Auto Laundry News - November 2013

Problem Solved — Habits to Avoid the Pitfall of Getting to it Tomorrow

By Anthony Analetto

We’re all guilty. Big problems get handled immediately. Small problems, deferred to tomorrow. Here’s how it looks in action: several months ago, my wife called while I was away on business, to tell me the dishwasher was broken. “No problem,” I said, “have the kids wash the dishes. I’ll look at it when I get back.” Arriving home the next night after dinner, grabbing a nicely washed glass from the drain, I quickly determined the dishwasher problem certainly wasn’t urgent. Filling the clean glass with some ice and water, I sat down and watched the news before going to bed. I’d look at it tomorrow. Tomorrow turned into the next day, and the next. This problem, already temporarily solved, kept finding itself at the bottom of the to-do list. Ignoring the kids’ complaints was easy enough; it was only temporary. Then I’d pick up a glass and find myself having to wash it again before I could use it. Still, it wasn’t until my wife showed me the new dishwasher she was planning to buy that this job shot to the top of the list. Opening the dishwasher door for the first time, I noticed the soap-dish door wasn’t opening. I removed one screw, reattached one spring, hit the start button, and had a now-working dishwasher in less than 10 minutes. None of us are proud of these moments, but the truth is, if we’re not vigilant, they can happen with embarrassing regularity. When they happen at home, it can be comical. When they happen at the car wash, they have the ability to accumulate at the bottom of our to-do lists, festering as they increase our labor costs, destroy our wash quality, and eat into the bottom line.

There are absolutely times when it is both necessary, and appropriate, to schedule the troubleshooting of small problems to the next day. What I’ve trained myself to do, at least at work, is to adhere to three strict habits that ensure if an issue is deferred to tomorrow, it includes a clear plan in place for resolution. Let’s take a look.

Habit #1: Before throwing labor at a problem and/or deferring troubleshooting to later, ask if all pre-requisites are available and adequate, and if anything occurred that could have caused the problem.

After sharing the above dishwasher story with a colleague, not a car wash operator, he burst out laughing, and let me know that I got off easy, and volunteered to let me use his dishwasher example in this article. When he got the call regarding dishes coming out dirty, he too should have asked the first question to any new problem: “Are all the pre-requisites available and adequate?” Had he asked, he would have learned that there was power, water, and detergent before moving onto the second question: “Has anything occurred that could have caused the problem?” Failing to ask either question, he didn’t learn that the detergent had changed to an unknown brand from a discount store. Instead, he said, “just rinse off all the dishes before putting them in the machine. I’ll look at it later.” In other words, he threw labor at the problem, and deferred troubleshooting.

When this happens in our personal lives, fortunately, either complaining family members, or our own annoyance at having to perform the task, usually prompts a resolution. Or, like when I grabbed a dirty glass from the draining board, I couldn’t overlook that my children were not washing the dishes consistently. Employees at the wash are different. Once assigned to prep a portion of the vehicle because of poor wash quality, they stay there until you tell them to stop. It’s unlikely your customers will tell you about the inconsistent wash quality. Worse yet, especially if we fail to follow the next habit, prep staff find themselves there longer than ever intended, increasing our labor cost, and alienating our customers. It takes less than a minute to ask the two questions. Develop that habit, before saying you’ll look at it later, and you’ll be amazed how many issues seem to solve themselves instantly.

Habit #2: Before throwing labor at a problem and/or deferring troubleshooting to later, list at least one alternate and simple resolution to the problem, other than your first assumption.

Faced with a problem, it’s natural to immediately think of the single most likely cause. More often than many of us would like to admit, our assumptions tend to be more complicated, or expensive, than what the actual cause is. Who doesn’t want to postpone dealing with something complicated and expensive, but not critical? For that reason, always list at least one simple, even if unlikely, culprit, in addition to your first assumption. Keeping in mind the possibility of a simple solution helps fight the temptation to delay troubleshooting. It also facilitates habit #3 that I’ll talk about later.

My colleague from before however, not only skipped the first two questions, he then, knowing the machine was old, determined that either the pump belt, or pump itself needed to be replaced. The pitfall with assuming an absolute cause of an issue before troubleshooting is that it assigns a fixed price to its resolution. In my colleague’s case, a quick online search showed him that there was a likely parts cost of at least $100 on a 10-year old machine that could be replaced for $300. He decided it wasn’t even worth the time to troubleshoot a repair he wouldn’t make. Sound logic, if it wasn’t for the fact that all he had to do was change the soap. He delayed as long as possible, nursing it along with labor — the natural tendency when faced with an expensive equipment purchase. Eventually, after months of hand prepping dishes before putting them in the old machine, a new dishwasher was installed and worked perfectly for a few days with the free trial of detergent it came with. He laughed as he explained that as soon as he switched back to the old detergent, the problem returned. Brand new machine, dirty dishes, and he felt foolish.

Develop the habit to always list at least one simple resolution to a problem, other than your first assumption, and you’ll have fewer embarrassing stories to tell.

Habit #3: Before throwing labor at a problem and/or deferring troubleshooting to later, involve at least one other person capable of troubleshooting the problem.

The vast majority of car wash operators I know are hands-on people who’ve mastered the art of troubleshooting. When presented with an issue, they think of when either they, or a trusted manager, will get to it. If those two resources are busy, and the issue small, the answer is usually something like “I/we will look at it later, do this for now.” Fight that urge. Tap into other staff at your site.

Imagine if, when my wife called, I invested 60 seconds to ask two quick questions, then told her, or one of my children, “it could be the pump but, if you can, check that none of the spray arm holes are clogged, the filter is clean, the detergent dispenser door is opening, and let me know what you find,” it’s unlikely I ever would have thought to write this article.

Good luck, and good washing.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.

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