In-bay automatic in action.
Its maintenance chart appears bellow.

To borrow a character from a current TV commercial, we’re going to be Captain Obvious here: car wash maintenance is important, necessary, and vital to your bottom line. However, without a consistent, organized plan, maintenance may not always get the attention that it needs. While in-bay automatics are intended to operate independent of on-site supervision, routine maintenance ensures that they continue to run as trouble-free as possible.


By its implication, routine maintenance is just that, a scheduled and regular routine — emphasis on regular. You have an advantage if your wash system’s controller has the capability of providing maintenance logs, updates, reminders, and alerts, but, if not, it is important to be proactive by keeping some type of maintenance log or posting a routine chart to keep track of what was done and when. However the change in seasons should signal a change in that routine with additional items included on your checklist. Although northern wash sites are certainly more concerned with cold-weather-related maintenance issues, southern locations are by no means immune. While in the North, snow and ice are a certainty, in many ways, southern sites need greater thought given to preparation due to the unforeseen weather anomalies that crop up. Using lubricants that are rated for the full range of temperatures and keeping a supply of spare parts on hand should be part of the contingency planning from which all climates will benefit.

Check the bay and outside temperatures.

Seasonal adjustments provide an opportunity to check items that are sometimes overlooked. Review your wash package “recipes.” The use of a cool-down pass in the summer could be used for snow and ice removal prior to applying presoaks for cold weather locations, or eliminated entirely if not relevant in warm weather areas. If utilizing a bug prep application for summer use, consider substituting it with a salt removal or presoak application if desired. If it is available on your system, make certain the bay temperature and freeze alarm is programmed to alert you, or programmed to disable the wash at the pre-set temperature. This is especially useful where freezing temperatures are an occasional thing and wash bays are not set up to handle cold weather such as those without doors, heat, or a weep system. If your site does have freeze protection, don’t wait for freeze warnings to actually occur. Turn on the heat and physically verify that floor heat and radiant heat are both operating correctly. Again, before the actual cold temperature sets in, turn on the weep and adjust to the proper flow. Even though most cold-climate wash sites have doors, they are often left open for the entire season of warmer weather. After periods of limited use, they should undergo an inspection and be run through a wash cycle to ensure smooth operation.

In-Bay Maintenance Chart

Additional items often omitted when doing routine maintenance include checking the spray nozzles. Make sure that they aren’t plugged and replace them if they are worn.

Poor wash results or pressure drops are often overlooked as issues that can be traced to a worn nozzle. Inspect photo-eyes for cracks or scratches and remove any film build up. In addition, make sure that leaves and debris or snow and ice don’t obstruct the lens.

Don’t limit the evaluation of your site to just the daytime. With the days getting shorter, your exterior and interior lighting will be on longer than normal so do a walk around during evening hours to check for inoperable lighting. Clean, repair, or replace faulty fixtures. Remember to check and clean all photoelectric switches to ensure correct on/off cycling.

Often overlooked items are missed in the equipment room, including the air compressor and water conditioning systems. To achieve optimum efficiency, your air compressor needs to be set at the correct pressure, change the oil, and be certain to drain water from the tank on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Water conditioning is often taken for granted; hard water in, soft water out. However, make sure the salt is kept at the correct level. Don’t forget to check for hardness of water and recalibrate the hardness adjustment if necessary to ensure regeneration occurs at the appropriate intervals. Also include an evaluation of the in-line pre-filters’ condition and clean or replace if needed.


Equally as important as maintaining equipment regularly, is doing some spring and fall house cleaning. We’ve all driven past unkempt wash sites that suffer from the “absentee landlord syndrome.” As we have a tendency to overlook the familiar in our own surroundings, try to view your wash through the eyes of a potential customer. Better yet, take someone with you to provide an unbiased opinion of your facility’s appeal. Be honest with yourself on the condition of such things as the windows, ceiling, walls, doors, signs, bay floor, and exterior surfaces. Fix up and spruce up now to save expense in the long run. With customers, perception is reality and an uncared for facility must mean poor wash results so they spend their money elsewhere.

Monitor operations wherever you are.

Although not seasonally sensitive, a transitional time of year should also be a reminder to check support equipment, which is often left off the routine maintenance checklist. As an example, manually inspect the wash activation unit. Check the bill acceptor, credit card reader, coin hopper, push buttons, instructional scroll, and voice prompts, if used, to ensure all are operating properly. Visually inspect signage for any lighting problems and check that they accurately reflect your current wash packages. Don’t rely on customer feedback to alert you to a problem because chances are, despite posting your contact info, they won’t take the time to let you know if something is not working. After all, the proper operation of all equipment on site plays a part in providing the cleanest end product, best experience, and most value to your customer.

In practice though, machine maintenance should be thought of even before the equipment is purchased. When considering the various manufacturers’ options, be diligent in asking the hard questions. What type of materials were used in manufacturing — welded stainless steel, for example, needs less maintenance in the long term versus bolted mixed metal construction. Determine the ease of access to machine components — a single grease zerk is certainly more convenient than having to climb all over the machine in order to lubricate it. Inquire about the availability of spare parts. Are mostly proprietary parts used or can common parts be readily purchased from distributor and/or the factory? These all come into play when determining the impact the cost of maintenance has on your bottom line. And thanks to Captain Obvious, we all know that lower operating costs + maximum uptime = higher and faster return on investment!

Karen Ott is product marketing manager for De Pere, WI-based Washworld Inc.You can visit the company on the web at