It was a long, harsh winter but after a warmer-than-average spring and with summer just around the corner, motorists and retailers alike should have plenty of reasons to smile.

But while glorious weather will help keep Britain’s spirits up, unseasonably high temperatures and little rainful will inevitably mean water shortages over the coming months, making it imperative that car wash operators do everything they can to avoid hosepipe bans and show customers that they take reducing water use seriously.

Kevin Pay, managing director of Wilcomatic, says: "While we should always take long-range weather forecasts with a pinch of salt, it looks likely that water shortages and hosepipe bans may well be on the cards this year.

"We have just had one of the driest springs on record, with parts of Cambridgeshire having just 3.6mm of rain during the whole of March, making it the driest since 1929.

"Reservoir levels in parts of the country are already well below average, and some suppliers are resorting to pumping river water to keep them topped up. The situation is particularly bad in the south east, which had only 4% of the rainfall it would usually expect."

Many newspapers are now quoting Positive Weather Solutions, the forecasting company which correctly predicted that last summer would be a wash-out, claims Pay.

Its summer forecast is for a mixture of sunny days with soaring temperatures and thunderstorms/heavy rain.

"Unfortunately with high temperatures, a substantial part of any rain that does fall will be absorbed by thirsty plant life or will just evaporate; little will make it to reservoirs," he says.

"The weather is not the only issue either. In fact it is just adding to the impact of the much more important, longer-term problem that water use is growing much faster than supply, so unless there are significant improvements, serious water restrictions look inevitable sooner or later."

While water shortages pose a risk to car wash operators, technology exists to help retailers reduce their water consumption without increasing costs or reducing levels of service or availability. Wilcomatic’s water reclaim units, built by its sister company Working Water, can return up to 90% of the water used in every wash for reuse. The water is captured from the drainage system just after the interceptor and put through a recycling system that economically produces reusable clean water.

Adding rainwater harvesting will further reduce mains water consumption, too. This uses the large surface area of a forecourt’s canopy to capture large amounts of rain and stores it in an on-site reservoir. Pay also points out that it is not just on rollovers that environmental improvements can be made, rainwater harvesting and recycling can also be used in jet wash bays.

"Of course, heading off hosepipe bans and saving the planet is not the only reason for installing this equipment the financial benefits are also substantial," says Pay. "Working Water recycling systems can save water and effluent costs equivalent to 8-12% of a rollover car wash’s turnover."

Dave Lindon, business development director at Istobal, says that forecourt retailers can install a water recycling system on most sites for as little as £4,000 and can claim back the money in most instances, making it a very viable option. Retailers can claim back the investment through Defra’s Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme, which is aimed at encouraging people to recycle. "A business can claim the tax allowance using the ECA in the same way that other tax relief is claimed against capital expenditure," explains Lindon.

"However, the benefit of the ECA is that 100% of the cost of the project can be offset against the company’s taxable profit for the year. Operators just need to register the project at the time of purchase."

Washtec has recently installed a number of its AquaX dual tank water reclaim systems at BP sites throughout the UK. Michael Harris, managing director of Washtec, says: "AquaX enables the continual processing and re-use of soiled water eliminating downtime and reducing fresh water consumption by around 85%. Such systems can be installed for as little as £12,000 if the site’s facilities can accommodate above-ground tanks."

BP has 29 AquaX units operating on the principle of a total reclaim for the wash cycle with a fresh water rinse. All water used in the washing process is cleaned and reused. Ian Donald, UK asset manager for BP, says: "On average a wash uses around 350 litres per wash, with 80% recovered, so this enables BP to offer a full-quality, high-pressure wash without excess water consumption.

"BP has a significant number of water recycling units across its fleet of rollover car washes of which the AquaX is one of our current choices," adds Donald. "Our investment in this is significant and, as more efficient equipment such as the AquaX becomes available, we take the opportunity to upgrade where possible."

Retailers who have already installed recycling and rainwater harvesting should make sure they publicise it.

As Wilcomatic’s Kevin Pay says: "The sector’s environmental reputation is not a good one and anything that can be done to improve this situation is a step in the right direction. We have advised many of our customers on ways to maximise the publicity potential of installing such systems."

