Stop, drop, and roll is more than a fire-safety technique taught to children. Besides putting out a fire, it provides a comforting routine for children to focus on in order to avoid panic. So why am I writing about child fire safety in a car wash magazine for adults? Because panic is disruptive and happens far more often at a car wash than you might realize. Many operators, these days, are building multiple locations, and learning that a panicked employee is capable of single handedly shutting down a location for hours. It’s far easier to learn the power of establishing comforting routines to help managers stay focused when the wash won’t turn on in the morning than experiencing the loss of thousands in revenue when they panic and make matters worse. Just in case you’re wondering, I just got off the phone with an owner who was out of town. He was in a panic having just had a phone conversation with his manager who was in a panic. The wash wouldn’t start. What should have taken less than a minute to troubleshoot — and flip a single switch — instead took nearly an hour. Why? Because I had to first unravel the 20 things the panicked manager did to try to get the wash to start. I’ve always loved the medical proverb taught to doctors: “When you hear hoof beats, think of horses, not zebras.” The saying means that a doctor should look for the expected cause, rather than the exotic. Keeping your managers focused on the expected causes rather than the exotic starts with teaching routine, which begins with your opening and closing checklists. So, let’s get started.


The biggest problems occur when working from a weak foundation. Before creating your opening checklist, review your closing checklist. One is a mirror reflection of the other, and I prefer to use two sides of a single page for both. The manager the night before first completes the closing procedure checklist. The manager the next morning completes and files the sheet after filling out the opening procedures checklist. Creating procedural checklists at a car wash is an art form. Some operators keep things simple with a single line for something such as clean and stock bathrooms. Others go for more detail and break that single function into three check boxes for supplies stocked, floors shiny, fixtures sparkle. Bathroom cleanliness rarely causes panic, be as specific as you feel necessary.

The gremlins that wreak havoc during opening procedures, however, demand greater attention to detail. An instruction to “turn on pay stations” is inadequate. The checkbox for that function should read more along the lines of “activate the pay stations” with the exact steps detailed for your particular unit. Most operators have an effective checklist in place to keep things tidy, remind managers to coach and ensure staff is performing, and carefully control money on the site. For brevity, I’ll assume you’ve got that handled pretty well. Instead, I’d like to focus on three areas that result in the lion’s share of early morning panicked troubleshooting calls I get.


This one’s a biggie, and often overlooked. E-stops, or emergency stop switches are used at every car wash on the planet. You’ll find them at the entrance and exit of the tunnel, at the pushbutton terminal, and various other locations throughout the property. I’ve seen them in managers’ offices and inside the tunnel — you name it. The reason I put it first is because you’d be amazed at how often this gremlin closes down a perfectly good wash. Make sure to include a closing procedure to ensure all e-stops are in the closed/off position along with its mirror cousin on your opening checklist to turn all e-stops to the open/on position. List where each e-stop is located and train your employees on the importance of this procedure. It’s a small step that can turn into a big deal. It just so happens that the inspiration for this article resulted from an emergency switch set to the off position. When the conveyor wouldn’t start, the manager, without a routine in place, panicked. He made changes to the motor control center (MCC), tunnel controller, and more trying to get it started, which all had to be reset before the wash would run properly. What was worse, he was working in a panic and couldn’t remember everything he tried. Adding this simple step to your opening and closing procedure will do wonders to keep the gremlins at bay.


Compressed air drives many things at a car wash. It’s so reliable that it’s often overlooked. Most locations will have a procedure to empty the drain, but that’s not enough. I recommend a closing procedure to completely shut down the system at night with an opening procedure to turn it back on and check that it pressurized correctly. Why? Because of air-cutoff switches. Most modern conveyors maintain chain tension using compressed air. When air pressure drops, the chain will slacken which activates a safety shutoff switch. Creating a routine to ensure your compressed air pressure is correct before going to turn on the conveyor will eliminate this gremlin from your list of worries.


Hot hydraulic oil reads at a higher level than cold oil. This is important. Many managers leave a working car wash at night only to return and panic when the conveyor won’t turn on the next morning. Often what’s occurred is the low-oil switch activated overnight as the power pack cooled. Depending on how you wired your wash, particular brushes or the entire wash will not operate. Including a simple checkbox to confirm the hydraulic oil level before going to start the wash will create a routine that stops managers from panicking and keeps your business open.


Components vary dramatically from wash to wash, but one thing is generally the same: Some form of a flashing, red LED light normally indicates errors with the systems. A simple checkbox that asks for confirmation that there are no errors at any electrical component, with a phone number to call in the event of an alert, will do wonders to help your manager focus calmly on keeping your business in working order.

That’s the short list that will keep many gremlins from closing your wash unexpectedly overnight. More important than the few checks I listed is realizing how powerful creating routines can be to help your staff focus on solving problems rather than panicking and making them worse. So get to it, refine your opening and closing procedures, and take a needed vacation, or concentrate on your newer properties with confidence that things will run as they should.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.