Car washes used to be a thriving part of many forecourts dealers’ businesses, but the scourge of rogue hand car washes has hit the sector hard. PRA chairman Brian Madderson explains: "Hand car washes (HCWs) have radically lower operating costs than mechanical car wash operators because of the widespread practice of paying no local or national taxes, no environmental charges, low or even no wages to staff, no planning or operating permits and using the cheapest (and often damaging) chemicals. There have been numerous police raids on HCWs where illegal immigrants are engaged in washing cars as unpaid slave labour often working and living in the most degrading circumstances.
"These artificially low operating costs allow HCWs to charge extremely low prices to customers that compliant and legitimate car wash operators cannot hope to match. This has resulted in the closure of large numbers of mechanical car washes, where operators choose not to replace their car wash equipment at the end of its life as the business has become uneconomical in the face of this unfair and illegal competition. This in turn has resulted in job losses in the regulated sector of the car wash industry."
However, as we start on the long road towards alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs), the PRA recognises that car washing could again become a valuable part of the forecourt offer. "Whether your car is electric, Euro6 diesel, hydrogen or hybrid it will still need cleaning," says Madderson, "and the forecourt is ideally placed to provide a full range of wash and valeting services for all vehicle types."
But after a patchy response from the authorities, long-term pressure from the PRA is showing promising results in terms of the action by police and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). In Scotland, the government has run a campaign highlighting the link between many HCWs and human trafficking, and across the UK there have been raids by the police and GLAA, which have uncovered human trafficking and links to other organised crime. Major news organisations have also picked up on the slavery angle, and more and more consumers are avoiding HCWs because they realise the human cost of their cheap car wash, and the risk to their vehicles.
But at government level there is still a lack of joined-up action. While the law enforcement agencies are tackling the slavery and organised crime issues, some environmental authorities have failed to react to potential environmental damage caused by trade effluent from unregulated car washing. Madderson says he is now arranging talks with the highest levels of Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to encourage them to take the same hard line on the rogue HCW businesses.
The crackdown in Scotland is certainly working for Certas Energy, according to retail operations manager Colin Levy, who says it has seen growth in the valeting sector since introducing its Washing Machine brand across its company owned network in 2016. He explains: "Our Washing Machine brand continues to serve us well. It is different, it looks good and adds value. The key is to ensure that marketing materials are regularly refreshed, the washes are effective and the whole valeting area is clean and well maintained. It’s a brand we could offer any interested dealers as well."
He sees real growth potential from valeting and this is reflected in the recent purchase of an Istobal car wash for the company’s Glenrothes site and three new jet washes, two from Air-serv, the other from Istobal. He says: "Hand car washing has had a massive impact on the revenue potentials but we are seeing a decline in the number of hand car wash operatives in Scotland and a return to improved revenues.
"Thankfully, the Scottish Government’s well-publicised clampdown on human trafficking and exploitation and a concerted effort by the PRA, which we are fully supporting, are playing their part. We’re still being let down by the authorities but the media coverage around the Modern Slavery Act has definitely seen increased interest from the police in unregulated hand car wash businesses.
"When we decided to introduce a wash at Glenrothes, we had to obtain operating permits, secure planning permission and discharge approvals and comply with fiscal, employment, effluent, H&SE and environmental laws and regulations. In other EU countries where environmental and other applicable laws are enforced, hand washes are virtually non-existent.
"It’s been a travesty that a hand car wash operation can set up in a UK town and no one seems to worry about insurances, taxes on profits, labour rates and conditions, what type of chemicals are being used and if the drainage is adequate."
He adds: "We tend to work with a range of manufacturers including Istobal, Wash-Tec and Air-serv. We know that these companies provide effective products that are robust, efficient and reliable. And if there is ever a problem we know that the down time will be minimal."
Car wash suppliers are also aiming to increase their customers’ takings with a range of new innovations. As part of its revenue-sharing supply and operate car wash arrangement with a major fuel retailer, Wilcomatic has installed its Card Pay & Wash system to speed up the throughput of customers and simplify the car wash experience. Customers simply drive up to the terminal, select the wash they want and either pass their contactless debit card over the reader, or insert their credit card and PIN number and drive up to the start position.
