Auto Laundry News - April 2011

Better Safe than Sorry — Five Simple Steps to Improve Site Safety, Part II

By Anthony Analetto

In Part I of this article, I recalled that one of the largest car wash chains in the country has a push-on, push-off policy exclusively for any Jeep Cherokee, any year, which enters its wash. I asked whether you knew that within the last six months, unintended acceleration involving Jeep Cherokees at car washes killed two people. Simple safety practices can save lives, and I listed a few ideas, some of which I’d written about before:

  • Driver training and certification program
  • Start in park procedure
  • Bollards equal safety
  • Eliminate unnecessary movement
  • Fill the grid

Last month, I discussed the first three of these steps. In this article, we consider the last two steps.


Every time a customer or employee moves a car at your site, there is the potential for an accident. To improve safety, move the car as few times as possible. Whenever possible, have the customer move it. Express-exteriors are designed so that the customer drives through the wash and either exits directly, or to free vacuums before leaving. Flex-serves are similar — they are normally laid out so that customers who select interior services are guided into a predetermined bay in the aftercare center. They then drive their own car away from the spot where they left it once services are complete. Safety problems can arise at flex-serves where land or other considerations require an attendant to move the car and at full-serves where an employee drives vehicles on or off the conveyor.

When attendants must move cars, do everything possible to reduce the distance and number of times it occurs. Moves should never happen more than twice. For this to occur, the car must be vacuumed where the customer leaves it, and moved once to the conveyor entrance. It is then driven a second time from the conveyor exit to the finishing area where services are performed and the customer drives away from the wash. Too often, cars are unnecessarily moved short distances at both the entrance and exit of a car wash. This jostling of cars is unsafe, inefficient, and avoidable with training and signage to “fill the grid.”


To efficiently and safely move cars through your wash they must move in and out of grids in an exact pattern. Everything must be predictable. Every person at the wash must know where the next car is going. If you can’t ask any employee at your wash “why didn’t you fill the grid?” without them immediately understanding what you said and apologizing, you have a safety problem. So what is a grid? At most full-serves, there are two grids, one where a customer turns over the car for vacuuming, and a second where an attendant parks the car for finishing. Grids are easy to understand and implement. The difficulty is ensuring they are adhered to every time, by every employee.

The Vacuum Grid
The vacuum grid illustration (page 16) shows a typical two-lane stack with four drops and spots. Customers are guided into each spot, in sequence, to fill the grid, with the vacuum drop between cars. The most common mistake happens on slow days. Both attendants and customers will want to fill spot #1 and jump to spot #3. You must train this habit out of your employees. You must also make sure customers know to remain in their car and wait for an attendant to guide them into the correct location before getting out. It may be necessary to use signs and cones to instruct customers to stop and wait. Some locations may also have to get a longer hose, about 20 feet, to be able to reach all areas of both cars in the lane from each drop. The result is that in a short time you will have better predictability, fewer vehicle movements, and improved safety. Skipping the one-car-length move to the vacuum by a hurried attendant reduces the risk of injury in an area with a lot of unexpected motion.

The Finishing Grid
One of the greatest opportunities to improve safety is to stack cars predictably in the full-service finishing area. Depending on what your property allows, you should lay out a grid to the maximum width and necessary depth to accommodate the highest anticipated volume. Every car should come off the conveyor into an assigned spot, not to be moved again until the owner drives the finished product away. An organized grid system maintains all cars headed in the same direction. As long as there is a car in the grid, the drive-off attendant must complete the grid. Some operators stencil the ground with numbers and positioning marks to avoid confusion. An additional safety measure is to install an anti-collision system. These products detect if a car has cleared the conveyor exit and shut down the conveyor and all equipment if a car does not exit for any reason.

The other objective is to reduce and control the movement of people at the conveyor exit. Employees should move to the vehicle, never the other way around. Customers should have a clear path to walk to their car that minimizes crossing traffic exiting the conveyor. All supplies that attendants need to finish the car should be within half a car length from where they are working. This keeps employees from moving around, which is not only safer, but more efficient as well. For a grid to work effectively it must always be followed regardless of volume or employee count. Good habits breed predictability, which is the foundation for improving safety.


No matter how busy, or slow, your site is, everyone should know where the next vehicle is supposed to go. Creating a predictable and controlled environment, that minimizes employee movement and provides protective barriers for them to do their job, will improve the safety of your wash. Safety shouldn’t be left to chance. Careful attention to training, management, signage, procedures, and equipment will help protect the most important assets at your wash — people.

Good luck, and good washing.

Anthony Analetto has over 28 years experience in the car wash business and is the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory’s Equipment Division. Before coming to SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a
74-location national car wash chain. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at

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