The Truck Wash Industry
To appreciate the need for automated truck washing it is important to understand who washes trucks, where, why and how existing methods are utilized.
How commercial vehicles are washed?
Truck washing is conducted at one of four levels:
- Hand washed by owner or operator
- The vast majority of trucks are "hand-washed." Utilizing brushes, mitts, and pressure washers.
- Operators can spend as long as four hours washing the truck.
- Mobile power washer
- Quality and cost varies depending on services requested.
- Convenient for user since wash service comes to you.
- Environmental regulations require wash water to be contained and disposed of to protect waterways and aquifer.
- Since most wash out-of-doors this poses a problem in winter.
- Automated fleet wash
- Convenience of washing at home base
- At best produces a fleet wash quality
- Produces inconsistent wash results and operating costs are typically high
- Commercial hand wash
- Stationary wash site where you take your vehicle to be washed
- Wash quality generally good but very labor intensive and time consuming
- Commercial wash bays apply various wash techniques. Typical hand wash facilities (Blue Beacon) employ a crew of 4-6.
With exception of the automated fleet wash all other methods are manual operations utilizing varying amounts of labor. The fleet wash is a private wash, only accessible to company drivers, leaving the public with limited options that are labor intensive and time consuming.
Who washes trucks?
All vehicles need to be washed at some time or another. Typically the owner or the driver of the vehicle is responsible for having it washed.
Why are trucks washed?
There are a variety of reasons (refer to list) why commercial vehicles are washed ranging from simple pride to practical necessity.
- Maintenance: clean vehicle easier to perform maintenance on
- Value: maintains investment value longer; retards corrosion
- Image: attracts customers
- Regulators: avoid fines, inspections
- Weigh scales- removes dirt, reduces weight, saves fines
- Safety: see and be seen
- Better mileage- heavy soils removed translates into a lighter vehicle
- Security- positive image at borders (profiling)
- Dirty trucks are bad business
Where are trucks washed?
- Most are washed at home or in the company
- Mobile washing companies are employed to wash large numbers of trucks at company yards. This is the best place to wash-since there are no transaction costs-the vehicle isn't working
- On the road wash bays located at truck stops or on major highways. According to NATSO (National Association of Truck Stop Operators) less then 30% of all truck stops have wash bays
When are trucks washed?
- Convenience is the major factor. If the truck is "working" it is not convenient
- Trucks are more often washed before or after their run or in conjunction with maintenance
What is the customer "satisfaction" standard?
- Hand washing is far-and-away the most acceptable commercial wash standard for trucks. This means the result is "clean & shiny" and dries without spots or streaks
- Trailers are not usually washed by hand. Since there are many types of trailers the standards vary
- Most companies have lower standards for trailers then trucks. Brokers have higher standards than company drivers
- Machine washing is viewed with skepticism. There is fear that the equipment will damage the vehicle. Many are un-convinced that the machine can wash as well as they can
Affordability: How much is a truck wash worth?
How much a company or owner pays to wash their trucks is driven by how much they value image. In general this is the one issue on which most companies and owner operators agree: the best wash for the least amount of money. Ultimately, the size, type of vehicle and convenience factor will dictate the wash method used and the cost involved. The costs listed below are for a tractor and trailer combination.
- American Trucking Association associated an average cost of $125 and 4-hours of labor for a trucker to wash his own truck at home
- Mobile wash services charge between $15-25 per truck and $10-20 per trailer
- Commercial hand washes cost between $25-$50 per truck and $25-$50 for a trailer
- The companies with an automated fleet wash in the yard can spend between $5 and $15 per vehicle which includes only utilities and chemicals
The automated large vehicle wash industry
The automated large vehicle wash equipment industry has existed since the early 1960's and offers two types of equipment: drive through or roll-over gantry systems. Both types of equipment can utilize touchless and/or friction (touch) technology to perform the cleaning.
- The drive through system employs stationary equipment with the vehicle being driven through the wash bay. Since the equipment is positioned linearly you have one opportunity to clean the vehicle. It has the advantage of high throughput but the inability to control vehicle speed translates into inconsistent wash results
- In a roll-over gantry system the vehicle is driven into the wash bay and parked. A gantry rolls over the parked vehicle performing the various wash functions. Since the vehicle is stationary you have maximum flexibility to achieve a clean vehicle. The gantry allows for speed control but with the disadvantage of having a reduced throughput.
Both types of systems have their applications. Vehicle fleets like bus and trucking companies wash frequently, daily in some cases which make cleaning relatively easy. However heavily soiled vehicles or vehicles with unknown wash histories are far more challenging to clean. Large vehicles come in many shapes and sizes which further complicates the cleaning process.
The type of cleaning can further be categorized into: washing and decontamination. Washing is a cleaning process that is intended to project a clean image whereas decontamination removes loose dirt or accumulated solids from vehicles used in heavy industry or construction to minimize track out. In many applications the two can be combined which requires an innovative approach to achieve satisfactory clean.