Keeping vehicles clean and presentable is an important part of a transit agency’s image. There are many vehicle wash systems on the market with a variety of different features or methods, making it difficult to determine which is best. METRO spoke to a few vehicle wash companies about what to look for when choosing the best system for your transit agency.

Awash Systems
The Tower Wash from Awash Systems is a mobile machine with wheels and a spinning brush. Operators walk the machine around the vehicle twice, once to scrub with soap and once to rinse off.
The portable machine doesn’t require any building modifications and has no problem fitting in an existing area; all it requires is an electrical outlet and a water line. Because it relies on manpower, agencies also have more control over the cleaning process.
Awash uses foam brushes instead of the more commonly used polyethylene to clean and polish at the same time. The Tower Wash also features a mirror cutout to prevent any damage to the bus mirrors.

Brushes vs. High pressure
When it comes to getting a bus clean, all of the companies agree that brushes are more effective than using only high-pressure water. Jack Jackson, president of Awash Systems, says that a popular misconception about vehicle wash systems is that brushes can damage and scratch vehicles.

“The dirt that collects on the brushes actually does the scratching, no brush would actually scratch unless it gets embedded with dirt,” he says. “If you use proper amount of soap and proper cleaning methods, your brushes will always stay clean and you never have to worry about scratches. If you use a touchless car wash, you always get that film left over.”

However, most brushes aren’t equipped to deal with bike racks and other attachments that block the brushes. NS Wash has been manufacturing vehicle wash systems since 1961. The company’s newest model is designed specially to deal with bike racks by using a combination of brushes and high-pressure water.

“The bike rack on the front always created a problem to be washed because the brushes cannot really get in there,” Marketing Manager Ivan Salazar says. “We just introduced a new system that tracks the front of the vehicle. The system sprays the front of the bus with high pressure and, as the vehicle moves through the tunnel, will continue to spray the front until it is completely clean.”

Ross and White Co. has been manufacturing large, drive-thru bus wash systems since the 1940s. President Jeff Ross says that most agencies are looking for hybrid machines that combine high-pressure water with brushes.

“Brushes are still the most cost-effective way to get that done and also the least amount of water,” he says. “When you have high-pressure you burn a lot of water, you burn a lot of chemical and you still don’t really get the vehicle as clean as brushes do. That’s why hybrid machinery that combines both brushes and high pressure, really, in my opinion, is the way to go.”

Bitimec’s Speedy Wash 626-EZ is completely mobile and versatile. The machine is battery-operated and carries its own water and detergent, making it completely wireless. This makes storage and usage simple.
Its stainless steel frame doesn’t rust and only uses about 25 gallons of water per wash, making it one of the most efficient machines on the market. The 626-EZ features 24-volt battery power, a 112-gallon water tank and Bitimec’s EZ steering system. The simple design makes it easy for anyone to operate.

NS Wash
The Nautica 4M is a rollover vehicle wash system from NS Wash. It is a versatile machine that can wash buses, trucks, and cars of all shapes and configurations, up to 40-feet long. The machine moves along the vehicle with hand-woven brushes and can double wash a bus in 3.5 minutes.
The Nautica is available in 12-foot clearance and 14-foot clearance configurations. Optional features include dryer systems, wax applicator, undercarriage wash and water recycling systems. Like all of the company’s machines, the Nautica is produced in NS Wash’s facility in Inglewood, Calif.

Fleet size matters
When choosing a vehicle wash system, the companies say that fleet size is a big consideration as well. While mobile wash units are convenient and save money, they may not be the best option for an agency with hundreds of vehicles to wash every night.

Christian Murillo, office manager for Bitimec, says that many agencies, especially on the West Coast, continue to rely on hand-washing and may not realize the affordable options for smaller fleets. A number of companies, including Bitimec, offer machines targeted at washing small fleets.

“Of course, for the bigger fleets they’re going to need something more automated,” Murillo says.

Awash Systems manufactures mobile-washing systems that are pulled around the vehicle. Jackson says that some agencies are tempted by higher-priced automated systems, thinking it will work best, but all fleets should consider how much they’re spending per vehicle when choosing the right system.

“Some are buying a million dollar bus wash thinking it’s the most efficient because they can drive the bus through like an automatic car wash,” Jackson says. “Even if it looks like a great machine, if you’re only washing 10 buses a night, do you really need to spend a million dollars?”

Ross and White
Ross and White’s 4x4-OM wraparound bus wash system features an oscillating mop. Buses travel through the automated system on tire guides at about a foot per second. Vehicle wash machines are made of hot-dip galvanized structural steel and feature large, five-foot diameter brushes. The machine can accommodate vehicles up to 60 feet long and is ideal for agencies with large fleets looking to wash many vehicles very quickly.
Ross and White has manufactured bus wash systems since the 1940s and has worked with many large engineering firms through the installation of these structures. The company consults with agencies on wash system designs for a durable machine that can last for decades.

Ross adds that agencies should look past their current numbers and think about the future of their fleet, especially when purchasing something with such long-term use.
Easy to Use and Maintain

Salazar says that agencies should take a practical approach and think about which wash system will be the easiest to operate once the system is installed.

“Sometimes the systems can get so complicated with cylinders and electronic controls, they miss the fact that it’s just a bus wash system; it’s not a rocket,” he says. “Look at the system that specifies how much chemical, water and power are required, as well as ease of operation and maintenance.”

NS Wash has spent the past few years updating their machines to conserve water, time and energy. Salazar says that the company’s machines use half the power that they did a decade ago. Bitimec has also made efforts to keep their machines user-friendly.

Saving Time, Water and Money

With many agencies facing water shortages, vehicle-wash systems are adapting to conserve water and energy with low-flow machines.

Awash Systems President Jack Jackson recommends washing buses more often rather than cutting down on washes, especially if using a mobile machine.

“If you wash the bus every day, you’ll see every day you wash it gets faster and faster,” he says. “If you have an automated machine, it’s set up for the worst case scenario — the dirtiest it’s always going to be. So, you can wash it every day, but the machine’s going to take the same amount of time.”

His company’s eco-friendly wash systems use less than five gallons a minute and, while the average bus takes about five minutes to wash, some agencies that clean their buses everyday are able to wash a bus in two minutes.

Bitimec has also been able to cut down their water use by changing the nozzles on their machines. By misting soap instead of spraying, the machines use less water to rinse off. The company has cut down their water use to 25 gallons per wash.
Some companies, like NS Wash and Ross and White, have developed water reclamation systems so agencies can clean and reuse water in their vehicle wash systems.

Ross and White President Jeff Ross also notes the importance of looking at all parts of the wash process. He says that switching from surfactant-based cleansers (e.g. soap) to enzyme-based chemicals is more effective and uses less water.
“Soap’s pretty good at removing dirt and doing things, but it doesn’t remove any of the greases or the oils that have a tendency to accumulate and collect,” he says. “Vehicle wash agents are enzyme-based chemicals that eat those oils. Plus, the enzyme-based agents are very easy rinsing. From a sustainability standpoint, enzyme-based chemicals are very good because they’re easily rinsing, and you can go low-flow on the rinse applications of a bus wash.”

All of the companies that we spoke to have service technicians available around the country, but Salazar adds that agencies should look for systems that are simple enough to fix without waiting for a technician.

“All the machines work beautifully when they’re first installed, but [agencies] have to make a point that it should be easy to maintain by their own technicians,” he says. “Most transit agencies have mechanics and they are more than capable to service most of our machines. When an issue arises, they can take care of it right away instead of waiting for a technician to show up and save the day.”   

Originally posted on Metro Magazine