70′s Car Wash
The history of American car washes now covers nearly a century based on published history; however, any exact (depending on the source) dates are confusing with dates for some developments, most commonly dates for introduction of advancements in the technology, often claimed by various company websites.
1900s to 1930s
By newspaper accounts, the first commercial car wash opened in Detroit in 1914. In essence it a manual wash where the customer’s car was pushed around a circle to stations for the various phases of washing, a sort of “Merry-Go-Round.” Growth was understandably given the fact that before World War I there were fewer than one million cars in the US. After the war, the number of automobiles leaped to 20 million cars by 1925. It has been reported, depending on the source that the first conveyor driven automatic washes appeared in the late 1940s to 1950s.
These “conveyor” car washes consisted of tunnel-like buildings through which customers (or attendants) drove the car. By the mid-1940s, there were approximately about 30 of these drive-through in the US. In 1946, in Detroit, a semiautomatic system was introduced that hooked to the bumper of automobiles and pulled it along tracks.
Moreover, the design included an overhead water sprinkler and three sets of manually operated brushes. After washing and the rinse, and a powerful (50 hp air blower served to dry the car. Post-World War II, the industry grew quickly and in 1955, a group of about 60 owners met and formed the Automatic Car Wash Association (ACWA) now part of the International Car wash Association (ICA).
1960′s to 70s
Coin-operated self service appeared in 1962 and now self-service bays in the United States out number automatic bays and tunnels combined. Early in the 1970s, a monorail system was introduced and more significantly this new generation of car washes operated with an overhead track that ran above the car. It was powered by an electric motor and run through a series of stepper switches that controlled the stage, wash, rinse, or wax application (introduced in the late70s).
1980s and Computers
The “Adjust-O-Matic”, introduced by Oasis Car Wash Systems, automatically adjusted to the length and width of the vehicle. Most importantly, this system included the introduction of the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) as the computer entered the industry. With introduction of PLC, many control problems became a thing of the past and they began to offer more wash functions and combinations than had ever been available.
Older automatic car washes built prior to 1980 used brushes with soft nylon bristles, which tended to leave brush marks from nylon deposits in the shape of a bristles on the vehicle’s paint. As a result, many in the US are now utilizing either cloths or closed cell foam brushes. Both are not harmful to the car’s finish; however, a cloth system must be flushed with enough water to remove the grit between washes. Foam brushes do not hold dirt or water and are even less likely to harm the painted finish.
Whether tunnels design, single bay automatic, or self-serve, the soaps and other cleaning solutions used in the past had to be very strong in order to loosen and eliminate any form of dirt or grime. However, with prodding from the EPA, there has been a strong move in the industry to shift to safer cleaning solutions.
Now, by law, a car wash is required to treat and/or reuse their water and can be required to obtain waste-water discharge permits. Unregulated facilities, even driveway washing, use more water than a car wash and waste-water can end up in storm drains and, eventually, in streams, rivers and lakes.
Over the years, since the first car wash Automated Laundry in 1914, automated car wash bays have developed into an immense number of systems, each competing with the other for profits and customer satisfaction. The U.S. has 66,000 fixed car wash bays and 12,000 mobile car wash units – Full-Service, Drive-Through, Coin-Operated, Flex-Service, Quick-Service and Mobile-Operated car washes are only a few in the competitive market. But all the categories can be classified under four basic systems, roughly termed as self serve, drive through, roll over and full service.
The most basic, of course is the self-serve car wash, where you coin-operate the system yourself and choose the cleaning functions for your car. These use timers to shut off water and soap after a particular time and charge extra for more water. But people don’t very often find space and time to go for self service and hence, the drive-through car wash bays have become the most popular systems in the country. These systems are operated by conveyor belts, and the cars go through different stages of cleaning, like rinsing, soaping, waxing and drying, at particular points in the conveyor.
The rollover systems are found next to gas stations and use unique electronic equipment that sprays water, detergent and wax over the car without using any brushes. The most expensive is the full-service system, which uses both electronic and hand car wash systems to give your car a thorough cleaning, both inside and outside. While your car passes through the conveyor belt, men flit in and out of your car at regular intervals to clean its interiors as well. This system also includes what is popularly known as the detail shop, which washes the car using machines or men before the employees polish and wax the car using a buffer. This is an extremely effective car wash system, as it takes off even small scratches.