for its tough winter weather conditions.

“Preplanning is always a good business move. In car wash a lack of forward thinking can mean closures, unhappy customers and a bad bottom line,” he says, adding that winter in Canada brings with it a combination of challenges. “Car wash systems are integrated and work as a complete piece. When one thing fails it tends to create a cascading effect. Winter only makes this worse.”

Entry systems


Rudy suggests that operators think first about the entry systems. When it’s minus 20ºC all that stands between water-filled hoses, wet conveyor systems and brushes is the door system.

“Make sure weather stripping is in place and in good condition. Look for worn hinges and rollers and make certain the cables are able to take the strain of hard weather. Operators should also look at the entire door structure to determine if there could be an opportunity for ice buildup that can lead to cracked frames, broken rollers and heat loss. Some materials such as plastics are less conductive of heat and cold. Operators may want to consider new plastics for tracks,” he says, adding that operators should take notes during the year and keep solid records of maintenance issues and potential challenges so they are more prepared to undertake the right type of preventative measures when the opportunity for service arises.


A cold car wash can impact your chemical store as well. Here Ken Wentworth, President Hobo Inc., a Minnesota-based supplier of formulations for wash centres as well as a host of other industries, sees some chemical items freezing or crystallizing if they are not kept minimally warm. He suggests keeping stores away from cold exterior walls and make sure bays are heated to at least 10ºC for optimum chemical performance.



Paul Romaniuk of Calgary’s Pumps & Pressure suggests operators pay attention to bays before the weather turns nasty.

“Check your in-slab heating and make sure it’s working before the temperatures drop. The same is true for radiant heat in bay. Check it out and make certain the venting is in good shape and the system is firing properly. I had an 18-door self-service wash and heat loss was a constant concern. As soon as heat fails, trouble follows,” he says.

General maintenance

At National Wash Services Ltd. Service Coordinator Cecil Toole has several suggestions for operators who want to get ahead of cold weather challenges. “General maintenance is always important at any time of the year, but there are a few things that operators can do to limit cold weather problems. Make sure your pumps are up to the challenge. Have a look a pressure gauges to see how they are managing current flow. Take a walk through and visually inspect hoses and couplings. Make sure hoses are secured where they are supposed to be. Listen for odd noises in the system and report this to your service team. Feel hoses for bulges and wear. The time to replace these is before they cause a service interruption.” He also advises cleaning trenches and separators before the onslaught of winter dirt and grime. And, he says, “Work to keep sand out of bays. A clean bay is a good bay. When customers see dirt in wash bays, their trust in the operation declines.”



Car washes are harsh, corrosive environments, suggests Cheryl Dobie of Aerodry Systems, a market-leading manufacturer of car wash drying equipment. “Periodically examine wiring and system components for signs of deterioration and loose connections. This includes the motor control center operating the drying system, she says advising to check the electrical and thermal overload protection for the motor.

“If a time-delay is used, its amp capacity should be about 125% of the full-load amperage (FLA) shown on the nameplate of the motor. Larger sized over-current protection may permit motor burnout. If the motor is equipped with a reset button overload protection, check to make sure it is not stuck.”

She reports that direct-drive fans are typically mounted directly on the motor shaft and present the least maintenance for operators. However, if a belt is employed, the routine checking of belt condition is one of the primary, and often over-looked, maintenance problems. “These must be regularly adjusted or replaced if full air movement is to be achieved, and efficiency maintained.”

Fans with welded fins are susceptible to repeated torque stress and the strains of pressure buildup. According to Dobie, manufacturers sometimes reduce the size of the inlets and outlets in an effort to reduce noise. “Improperly sized outlets on centrifugal fans increase air backpressure and add stress to both the fan and motor leading to failures; therefore, examining for stress fractures should be part of the routine maintenance.”

She advises special attention if your drying system contains moving parts such as oscillating outlets operated by air cylinders or electronic eyes. “Check the air lines for leaks and the eyes for cleanliness on a frequent basis,” she says suggesting further that operators check fan housings, air inlets and delivery systems for dirt buildup, blockage and corrosion. “Choking off the air supply may lead to poor performance, overheating and failures.

Debris inducted in the system will ultimately end up on the vehicle. Following manufacturer’s instructions, take the relatively small amount of time required to wash down the exterior of your dryer (and the surrounding area). Remember the dryer provides the visual frame for the exiting vehicle.”

Concluding, Rudy van Woerkom states that “When weather is bad and your equipment is less than it could be you will have problems. Preventative maintenance is just good business. My advice has always been that it costs more to fix systems than to maintain them.”

Five take-aways for pre-winter maintenance:

  1. Pay attention to weather stripping. This strip is often all there is between freezing air and the humid inside of your vehicle wash.

  2. Look, listen and touch. Do regular visual inspections and replace items that appear worn. Listen for odd noises in the system and take note. Get your hands on hoses to test for bulges and other signs of wear. 

  3. Pay special attention to dryers. Keep your dryer and the area around it clean.

  4. Check on your radiant heat. Make certain your radiant heat is firing and venting properly before the cold weather hits.

  5. Dont wait until January to discuss maintenance issues. Keep a history of cold weather problems and talk to your service team early.

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