Checks and Balances

Article Courtesy of OECA Magazine

Creating a checklist-based preventative-maintenance schedule can help carwash operators reap the bottom-line benefits of a fully functional system.

Operating a car wash requires overseeing a plethora of moving parts, both literally and figuratively. Employee schedules, many unique pieces of equipment, a constant stream of customers, and daily business duties can fill any car wash owner’s schedule and create the potential for headaches.

Compound those concerns with the risk that costly breakdowns and time-consuming repairs will occur, and it is understood why mechanical issues can be a wash owner’s worst nightmare. One way of ensuring that the potential for equipment failure and downtime is minimized is to use a preventative-maintenance schedule.

Before proceeding, it is important to know the distinction between preventative maintenance and reactive repairs. Too often, putting off car wash maintenance is looked at as an easy way to decrease costs. This can be a foolhardy idea. While maintenance is an additional cost to the business, reactive repairs that are caused by damaged equipment can end up costing much more than overall preventative maintenance, as well as resulting in profits that are lost during the time the car wash is inoperable. Creating a checklist-based preventative-maintenance schedule can help car wash operators reap the bottom-line benefits of a fully functional system.

Although most manufacturers recommend regular maintenance intervals for their equipment, the majority of breakdown-related issues continue to arise from a lack of proper care and consideration for the wash’s preventative maintenance needs by the operator. The root of this failure can often

be attributed to an inability to perform uniform procedures and complete documented tasks on a consistent basis. It’s also highly recommended to work with your local distributor to maximize your maintenance routine.

Maintenance Checklist

One way of making sure all service requirements are covered with regularity is by establishing a maintenance checklist. Creating checklists for various timelines is key, as operational requirements and maintenance schedules can vary based on different equipment types and their unique needs. Having daily, weekly, monthly, and semi-annual checklists will ensure that both everyday tasks and more serious maintenance needs are met.

While some maintenance tasks need to be performed on a regular basis, others can be less common, due to factors such as time of year, geography, or overall robustness of the equipment. It is important for each car wash operator, regardless of the size of the facility, to tailor each maintenance checklist to the specific business or location. Even car washes that use the same equipment and are under the same ownership can have different needs based on location, customer base, average daily throughput, or workforce size and experience. Regardless of specific tasks, having a documented checklist will increase maintenance accountability, as well as create a roadmap that will streamline the work process for the employees of the car wash.

A great starting point when putting together a checklist for a car wash operation is reading and reviewing the manufacturer’s equipment manual. This will give car wash operators a reference point regarding which items need to be checked when and will give an idea of any “best practices” that will help ensure that any maintenance activities are completed correctly. While the manufacturer’s manual is a great reference to start the checklist-writing process, know that there are other factors to consider that will be determined by each specific location, and that a site-specific checklist will be most beneficial.

When building this list of tasks, it is often most beneficial to write a checklist for various intervals of time, specifically: daily, weekly, monthly, and semi-annual checklists. Below are a few common and essential tasks that should be considered when creating each type of list. Remember, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all checklist, and tasks should be added or modified as needed.

Daily Checklist

The daily checklist is at the heart of business operations, and is central to the wash’s mechanical needs, as well as its cleanliness and the appearance of both the building and wash bay to customers.

Daily tasks should be done at the start of the day, as well as during the closing process. This will ensure that any damages that can occur throughout the day are attended to as quickly as possible. Alternatively, these checks can be made between shift changes to ensure that the car wash equipment is fully operational throughout daily work hours.

Things to consider when doing daily checks:

  • Run a test wash. This will help give a first impression of operational standing each day, and indicate if all equipment is functioning for proper operation.
  • Ensure floors are free of debris, especially the dirt and grime that can accumulate after a number of washes have been performed; checking that drains are not clogged can mitigate this buildup. Also, know that loose debris such as garbage can fall out of truck beds or cars during the wash cycle. This debris can get caught in the equipment, causing damage and potential shutdown-causing failures.
  • Check for liquid leaks throughout the system, including in chemical pumps and hydraulics. This extends to the bay, as well as the equipment room.
  • Make sure the equipment and building are clean and free of dirt. Customers find a car wash that is tidy and clean much more approachable than one that is dirty. Also, if equipment is malfunctioning due to lack of cleanliness, the business is harmed through profit-hampering downtime. Remember the rule: less dirt means less potential for issues.
  • Check that all blowers on the dryer assembly are working and pointed in the proper direction.

