Auto Laundry News - April 2012

Troubleshooting — Action Plan for Success

By Anthony Analetto

As it plugged in and does that receptacle have power?” How annoying. You call technical support for help and the first thing they do is insult your intelligence. The truth is, however, that without training and procedures, people tend to dive into the complicated first when troubleshooting a system. Overlooking the obvious, people will waste hours of time forcing unnecessary business closures. Having personally wasted two hours of my life as the result of poor troubleshooting in the last month, I decided it was time to take a step back and document the steps to effectively troubleshoot a car wash — not a checklist, but a decision-making process. One that includes fundamental concepts a car wash owner must include when creating a location-specific troubleshooting checklist for employees, and themselves, to resolve problems quickly.

Like washing cars, troubleshooting is a mixture of standard procedure and personal creativity. Rarely does the source of a problem directly present itself for all to see. A further complication at most washes is that over time, things become less straightforward. Secondary electrical panels and other “work-around fixes” are added to accommodate new wash features. Two weekends ago, for example, I was at a car wash where an in-bay automatic wash shut down. Half the motors were working and the other half stopped. Having confirmed that no breakers at the electrical panel were tripped, I violated my first rule: to exhaust every potential problem within arm’s reach, and dove into the complicated. After an hour of frustration working on the rollover, I went back to the panel. Looking closer, within arm’s reach of the first electrical panel, I found the second panel. Feeling a little foolish, I quickly realized that it powered the other half of the machine, and a breaker was tripped. As things increasingly become “as-built” rather than following customary practices, put labels where feasible to help guide technicians in troubleshooting your wash. Before leaving, I put a label on the main panel with a note that the other breakers for the unit were in the secondary panel. These “as-built” labels and notes combined with a thoroughly documented troubleshooting checklist specific to your wash can save countless hours of downtime. So, let’s get started.

Have You Exhausted Every Solution within Arm’s Reach?

While some people are gifted with a natural talent for troubleshooting, it is a skill that can be learned like any other. Cause-and-effect relationships are often complex. Training you and your staff to keep things simple, though, will almost always yield better results. To drive this point home, I’ll train staff, and try to remember myself, to always exhaust every potential problem within arm’s reach. It’s more than a coincidence that the second hour of my time lost last month from flawed troubleshooting also resulted from a failure to adhere to this principle.

At this wash, a colleague had called with an intermittent problem causing his conveyor to fail on busy days. Sounding like a problem with insufficient compressed air to pressurize the air take-up cylinders, I had him check the compressors and lines. He reported back that everything was in perfect order and asked if I could stop in the next time I was in the area. It was a Saturday and the site was hopping. Every express-detailing bay was filled. Looking at all the orbital polishers and other tools using compressed air I started to add up the CFM demand. On a hunch, I went to my car, grabbed a portable air compressor, and connected it to the conveyor. Problem solved. Although the air take-up cylinders require very little pressure, it must be constant, and when all of the detailing tools were being used there was insufficient pressure for the conveyor. Admittedly calculating the required CFM required for peak volume is far more complex than me failing to look for a secondary electrical panel, but we both made the same mistake. Failure to exhaust every potential problem within arm’s reach before moving to the complex will almost always add hours to resolving a situation.

Are all Prerequisites Available?

In the examples above the electricity and compressed air prerequisites were inadequate. Taking the time to accurately measure that the appropriate quantity and quality of these, and other, variables such as hydraulic power are available before jumping to more complex possibilities is critical to your troubleshooting success.

Has Anything Happened that Could Cause this Problem?

Rarely is this as obvious as a lightning strike. In the example above, an uptick in express-detailing services from a new menu sign resulted in the conveyor failing. Too often when something fails, the assumption is that something broke. That isn’t always the case. Before going through the costly exercise of replacing parts, detergents, or equipment, stop and evaluate. List anything that’s happened or changed recently. Review all maintenance procedures performed. Sometimes variables such as water quality can change without notice. You may be tinkering with different detergents or wash materials to resolve a spotting problem when the truth is that the pH or hardness of the water supply has changed. Small investments in time to research and test potential variables and to document any changes can deliver tremendous results.

Has this Problem Occurred Before?

Here is where taking the time to document troubleshooting incidents, resolutions, and outcomes can really pay off. If a component or process has ever failed in a particular way, having the ability to reference detailed records to find a resolution quickly can save huge amounts of money. The following situation happens too often: Your staff struggles to resolve a problem for hours until a technician familiar with your wash arrives and fixes the problem in a few minutes. Now the employee at your wash knows how to troubleshoot the problem and resolve it quickly but nothing is documented. With the solution locked in their mind, you’re faced with downtime waiting for a technician if that employee isn’t available. Even worse, if a new technician arrives, they may not be as familiar with your wash and will have to troubleshoot the problem, again. Don’t let this happen. Following any repair, update your troubleshooting log with the resolution and post “as-built” labels and guides to help your wash reopen as quickly as possible.

How Urgent is the Need for Repair?

Every repair needs to be made, but a prepared operator will have a documented procedure to determine how urgent a situation is, and the appropriate course of action to resolve it. Situations that either create an unsafe condition or force the business to close should be treated specially. Diagnostic procedures and telephone numbers to call for support should be posted. Often a wash can turn off components and slow the conveyor speed to remain open while repairs are scheduled for the evening.

What are the Safety Concerns Before I Start Troubleshooting?

Living in a hurricane zone, it always amazes me that more people are injured trying to troubleshoot and repair damage after a storm than from it. The same holds true at your car wash. Anxious to run in and troubleshoot a problem quickly, staff may take shortcuts with safety procedures or forget to adhere to lockout/tag-out requirements. Combat this with training. Remind staff to take safety precautions with signs. Often the worst offenders are your most experienced employees, who after many years have little fear of the car wash. Help keep them aware by involving them in training new staff in safety procedures. Emphasize that they are expected to act as safety role models when performing any service. Small repairs can turn into business-closing catastrophes when staff doesn’t carefully evaluate safety concerns before troubleshooting.

What are the Process-Quality Concerns Before I Start Troubleshooting?

This question is not trivial. One busy Saturday delivering an inferior wash to hundreds of your most loyal customers can damage your business and take months to recover. When first approaching a failed or otherwise misbehaving car wash system, the troubleshooter often doesn’t know where to begin. Upon correcting an issue such as a tripped breaker, the system begins working, and they consider the problem solved. All troubleshooting procedures must include a process-quality check to confirm that the problem was actually corrected. Just because the brushes start spinning doesn’t mean that detergent is being applied correctly or that cars are being washed, rinsed, and dried properly. Full serves will have exit-end attendants to fix wash quality issues and alert the manager of the problem. Express-exterior sites, however, can potentially put out a stream of unhappy customers, undetected, until they simply don’t come back.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory, creator of the BayWash i5 and G2 rollover in-bay automatics, Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. Anthony can be reached at (800) 327-8723 x 104 or at

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