People make mistakes. Electricians make mistakes. Installers make mistakes, and employees make mistakes. Let’s be honest. I make mistakes, and most of you reading this can likely recall making a few boneheaded mistakes in your lifetime as well.
My all-time favorite boneheaded mistake story comes from a dear friend whose wash was shut down at 8:00 a.m. when the main transformer on the street suddenly exploded on a beautiful Saturday. Eleven hours later, one of the crew from the electric company finally told my friend that everything was back to normal and turned to leave. My friend asked the electrician if he wouldn’t mind holding on just a few minutes longer while he powered everything up to double check. Slightly annoyed, the electrician agreed. My friend, a firm believer in double-checking things, powered up the wash, and every motor ran backwards. The electrician was genuinely embarrassed. He sincerely apologized and put the crew back to work to set things right. My friend’s wash reopened the next day, but not all mistakes are as obvious as a motor running in reverse. Many go unnoticed for extended periods of time — disrupting wash consistency and decreasing customer satisfaction. Fortunately, most issues that a car wash business will encounter are due to only a handful of mistakes. Below is a short list of double checks that will prevent common mistakes from harming your business. If you do feel their effects, however, I’ve also included some troubleshooting guidelines to keep your business open. Ignore them at your peril.
Have you ever noticed that most mistakes happen on the last step of a procedure being performed? It makes sense: once people near the finish line of a long or difficult task, they tend to race through the final steps to get it done and get home. For example, consider conveyor maintenance. Normally completed after closing by tired staff in dirty, wet, and hot (or cold) conditions, it’s not surprising that staff, rushing to be done, make four common mistakes: First, they accidentally twist linked chains a quarter-turn when reinstalling, or reverse the rollers. Second, they forget to properly tension the chain before leaving. Third, they fail to test the conveyor for proper operation before finishing, leaving a nice surprise for the staff in the morning as the chain falls off or the conveyor stops while attempting to load cars. That brings us to the fourth mistake: not double-checking those common mistakes before starting up the day after a maintenance procedure. Mistakes happen. Whenever possible, mitigate their effects by scheduling large maintenance procedures on the night before your slowest day. In addition, the wash should only be reopened by someone trained to double-check and correct any potential issues.
Rotation, rotation, rotation. It’s shocking how often I’ve been called in to diagnose a wash consistency or damage problem only to discover that something is rotating in the wrong direction. Side brushes spin at the vehicle. Wraps spin with the vehicle. Tire brushes spin towards the ground. It seems simple enough, but it’s alarming how often hydraulic lines are reversed or incorrectly routed when reinstalling motors. Proper brush rotation must be double checked after any repair. Correct hydraulic motor plumbing must be confirmed. Most hydraulic brushes in a wash can be plumbed in series, meaning you power the farthest motor in a brush pair, then the other side of the brush, before returning to the power pack. Wraparound brushes, however, should not be plumbed in series. Each side of a wrap should be plumbed in parallel, meaning you can control brush speed independently for each side. It’s amazing how much havoc this common plumbing mistake creates, but don’t stop with brushes. Many drying issues are caused by motors rotating backwards. My personal pet peeve is when a bearing is mounted wrong so that the grease fitting isn’t accessible. Fail to double check these common mistakes and you risk them going undetected until customers are lost due to poor wash quality or damage occurs from improper rotation.
“Is it plugged in and does that receptacle have power?” It’s annoying: you call technical support for help and the first thing they do is insult your intelligence. The truth is, however, that without training and procedures, people tend to dive into the complicated parts first when troubleshooting a system. Before you make your next boneheaded troubleshooting mistake, double check you followed each of these steps.
Confirm All Prerequisites Are Available
Before making assumptions, make sure it’s plugged in. Taking time to accurately measure that the appropriate quantity and quality of all variables such as electricity, hydraulic power, and compressed air are available before jumping to more complex possibilities is critical to your troubleshooting success. Keep in mind that the more experience you have, the more likely you’ll skip the basics and jump to conclusions.
Confirm Nothing Else Has Changed
Too often, when something fails, the assumption is that something broke. That isn’t always the case. Before going through the costly exercise of replacing parts, detergents, or equipment, stop and evaluate. List anything that’s happened or changed recently. Review all maintenance procedures performed. Sometimes variables such as water quality can change without notice.
Document and Review Past Incidents
The following situation happens too often: Your staff struggles to resolve a problem for hours until a technician familiar with your wash arrives and fixes the problem in a few minutes. Don’t let this happen to your business. Update your troubleshooting log with the resolution and post guidelines to help your wash re-open as quickly as possible without legacy knowledge of your specific installation.
Ensure Safety Procedures Are Followed
Anxious to run in and troubleshoot a problem quickly, staff may take shortcuts with safety procedures or forget to adhere to lockout/tag-out requirements. Combat this with training.
Ensure Process-Quality Level Achieved
One busy Saturday delivering an inferior wash to hundreds of your most loyal customers can damage your business and take months to recover. Upon correcting an issue such as a tripped breaker, the system begins working, and a troubleshooter may consider the problem solved. All troubleshooting procedures must include a process-quality check to confirm that the problem was actually corrected. Just because the brushes start spinning doesn’t mean that detergent is being applied correctly or that cars are being washed, rinsed, and dried properly.
So there you have it. Next time you have a scheduled maintenance or repair, or are about to troubleshoot an issue, hum to yourself “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone” song and think about the boneheaded mistakes that are likely to occur.
Good luck and good washing.
Anthony Analetto has over 35 years’ experience in the car wash business and is a partner at SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at AAnaletto@SonnysDirect.com.