Auto Laundry News - January 2013

Reclaim Retrofit — Install Process Exposed, Part I

By Buzz Glover

I remember the day very distinctly. I was at the Car Care World Expo in Las Vegas attending a meeting about the advantages of water reclaim in the car wash industry. The panelists were executives from different reclaim-equipment-manufacturing companies, one of whom asked the audience of car wash owners: “Who in this room has had water bills over $500?” Most of the hands in the room went up. Then he asked: “Who has had water bills over $1,000?” Many of the same hands went up. He then systematically moved from $1,500 through $2,000 all the way up to $6,000, resulting in fewer and fewer raised hands. When he finally reached $6,500, guess who still had his hand in the air? You’re right; it was little old me.

It was at that point I realized I needed to do something about my water costs. Around the same time, my ex-partners from the second wash I’d built in 2007 called me to make me aware of the situation they were facing. They had paid an estimated sewer impact fee of approximately $10,000 to the local municipality. The figure was based on an erroneous usage estimate given to the local authority. The real numbers were in and the new impact fee was in excess of $110,000. You can imagine the shock that everyone was feeling after that bill arrived. Fortunately, a reclaim system solved some of the problem.

Information about the various types of reclaim systems — and their advantages and disadvantages — is readily available in trade magazines and on the Internet. Little has been shared, however, about the real-world savings these systems offer and about what owners should expect when they install a reclaim system. I will tackle three subjects in this article:

  • Real-world money savings
  • The install process
  • Other factors to consider


Below is a year-to-year water-bill summary with and without reclaim. I started using reclaim in September 2010. Keep in mind that there are outside circumstances that affect these numbers — mostly car counts and weather. Of course, equipment type and type of wash involved — self serve, full serve, express exterior, etc. — will also have an effect. My wash is equipped with two in-bay automatics and three self-serve bays. I elected not to tie my self-serve bays into the reclaim system. Also, my top-selling wash still uses fresh water passes on one high-pressure rinse, one high-pressure clear-coat application, and on the spot-free rinse. I also use fresh water in all my chemical tanks. But in a broad sense, here is a year-to-year comparison on what happened after I installed reclaim.

As you can see, the savings are significant, especially in the months with bad winter weather when there are cars lined up around my building waiting to wash. You will notice a few irregularities in savings from year to year after the reclaim install. This can be attributed to different weather patterns and car counts. Logically, your biggest savings are during the high-volume months, when car counts are high. Slower months show only nominal savings. A further factor is the tiered pricing for water and sewage in my area.

In next month’s issue of Auto Laundry News, we’ll examine the install process in detail.

Buzz Glover owns two car washes in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA. He is also the author of Car Wash Business 101, The #1 Car Wash Start-Up Guide available on and

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