With summer so close, car wash operators can also prepare for possible water shortages with other simple measures. Washtec’s Michael Harris says: "Although it may be too late to consider the installation of a full water reclaim system, there are interim measures that can be taken, such as offering short wash programmes." He adds that WashTec can provide above-ground partial recycling equipment that can reduce fresh water consumption without the need to undertake substantial site works.

Car wash companies are also boosting their environmental credentials in other ways. Washtec, for example, is rated as an SRI (Sustainable Responsible Investment) stockist. This means the company has made considerable efforts in recent years to build machines from components that can be recycled at the end of their working life, and more efficient wash systems have resulted in ever lower flow rates.

Meanwhile, Wilcomatic’s latest Tempest jet wash uses an on-demand heating system, which significantly reduces electricity and water costs through the use of 3kw or 6kw heating elements, with a reduced flow to ensure capacity keeps up with demand.

Maximising sales

Car washes and the high margins they offer should be real money spinners for retailers, but Graham Round, managing director of PSD Codax, says many are closed unnecessarily. "Many retailers are losing out on valuable revenue because car washes are often closed for no good reason. I have lost count of the number of machines I see with ’out of order’ signs barring entry to motorists keen to part with their cash.

"Car washes are sometimes closed for days on end simply because they have run out of shampoo or wax. Some even remain in use with empty drums. These are issues that could be quickly and easily remedied but staff seem oblivious to any problems or just don’t care.

"Why don’t more forecourt operators make effective monitoring of car care equipment a number one priority? Technology exists to make the all-too-familiar sight of the closed car wash a thing of the past."

A new system developed by PSD Codax to monitor the operation of car wash equipment is in operation across Asda stores nationally.

The system monitors maintenance and usage, including cash takings, machine faults, shampoo and wax levels, as well as sudden temperature drops.

Maintenance staff are alerted by text or email when problems arise while managers in the supermarket chain’s head office can monitor performance data through a secure web portal.

"Forecourt operators are also haemorrhaging valuable income because of unauthorised car washes," adds Round. "Retailers wouldn’t tolerate staff giving away free fuel or cigarettes but seem less bothered when it comes to car care equipment. This could be partly because tokens don’t have the same perceived value as cash and coins.

"The only way to really tackle this kind of theft by employees is to lock car wash issuing systems onto the till. Issue codes instead of coins, and only when a till transaction has been completed will a wash code be issued.

"This will prevent staff giving away free car washes as well as eliminating genuine mistakes."

Michael Harris of Washtec says the most successful car wash businesses are firm believers in commissioning and carrying out preventative maintenance.

"Self-sufficiency is essential to perform daily checks on wash facilities, including cleaning optical sensors, checking brushes, picking up debris from the bay floor and testing compressors," he says.

"This task takes no more than 10 minutes a day and has the additional benefit of allowing the operator to look at the wash bay with fresh eyes especially when carried out first thing in the day.

"A clean, well ordered bay and machine will operate throughout the day and will attract customers."

Retailer view

Top 50 Indie, the Carsley Group, has installed new Turtle Wax-branded automatic car wash systems at its sites in Southwell, Nottinghamshire and Nutbrook, Derbyshire.

Responding to advice from Wilcomatic, two different Christ systems have been used, each one catering for a different customer profile Southwell is very rural and Nutbrook is urban.

Says the group’s managing director Mark Carsley: "The distinctive Turtle Wax livery helps to give customers a feeling of confidence that their vehicles are being cleaned by a reputable and well-known brand."

At Southwell, the Varius was selected following a visit to the Christ’s factory in Germany, where the Carsley team was able to see the advantages of the different models available. At the group’s request, a special programme with a double-pass, high-pressure wheel, sill and side wash was set up to cater for all the local 4x4 vehicles.

Mark is delighted that his friends at his local golf club have noticed the difference in performance the new machine brings. "It is this type of commendation that helps improve our image and, consequently, our sales," says Mark. "Car wash sales at Nutbrook for the first three months of the year are up by a very pleasing 28%, but sales at Southwell have increased by a staggering 135%."

The group opted for the Christ Centus at Nutbrook.