Vehicle Wash Systems: Keeping Fleets Clean & Green

Posted on April 2, 2009 by Thi Dao, Assistant Editor

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[IMAGE]MET4vehiclewash.jpg[/IMAGE]One important facet of a transportation operation’s public profile is the state of its vehicles. An unclean fleet could tarnish its public image, which could have a negative impact on ridership, or for the private sector, on business.

Choosing the right vehicle wash system is a complicated decision. Consider the operation’s fleet size and goals when shopping for a wash system. Are there a dozen vehicles to wash each night or hundreds? Will the size of the facility be sufficient to install a full system or will it need to be expanded? Is initial cost more important than operating or long-term cost? How often will the vehicles be washed? It’s best to know the basics of such a critical investment, especially with new materials and systems that could save resources, time and money.

While keeping vehicles clean may seem to be inconsequential in the business scheme of things, it is a necessity. “Cleaning is at the bottom of your list because you have a lot of financial things — equipment buying, customers — [to think about],” says Martin Van Tol, president of Beamsville, Ontario-based ACC International. But when it comes down to what’s important, “a clean fleet means a clean image.”

Single Brush Keeps It Simple

For smaller fleets with limited budgets and insufficient space to install a full wash system, ACC’s single-brush system offers a solution. Its system consists of a large brush that spins as it is walked around the vehicle, propelling movement, brushing and rinsing in unison. As it does not require floor-mounted tracks, and the space can be used for other purposes when the brush is not in use, it is ideal for companies with limited space.

“We often fit in perfectly for smaller- and medium-sized fleets that wash by hand,” says Van Tol, citing the system’s lower cost as one of the main factors. However, according to Van Tol, ACC’s clients have fleets ranging from one vehicle to those numbering in the hundreds, so the company custom-makes its brushes for rail, buses, vans and other vehicles of various sizes.

Bitimec, with its U.S. headquarters in Greenwich, Conn., offers a similar single-brush system in six variations for different forms of transport. Its simplest design hooks up to overhead cables for water and power, but all other systems are fully autonomous and self-propelled. The Bitimec 626 runs on rechargeable battery power and can literally be taken to where the vehicle is parked.

“You fill up the tank with water, you fill the soap dispenser with soap, turn it on, charge the battery and you’re good to go,” says Tim Guldin, vice president of sales parts and marketing for ABC Parts Source, which is Bitimec’s distributor for the transit market in North America. The 626 model holds 112 gallons of water, good for four washes before a refill is necessary, while each battery charge is good for 40 washes, according to Guldin.

The Bitimec SEP 900, which runs on diesel power, was designed for the rail industry and contains a small cab driven by the operator. It comes with a single- or double-brush, with the top smaller brush at a slant to clean the curvature on the tops of rails.

The Production Factor

Although the convenience of bringing the wash to the vehicle is appealing, fixed wash bays are another option, as they not only require less manpower, but often run considerably faster for each vehicle wash. Jeff Ross, president of Cary, Ill.-based Ross & White, says his company’s fixed systems typically take between one and two minutes to complete a wash.

“Companies want production,” Ross says. “Most transits want to do their entire fleet [in one day], especially in the winter, so they want to do a nightly service in eight hours.”

Ross & White’s most popular system is its hybrid system that uses both brushes and high pressure water. Meeting the demand for a system with multiple functions, it is equipped with high pressure pumps for wheel, bike rack and undercarriage washing, which are areas that brushes normally cannot clean. The system also features water recycling.

A Compact Design

Smaller fixed-system options are available for vehicle operators that may not have the luxury of space. Headquartered in Detroit, Westmatic offers its Compact wash system that is both a full and fixed bus wash system, however, it utilizes less space. Ed Evans, director of sales and marketing, estimates its six-brush Compact, the most popular of the Compact options for operations, that include two- and four-brush, to occupy an area of 30 x 20 feet.

The Compact is a drive-through system that uses lights to signal the driver when to stop the car for the necessary procedure and when to start again to continue to the next step.

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