Common Car Wash Operation Issues & Fixes

A functional car wash drives quality results and improves customer satisfaction so your location stands out among the competition. Your business has several pieces of equipment with moving parts that could break down after excessive use.

Keeping up with your car wash’s everyday responsibilities involves creating a preventative maintenance schedule where you inspect your system and ensure everything works properly. Discover some of the problems a car wash business may face below so you know how to identify and troubleshoot the issues.

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Your car wash features several electrical control panels both workers and customers use. The following issues could affect your system’s electrical connection:

  • Problems with the local electricity:¬†Your city’s electrical supply can short circuit or shut down your car wash’s system unexpectedly. Consider reaching out to your local utility company for more information about solving this issue before it persists.
  • Faulty electrical parts:¬†If any of your panels stop working due to old age or damage,¬†hire a licensed electrician instead of dealing with this dangerous, complex equipment yourself. It does help to be familiar with your equipment, such as where various parts are and how they work. You can pinpoint the reason why your electrical system has failed then contact a professional.
  • Temperature and humidity issues:¬†A car wash¬†features lots of water and humidity sources that could damage your electrical system.¬†Humid air could get trapped in your electrical boxes and condense as it cools.¬†Consider installing a dehumidifier or other ventilation systems to control the temperature and humidity at your location.


Your water delivery systems should flow so they can efficiently clean the vehicles passing through your car wash. Here are some of the problems you may have with your water supply:

  • Clogs or damage:¬†If you notice water isn’t flowing out of the system, check all the components for leaks or clogs and repair them as necessary. You may also have water pressure problems from different conditions, such as oil from the road, bugs in the summer or salt in the winter. In that case, you’ll have to treat your water with chemicals.
  • Problems with your local water supply:¬†You may have water pressure issues at different times of the day because of utility use in your area. If your business is in an older city, you’ll need to install a booster pump or similar device to make your pressure feeds more consistent.
  • Poor water quality:¬†The water your car wash uses needs to be clean and soft so it can effectively remove dirt and debris from your customers’ vehicles. Chemicals mixed with soft water perform better and result in cleaner cars. Apply softeners to your water supply to remove hard water minerals.
  • Issues with water softeners:¬†If you apply a softener but your water still has hard minerals in it, you’ll have to run a few tests to diagnose the issue. Your softener should have salt in it or you’ll have to fill the salt reservoir.¬†After checking for salt, you can purchase testing trips to determine whether you have hard or soft water. You’ll need to service or replace your softener if the test indicates you have hard water.
  • Improper use of reclaimed water:¬†Federal and state regulations require car washes to connect their reclaimed water drainage systems to treatment facilities to reduce fresh water contamination. Since your car wash needs fresh water to clean properly, you should only use reclaimed water for intermediate rinse cycles and avoid using it to mix products.


Your car wash’s cleaning chemicals depend on clean, soft water. These chemicals are generally reliable, but you may have mechanical and manufacturer issues that affect their quality, such as:

  • Failed check valve:¬†A failed check valve directs chemicals and water back into the container, making a mess and ruining your chemical supply. If you notice leaks or blockages in your check valve, you’ll have to get it replaced.
  • Spills and leaks:¬†Equipment leaks and spills can contaminate your products, destroying the chemicals’ drum and ultimately reducing performance quality. You’ll have to replace or repair any faulty equipment to avoid future contamination.
  • The blending of harmful products:¬†Combining two chemicals could harm your equipment, employees and customers if they result in a dangerous reaction. Avoid mixing products unless you’re confident they’re identical or¬†compatible chemicals.


Your car wash equipment contains many moving parts that make the whole system work properly. The following mechanical components could malfunction after improper maintenance or excessive use:

  • Failed bearings:¬†Greasing your bearings regularly with the right amount of product prevents them from failing. You’d know if you were over-greasing your bearings if you see the grease oozing out. Too much of this product pushes out the seal and damages the bearing.
  • Clogged vacuums:¬†These appliances might develop blockages as customers try to clean large debris out of their cars. Clogs can weaken suction power, putting extra strain on the turbines. You might not notice this problem right away if you have self-serve vacuums at your location. Check your vacuums at least once a day for debris buildup.


A car wash bay combines aggressive chemicals, water and moving parts through regular wear and tear that could break down your foot valve, injector tip or nozzles. Even though you probably have some protection in place for these products, old car wash equipment can malfunction over time. You might have the following issues with your equipment:

  • Broken foot valve:¬†When checking the equipment, start at the foot valve and work down the system. This component filters out substantial particles, allows constant suction on the draw line and prevents product backflow. Remove the draw line from the chemical supply and watch the amount within the tube. You’ll need to replace the foot valve if chemicals leak out of it.
  • Clogged or damaged injector tip:¬†If the foot valve works, carefully inspect the injector tip’s small opening for clogs or signs of damage. You’ll have to clean or replace the injector tip to ensure proper water and chemical flow.
  • Faulty spray nozzles:¬†Spray nozzles create pressure within the system and direct the spray. Constant pressure from within the spray nozzles will eventually wear them out. As a result, the water pressure could weaken, and your nozzles might not provide adequate coverage for each vehicle. Replace these components according to the manufacturer’s instructions when you notice vehicle coverage has decreased.