Adrian Ford, Wilcomatic’s business development manager, says: "People are often in a hurry and the few extra minutes it takes to queue up in the forecourt shop and buy their wash can often mean the difference between using or not using the wash. Initially, there was some concern that this would cause a reduction in customers coming into the shop and reduce shop profits. However, the figures from the five sites where we have installed this show that there has been no reduction at all in customers coming into the shop to buy their washes. Those using the card option have been purely additional trade." Wilcomatic will be installing Card Pay & Wash systems on the rest of the retailer’s car wash sites over the coming year.
Frank McLaughlan, key account manager at Istobal UK, says there has been a lot of interest in the new MNEX32 car wash, since it was given its official UK launch at the Forecourt Show in April. New features include multi-disc wheel wash, foam curtain wash, new LED lights and LED tracks, and he says where it has been installed it has been very successful in increasing revenues because it gives customers a better quality wash experience. The MNEX32 can be supplied either as a new unit, or as an upgrade such as the one carried out on two side-by-side MNEX22 washes at Penny Petroleum’s Seamer Road site at Scarborough.
Active Carwash Supplies (Active CWS) says it has helped dealers save substantial sums on their use of car wash chemicals. The company offers a wide portfolio of car and jet wash chemicals from suppliers such as Ma Fra, Kenotek as well as its own proprietary solutions.
Director Tony Davies says: "Some customers have invested in new equipment to take advantage of the advances in standard and nanotechnology- enabled chemicals that can offer the best automatic wash possible. These chemicals, combined with our free-of-charge ’Carwash Health Check’, have enabled many operators to save significant sums on their car and jet wash chemical costs while still providing a superb wash experience for their customers.
"As the peak car wash season approaches, one question each operator should ask themselves is ’do you know exactly how much each wash by programme and chemical is costing you? Don’t you think you should find out?’ We can tell you."
In addition to car wash chemicals, Davies says one of the fastest-growing segments of the business is its forecourt maintenance chemical business, which is underpinned by two main products: HP12 and Supermafrasol, both developed and supplied by its Italian partner Ma Fra. Davies says: "If you want to clean your pumps, especially the diesel pumps, quickly and effectively, simply spray some HP12 on the pump, wait for a few seconds and wipe off, that’s it. More and more individual and group operators are buying this product because it makes pump cleaning really easy, rather than a tiresome, slow and not very effective chore.
"Our second forecourt maintenance product, Supermafrasol, extends the good work carried out on the forecourt fuel pump by HP12 into the surrounding floor, especially concrete floors which are usually heavily stained and discoloured by repeated fuel spills.
"Supermafrasol is a heavy duty cleaner in 900ml bottles that can be diluted to make up to 50 litres of cleaning solution."
For many years, through a sister company, Active CWS has been involved in supplying forecourt equipment such as jet washes, air lines and vacuums via outright sale, rental or revenue share. Davies says: "We have now developed what we believe will be a game-changing addition to our range which is a totally cashless, contactless payment system that can be supplied on new forecourt equipment, and which can also be retrofitted to existing equipment.
"Many operators face repeated attacks on forecourt equipment, the cost of which, including machine down time, is far greater than the value of the stolen coins.
"Our solution is to remove cash from the forecourt equipment, thereby reducing the motivation for the potential thieves. This also improves access for the increasing number of customers who prefer to pay by card instead of cash. We can supply new forecourt machines that feature this cashless/contactless system either on purchase, rental or revenue share. We can retrofit this system to existing forecourt equipment, and we can reimage, refurbish and renovate existing equipment so that it looks and performs like new. In short we can future-proof and thief-proof forecourt equipment while providing huge savings over new equipment."
Guidance for car wash owners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has been produced by Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Agency. The three bodies acknowledge the support of the PRA in drafting GPP 13 (Guidance for Pollution Prevention 13), and say that following the advice will help car wash owners manage their environmental responsibilities and comply with the law.
In the introduction to GPP 13 it explains: "Effluent and run-off from vehicle washing and cleaning activities can damage the environment and pollute rivers, streams, burns and groundwater. Dirt, brake dust, traffic film residue and oil that is washed off are all pollutants. The cleaning agents you use (including those labelled biodegradable or traffic film removers) are very poisonous to river life. If you cause pollution, you are breaking the law and spoiling your environ-ment... It’s illegal to discharge trade effluent to the environment or into drains without permission."
