Vehicle Wash Systems: What to Know Before You Buy

Posted on June 26, 2013 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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Ross& White Co.
Ross& White Co.
Whether you have a fleet of 20 vehicles, or hundreds, what your vehicle looks like says a lot about your operation. Keeping transportation fleets clean and polished is key to presenting your brand at its best. METRO Magazine spoke to vehicle wash system manufacturers — NS Wash Systems, Ross & White Co., Westmatic Corp. and Whiting Systems Inc. — to find out what factors to consider.

Factors to consider
Wash quality. A quality wash promotes strong brand image while communicating safety to your operation’s ridership. Brush materials and styles are important factors. Some manufacturers have turned to using foam materials in brushes. To that end, NS Wash uses slower-turning soft synthetic fiber mitts called Lammscloth to polish the vehicle and simulate a true hand wash, according to founder Thomas Ennis.

To thoroughly clean the dirtiest parts of the vehicle — the front and back —Westmatic employs brushes that overlap.

To help cut down on soap and water usage, foaming agents are being employed during the wash cycle to help the cleaning product adhere to the vehicle.

Wash times. Improving wash times helps fleet maintenance directors keep rolling stock washes frequent without interruption to other necessary yard processes. Depending upon the number of vehicles in your fleet, some wash system types are better suited for a particular fleet. Typically, transportation operations with fleets of more than 50 vehicles install a drive-through type system, where a bus drives through a series of brushes and rinses.

Smaller fleets tend to use a gantry system, where a vehicle is stopped and the wash system rides on a track while it washes the vehicle.

“One of the big advantages of the gantry system is you can wash all types of vehicles,” says Chuck Techner, sales manager for Westmatic.

Gantry designs incorporate high-speed PLC (programmable logic controllers), an industrially hardened computer, which manages an array of functions including imaging the vehicle, managing brush contact pressures, gantry speed and application points for cleaning products, says Whiting’s John Criscuolo, account manager, business development.  

Operating and lifecycle costs. Customers must consider efficiencies of systems; whether the wash system uses less water and electricity.

Durability. Does the wash system have the ability to withstand the rigors of nightly washing? Long-term value is also an important requirement, says Jeff Ross, president of Cary, Ill.-based Ross & White. Likewise, simplicity of design is essential so as not to create maintenance issues.

Infrastructure. Customers need to know if their existing utilities — water, air, electricity and drainage — will support a heavy-duty wash system. They must also consider the space that will contain the wash system.

Warranties. Is the wash system covered by a manufacturer’s warranty? Typically, warranties for components are one year, while coverage for structures is 10 years to 15 years.

Tech developments
New developments in vehicle washing systems include the use of electronically controlled brushes, which helps reduce maintenance costs, says Techner.

Other innovations include the ability for manufacturers to remotely monitor the wash system via the Internet, providing data on washes and diagnosing any issues.

“We have the ability to remotely monitor and diagnose problems and upgrade the wash system programs. This allows us to make custom changes to system processes from our offsite Command Center,” Criscuolo says. “We can provide information on each wash performed. Reports are available via private website access or email.”

Green aspects
In an effort to reduce environmental impacts, as well as cut down on water costs, wash manufacturers have developed water-saving technologies. These are fast becoming standard features on vehicle wash systems, or can be an added option. Water reclamation systems are standard features on Ross & White’s bus and rail washers.

Some recycling systems can reclaim as much as 85% of the water, as with Westmatic's Water Recycling System. The remaining wastewater that is not recycled is filtered through the company’s patented water purification system. Through this chemical-free process, wastewater can reach a purification level of 99% — now clean and safe to proceed out into the sewage system.

“A well maintained reclaim system will return quality re-use water to the wash system,” Criscuolo says. This is a requisite for a quality wash process. It is essential that end users understand the balance between wash water reclaim, required maintenance and the wash process, he adds.

Another green aspect of the wash system is the use of enzyme-based vehicle wash agents, says Ross.
Sustainability has also extended into the manufacturing process, as some wash systems are built with eco-friendly materials.

“We use all aluminum in our fabricating, because its 90 percent recyclable, so when you take the bus wash out, it’s worth something,” says Ennis. “Much of the aluminum we buy is made from recycled aluminum.”

Company considerations
Transit managers need to look beyond the wash equipment and consider the company’s track record, says Ross.  
A plant validation tour is encouraged, as it reveals much about the prospective vendor. Customers are also encouraged to ask about “aftersale” programs such as maintenance, says Criscuolo.

Speaking to previous clients is also recommended so you prospective buyers can get unbiased opinion on products.

RELATED: "Long Island Rail unveils new train wash facility."

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