When a car exits an automatic wash, it should be mostly dry. If not, inspect your drying systems to ensure they’re working and look into replacements or repairs if necessary. If the dryer is doing its job but cars are still coming out mostly covered in water, you might not be applying enough¬†drying agent or clear coat.¬†Follow these steps to find out if you’re using the right amount:

  • Determine drying agent levels:¬†Conduct a draw test or titration to determine how much drying agent your system uses for each vehicle. It should be using the amount recommended by the manufacturer. Check the product’s label or contact your sales representative for assistance.
  • Replace the injector tip:¬†If a wash cycle uses too much drying agent, you’ll have to install a smaller tip. Upgrade to a larger one if a cycle uses too little product.
  • Flush the system:¬†Once you’ve installed a new tip, you’ll have to remove the old dilution ratio. You should also perform another draw test to confirm a change in drying agent usage.

Your dryer’s performance should improve as you use the drying agent according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Contact your sales representative if you don’t notice a change after these adjustments.


Tunnel carwash conveyors have several moving parts that transport a vehicle through the cleaning pit. The conveyor pulse switch alerts the system of how far the car has traveled. Before the first piece of equipment, the photo-eye sensor collaborates with the pulse switch to start washing the vehicle. A roller-up switch identifies how many rollers have come to the top deck of the conveyor.

As a car wash operator, you may want to watch out for the following problems that could arise with your conveyor system:

  • Clogs and debris:¬†Remove the dirt and water from your conveyor system so it functions properly. Debris can block the junction box and cause the sensor to fail. It can also get stuck between the rollers and wear them down prematurely.
  • Improper installation:¬†When you install the conveyor properly, the car at the end should roll slightly downhill. Otherwise, the vehicles coming through the pit will wear down the conveyor’s trap door and chain. Contact your service technician to repair any damaged chains or other components.
  • Problems with the air compressor:¬†Your conveyor may have issues with the air compressor if an air system controls chain tension. Humidity could jam the system’s rollers or break its chains. Install an air dryer after the air compressor to manage your car wash’s moisture and prolong your compressor’s life span.

What Do Different Spots on a Car Mean?

Spots on a car indicate issues you’ll need to address. Explore the different types of marks found on a vehicle after washing and what they mean.

Oily Spots

Oily marks usually show up if the system applied too much drying agent to the vehicle. The car wash’s system might use too much if you don’t set it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. As a result, the drying agent may leave oil droplets on the vehicle’s surface. Perform a draw test or titration to confirm how much product your system uses for each car, and adjust accordingly.

If the drying agent is at the manufacturer’s recommended levels and cars still have oily spots on them, determine how much spot-free water the system uses. An insufficient amount of spot-free water will leave oil droplets behind instead of rinsing the vehicle thoroughly. Try adjusting the levels of spot-free water your system uses, and contact a service technician if the problem persists.

Powdery Spots

White, powdery marks typically indicate poor water or soap quality. Washing a car with hard water minerals will leave behind white spots on the vehicle’s surface when it dries. To confirm an issue with your system’s water quality, perform a hard water test from your local hardware store. If the test indicates hard water, check for salts in the reservoir. After refilling the salt reservoir and restarting the system, test the water again. If the problem continues, contact your service technician.

If the water is soft, you’ll need to check the amount of soap the system applies to the vehicles. An excess of soap could mix with the drying agent and form a powdery white residue on the car’s surface. To resolve this issue, adjust the soap dispenser levels so the water can adequately rinse each vehicle. While you can also slow down the rinse cycle or add another pass, reducing how much soap your system uses is more economical and practical.

Ask Yourself These Questions When Navigating a Car Wash Problem

You’ll have to troubleshoot any issues with your car wash system effectively. Ask yourself these questions before trying to tackle a new problem with your car wash system:

  • What are the safety concerns before I start troubleshooting?¬†When working with chemicals, electricity and other hazardous equipment, you’ll need to take the proper safety measures for you and your team. Wear personal protective equipment such as goggles, respiratory masks or gloves when handling dangerous chemicals. If you believe the risk is too significant, you may want to contact a professional for assistance, especially when dealing with electrical components.
  • What are the process quality concerns before I start troubleshooting?¬†All your car wash’s parts need to function to produce quality results for your customers. Improper installation or maintenance can result in damaged equipment or incorrect levels of detergent or drying agents. Contact each of your product’s manufacturers to help you use the right amount and install each mechanical piece properly.
  • Has anything happened that could cause this problem?¬†Think about how your car wash operates each day and how various components can wear out over time. You may also want to consider any recent storms or power outages that could’ve affected your electrical supply. Ask your staff if there were any complaints from customers during the day. When you know this information, you can better diagnose the problem and fix it accordingly.
  • Has this problem occurred before?¬†Consider whether you’ve had to address this issue before so you can try the same troubleshooting methods. A recurring issue may also indicate a broken piece you’ll need to replace.
  • How urgent is the need for repair?¬†Your car wash needs high-quality components to keep the business moving. It’s helpful to find out how long it’ll take to order products or equipment so you know when to diagnose and repair each issue that arises.

Contact JBS for Car Wash Supplies

After considering these car wash troubleshooting tips, you may decide to upgrade your soap or¬†specialty cleaning products. JBS Industries specializes in car wash supplies that help with the consistent maintenance of your car wash. We’ll help you find the¬†best car wash soap for hard water¬†and any chemicals you may need for your business. Browse through our selection, and¬†reach out to us online¬†or call (888) 745-0720 for more information.



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