Car wash services are proving very popular at Jet Abbeyside
Nick Baker went to town when developing the new valeting facilities at his Jet Abbeyside forecourt in Selby, North Yorkshire. Following a £1.3m knock-down rebuild earlier this year, Abbeyside now boasts £50,000-worth of custom-built, 24/7 state-of-the-art car wash bays.
A hand car wash business is located next to the site, but is little competition to Abbeyside’s new offering as it’s only open 8am until 6pm, whereas Abbeyside’s customers can wash their cars or check their air 24/7.
Three purpose-built bays are positioned for ease of access. Overhead booms hang from the ceiling, making it much easier for customers to move the jet washes around their vehicles.
To create a point of difference from his competition, Nick invested in a new van wash a raised platform for larger vehicles. With a specialist local steel fabricator, he designed a bespoke raised platform on the external wash bay. Customers can walk up onto the platform and clean larger vehicles. The platform includes safety gates, non-slip flooring and hand rails.
The three Istobal automated payment terminal buy-time jet washes offer five wash programmes. Nick chose Istobal because it was the only valet company that could custom-build the bays within the available space and the site’s requirements. The bays were built in Spain and imported.
All three bays have an Istobal buy-time jet wash, air-line unit and buy-time vacuum. Nick chose to incorporate the air lines within the jet wash bays so that each bay becomes a one-stop shop. Nick says: "The new valeting facilities are a key element of our convenience offering at Abbeyside. The first six months are showing average monthly customer numbers ranging between 1,500 and 1,800.
"The facilities are particularly busy in the evenings and at weekends with customers using them until as late as 11pm. Overall my investment has definitely paid off and I’m delighted with the usage."
PDQ launches Tandem Surfline
PDQ Manufacturing has launched the Tandem Surfline Vehicle Wash System, which it describes as the industry’s most innovative automatic friction wash. It was introduced in the United States but will be available in the UK.
The key design feature of the Tandem Surfline is its open-bay configuration. This consists of an overhead design that creates a wide-open, easy-to-enter wash bay that is safe and inviting for drivers of all types of vehicles. PDQ also claims no other vehicle-wash system navigates around the vehicle as precisely as the Tandem Surfline, ensuring complete and optimal cleaning coverage.
Other features of the Tandem Surfline include corrosion-free stainless-steel and aluminium construction materials; a second side brush that helps vehicles pass through the wash quicker; a new low-/high-pressure pump design for improved functionality and lower maintenance costs; a fully configurable, standard wall-mounting system that enables the wash to be placed in any type or size of wash bay; an Ultimate Cover Package, including the ProGlow Illumination System, that offers a state-of-the-art look and feel to the wash; and a web-based wash-control system that provides remote access to all key operating functions.
The Tandem Surfline also offers revenue-generating upsell features, including Undercarriage Wash, Front Bug Prep, Chemical Tire Applicators, 3X Colour Foam, OverGlow Hi-Gloss Application System, Super Sealant vehicle-surface protection, high-pressure side blasters and the TriPlex Wheel Cleaning System.
Pump down the volume
One of southern Germany’s leading providers of automated car washes is relying on Qdos pumps from Watson-Marlow Fluid Technology Group (WMFTG) to dose an expensive pre-cleaning chemical. It says among the purchase decision factors in favour of the Qdos over diaphragm pumps were dosing accuracy, ease of operation and ease of maintenance.
"With a total length of over 61m, the facility in Stuttgart-Vaihingen is our new flagship car wash," explains Benjamin Schlechta, general manager of WaschWelt Süd. There are several cleaning arcs, which vehicles pass one by one. The first one is the pre-cleaning/soaking arc, which is served by two Qdos dosing pumps to prepare the vehicle for subsequent high-pressure cleaning. One Qdos pump meters the pre-cleaner from a large barrel to the arc, while the second meters to a lance that is operated by an employee to take special care of the rims.
"The best possible pumping accuracy is paramount," says Schlechta. "This is because the pre-cleaner is relatively expensive and only lasts for a few days, so we want to avoid overdosing as much as possible."
Precision is also required because the best cleaning result is achieved through correct dosing. In the worst cases, it is possible for door seals and chrome trim to be damaged by overdosing, making it important to observe optimum pH values.
"From the beginning we were convinced by the accuracy and reliability of the new pumps," says Schlechta. "We can now use the pre-cleaner much more efficiently and make substantial savings."