Weekly Checklist

Weekly checklists generally take a closer look at the electronic system that facilitates car wash operation, and the necessary steps needed to ensure that these parts are kept in working order. While daily checks tend to focus on cleanliness and stocking of essential items such as cleaning fluids and waxes, the weekly checklist encourages owners and staff to inspect and maintain the mechanical pieces of the cleaning system. When creating a weekly checklist, remember to consider the following:

  • Inspect all lines — air, water, and electrical — for wear and secure connections.
  • Inspect the motor control center box for loose connections or ground shorts, as well as moisture leaks.
  • Check the operations of the rollover arches, and bleed down and reset all air regulators that are used on the rollover. Adjust and repair as necessary.
  • Inspect all fittings for wear and repair, including brush-arm bearings and mountings, and check that all moving components are in proper alignment, which will lessen the chances that vehicle damage will occur.
  • Check any operational or customer-visible signage. If bulbs are burnt out, replace them and clean the signage.
  • Check for compliance with OSHA regulations, and check that all safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, is in working order.

Monthly Checklist

When administering monthly checks, it is important to note that, depending on the location of the car wash, seasonal measures may need to be taken to keep the cleaning system in proper operational standing. For example, most car washes in northern, colder climates have doors that are lowered during winter months. These doors are often kept open throughout the summer, causing a buildup of dirt and debris, as well as excess soap. Other considerations that should be taken include:

  • Check all hardware for tightness and repair/maintain as necessary. This includes items such as gearbox crank arms and parts of the high-pressure pump in the equipment room.
  • Check oil and fluid levels throughout system and refill if low.
  • Do a run through of hydraulic systems at full speed range by adjusting the flow control valve; check for abnormalities or any operational issues.

Semiannual Checklist

The purpose of semi-annual checklists is to look at the maintenance and replacement of heavy-wear items, such as hydraulic pumps, crankshafts, drive trains, and chains. Because of the infrequent nature of these routines, it is important to look at each item in great detail and to know that, if something needs to be repaired or replaced, it should be done immediately. Items to incorporate on a semi-annual checklist include:

  • Drain, flush, and refill fluids as needed. This includes all hydraulic power packs, as well as high-pressure pumps and gearbox oil for mitters.
  • Grease all electric motor bearings in air dryers and pumps.
  • Review OSHA regulations. These regulations are updated with regularity (even as often as weekly) and can lead to compliance issues if they are not followed properly. This is also a good time to check additional safety features again, such as fire extinguishers.

Maintenance Guidelines

Once a checklist is perfected for the specific car wash operation it should be documented and placed in an area that is easily accessible to employees. Each member of the staff should be given tasks and responsibilities from the daily, weekly, monthly, and semi-annual lists that they are required to perform. Completion of these tasks should be documented, including completion of the task, date of completion, and whether further repair or inspection is needed. If additional repairs are required, they should be handled through the appropriate channels, ideally by a certified maintenance professional.

No matter what amount of service is needed, it is always recommended to use a certified maintenance technician.

Certified technician programs, such as the PDQ University Factory Certification Program, guarantee that only certified technicians with complete knowledge regarding a specific cleaning system and its components are able to complete the work, demonstrating an expertise in repairs and troubleshooting. This ensures that the correct repairs are made immediately, in a safe manner, saving both cost and downtime.


Making a commitment to regular, effective maintenance is a task that — while necessary and recommended — can still seem daunting to car wash operators. But the stresses of and commitment to these tasks can be simplified and made more manageable with the use of regular maintenance checklists and relying on the trusted experience of your local vehicle wash distributor. By staying abreast of these tasks and working closely with your distributor, unexpected closures will be kept to a minimum, and the expense will be far less than the costs associated with equipment repair or replacement, excessive downtime, and lost revenue. When all of this is taken into consideration, it’s clear to see that preventative maintenance is not only helpful to the car wash operator, but profitable, as well.

OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions was formed in January 2019 and consists of PDQ Manufacturing, Inc., Belanger, Inc., Innovative Control Systems (ICS), Kesseltronics and Transchem. PDQ is a preeminent provider of in-bay automatic wash systems and payment terminals, while Belanger is an innovative leader in soft-touch tunnel and in-bay automatic wash systems. ICS provides industry-leading car wash technology, like payment terminals, process controls and software management and automation systems, and Kesseltronics designs machine controls for successful tunnel wash operation. Transchem is a leading developer of environmentally sensitive vehicle wash chemicals and cleaning products. Together, they create a revolutionary single source for all vehicle wash needs. For more information on OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions, please visit 

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of OECA Magazine.