Car Wash Doors
Only a few door systems on the market today really meet the unique needs of car wash bays. Polycarbonate sectional doors with air-powered or electric operators and bi-parting or roll-up PVC strip doors are by far the most popular and successful. Other products rarely have what it takes to really survive and thrive in car wash conditions, especially those of automatics or conveyors where temperature and pH conditions vary and levels of direct spray and corrosion are at their highest.
Polycarbonate sectional door systems are an excellent choice for car wash applications and are terrific for use in wet and corrosive conditions. They have tough, translucent door panels that promote a level of comfort for customers. Constructed with an aluminum frame, these products are strong, corrosion-resistant and durable. Although somewhat low in R-value (thermal resistance), polycarbonate doors will actually increase bay temperature by allowing sunlight to warm the bay during the day and will illuminate the bay at night. By using air-powered or modified electric operators, this type of door will be reliable and help a car wash operator achieve a positive building image.
When purchasing polycarbonate doors, invest in the best material options available. Stainless-steel tracks, hinges, face hardware and sealed bearing magnum rollers should always be specified to ensure long life of the product.
Counterbalance systems such as galvanized torsion springs, weights with cable assemblies, straps and belts are all acceptable products for use in car washes and each has its benefits. Galvanized torsion springs have excellent corrosion-resistant properties and are good for self-serve and most automatic applications as they keep a door balanced properly and are safe for public use. Doors with galvanized torsion springs, compared to counter-weight-type systems, do not slam and jar the whole door system when suddenly reversed in mid-cycle. Counterweight systems in self-serve applications can cause an unsafe situation and should be avoided. Use galvanized torsion springs in these situations.
Bi-Parting or Roll-Up Strip Doors
Bi-parting or roll-up strip doors can also be a good choice for some car washes. Designed with corrosion-resistant materials, these products generally work well in mild climates. Car washes in areas with medium to severe winter conditions should seriously consider using a polycarbonate sectional door as a backup for cold weather protection during the winter season.
Commercial steel insulated doors may be appealing for cost reasons, but are a bad choice because insulation soaks up moisture, adds additional weight to the door and causes delamination of the sections. They normally will create an ugly eyesore after time that will turn away even the most loyal customers. The standard steel materials used in these types of products will rust, freeze up and streak the outside face of the door and other equipment. This will create an ugly appearance and could cause dripping onto customers' vehicles, requiring downtime for repair and cleaning.
There are many other door systems available on the market, but a word of caution: If they have been modified and are not specifically designed for car wash applications, problems may develop down the road. These problems often seem to rear their ugly heads during the busiest periods.
Equal in importance to the construction and design of the door is the opening/closing mechanism used to operate it. Either air-powered or electric openers can be used. Where and how they are mounted can determine whether or not that door will operate properly.
Air-powered operators are an excellent selection for in-bay use and even mechanical room applications. The twin-cylinder design has been around quite a while and although some significant changes have been made, they are not for every situation. New air-operator designs are now on the market in which the product is mounted above the door in a drawbar fashion or mounted vertically along the door. These new band-type air operators will be an excellent solution to standard-lift and high-lift door applications. These products can be mounted above the door out of direct-spray and cold-weather exposure. Review these new designs carefully and look for products with few internal working parts, all corrosion-resistant.
Electric openers should be used in drier areas such as prep areas, above the rafters or in equipment rooms. Some of the newer electric designs offer in-bay use, but have not yet gained enough market exposure for favorable mention. Electric operators will produce positive results if the car wash is spacious and well cared for. Proper installation and design are key in using an electric operator in car wash situations.
Material use and design is monumentally important when selecting the right door-operator system. A system must be able to take the punishment of direct and indirect moisture all season long. Look for a simple design that features stainless-steel and anodized-aluminum construction, corrosion-resistant materials and few working parts. Always look for products that have replacement parts readily available. Waiting for parts during peak times can be taxing on an operator’s bottom line and patience.
There are many accessories that can be used to time the door with the equipment, creating smooth and productive customer flow and promoting safety.
Selecting the Right System
When specifying any door and operating system for a car wash bay, look for products designed with as many stainless-steel and other corrosion/rust-resistant materials as possible. Stainless steel, anodized aluminum, polyethylene (UHMW) and PVC combined with assemblies that are sealed for moisture protection are excellent choices. Plastics, rubber and other soft materials will wear easily when matched with metal components and will increase repair costs.
Not only are the materials on the exterior of a product important, but the interior also needs to be evaluated. In time you will find that both the exterior and internal components will be exposed to some degree of moisture and corrosion.
To select the right door for your application, look at other car wash operations and ask questions such as: What makes this door a good product for the area? What do you like about the product? What problems have you faced? Does the product meet the climatic demands in your area? Is the door reliable and dependable? Are they easily serviced? What kind of service did you get when the problem arose? If all else fails, operators should ask their car wash equipment distributor for recommendations.
Internal and external climate play a major part in selecting the right door system for a wash. Sites in geographic areas with high humidity, rain, snow and cold temperatures are faced with a greater challenge than others. It is of the utmost importance to use products that take these environments into account. Internal car wash climates range from semi-dry to monsoon level. A concentration of damaging chemicals can expose a door to high levels of corrosion. Internal bay dimensions play a key part in what your internal climate will be like. When designing a new car wash, build to optimum size. The larger the bay, the drier it will be and the less concentrated the chemical exposure to the door system.
Maintenance is very important in keeping a door system dependable and operable year-round. Always set up a maintenance schedule congruent to the door manufacturer’s recommendations. If the manufacturer does not provide a proper maintenance schedule, check with the installers for recommendations. Follow the schedule or the money you invested in the system will not yield a fair return. Do not believe the fallacy of a totally maintenance-free door. There is no such thing. Door systems are mechanical systems that require service and routine maintenance, just like a vehicle or other machine.
Anyone can bandage a door product and call it a car wash door, but it is up to you to stay informed and ensure the door system is fit for long-term use. Treat the door system like any other part of the equipment package and research, research, research. Look for and insist on only the most-durable options. By keeping these things in mind, an operator will find customers staying in line and the sound of those registers and coin-ops singing.
Kevin Baumgartner, a founder of American Garage Door Supply Inc. in Bemidji, MN, has spent most of his career providing door solutions for the car wash industry.