Automated truck wash systems deliver a thorough clean in a fraction of the time. In fact, it can be nine times faster than doing it by hand!

That's a huge benefit for private fleets because the process can be quite costly. Not only do you have to spend money on resources to wash your vehicle, but every minute you spend washing a truck is a minute it’s not going down the road.

The more vehicles you have in your fleet, the more that cost adds up.

But before you make the investment, there are a few things you should consider. In this blog, we’ll cover some of the most frequently asked questions about automated truck wash systems and whether it's worth the investment.

1. What’s the Minimum Amount of Space Needed in a Wash Bay for an Automated Truck Wash System?  

In order to be successful and have a ‘good flow’ for the incoming and exiting trucks, you need to ensure you have enough space. 

The minimum wash bay length for a standard 2-step wash would be 80 feet, although 100+ feet is preferred. The minimum wash bay width for a standard 2-step wash would be 18 feet but 20+ feet is ideal. 

If it’s only a 1-step wash, you can get away with a shorter length, 50-60 feet, but 80 feet would be the recommended length.

You will also need somewhere to put the pumps and controls. We suggest having an equipment room adjacent to the wash bay that is at least 12 feet x 40 feet. The equipment can be installed in the wash bay, however, it lasts longer in a separate dry space.

2. What Types of Utilities does an Automated Truck Wash Require?

Beyond just size and space, you need to make sure you have access to water, drainage, and electricity.

You need a good water source that is capable of producing at least 50 GPM at 50 PSI. This can be city water or well water. Although city water may be a more ideal source for both pressure and water softness. 

Once you’ve done that, confirm your wash bay has a sewer connection. A city sewer connection with a 4-inch drain is best. But if you don’t have access to one, ask your Hydro-Chem Systems advisor about setting up a water reclaim system

Finally, you need enough power. An automated truck wash will require a decent amount of power to run the rinse pumps. Our systems accommodate any 3-phase power supply, however, 480V 3-phase is optimal.  

3. How is an Automated Truck Wash Different from an Automated Car Wash?  

The most obvious answer comes down to the size of the vehicles. A bigger vehicle means bigger equipment. The average tractor-trailer has around six times the surface area of a normal car or truck. Tractor-trailers are also approximately 10-20 times heavier than a normal car or truck. 

This means the automated fleet washing equipment is built with a truck’s size in mind: the sprayers are higher up, the wheel washing unit hits the entire tire, and there is often a rear blast to target the back of the cab and trailer. Everything is engineered to get large vehicles clean.

In addition, many trucks are very irregular in shape in comparison to the typical passenger car. 

This means that an automated brush system might not clean it that well - the ability to get behind the cab or in grooves is diminished. 

With irregular-shaped vehicles, cleaning them using a touchless wash process for the majority of the wash allows the chemicals and pressure to do the work that a brush might miss.

4. What are the Different Types of Automated Truck Washes?  

There are two main equipment classifications of automated truck washes. A gantry where the truck parks and the wash goes back and forth on rails over the top of the truck. The other is a drive-thru where the equipment is anchored and the truck moves through.

A gantry wash can be put into a small space, but there are a few cons to using a gantry system. 

Gantry wash systems have more maintenance costs due to all of the moving parts, and it can take much longer for a wash cycle to complete as it’s the equipment that is moving, not the vehicle. Additionally, because a gantry is on a set track, it can be more difficult to clean any sort of irregularly shaped vehicle. 

They’re often sold with a pressure washer to help clean tight spots. The driver may be at more risk if they must enter or exit the vehicle in a wet and slippery environment.

At Hydro-Chem Systems we only sell drive-thru systems. A drive-thru system tends to have lower maintenance costs as there are fewer moving parts. In addition, drive-thru systems tend to clean faster, allowing for the driver to get back on the road and for more vehicles to be washed in a day. 

Our standard 2-step truck wash equipment works well for about 80% of fleets, but for the remaining 20% — drive-thru systems can be upgraded. Some extras that are offered include brushes, blow dryers, spot-free rinse systems, wax application, sanitizer application, water reclamation, and more to help make sure the system fits YOUR fleet’s particular needs.

5. How Many People Are Needed to Operate an Automated Truck Wash?  

Most of our private fleets have an employee that checks on the wash system weekly to make sure that everything is working correctly and the soap tanks are full. But this only takes about 20 minutes per week.

6. How Much Time Can You Save with an Automated Truck Wash?  

The average time it takes to clean a tractor-trailer by hand is approximately 45 minutes. You can easily drive through an automated truck wash in 3-5 minutes.

That’s about nine times faster than doing it by hand, and still significantly more efficient than using a manual 2-step system with a pressure washer.

7. How Much Water is Used in Automated Truck Wash?  

The amount of water used is dependent on two variables, the length of the vehicle and the speed of the driver. However, the average system uses about 250-300 gallons for a single truck.  

A person spending 45 minutes cleaning a truck with a pressure washer at 4 GPM uses about 180 gallons. So while it is a much faster system, it will require more water. 

8. Will an Automated Truck Wash Clean Your Undercarriage?  

All Hydro-Chem Systems automated truck washes can come standard with an undercarriage wash, but that is not always true for other systems.

Some fleets require a little more attention spent on the undercarriage such as dump trucks and plow trucks. For these types of vehicles, we may recommend an upgrade to an enhanced undercarriage wash that will get the tough mud and ice off.

9. How Much Does an Automated Truck Wash Cost?  

This is completely dependent on your fleet washing needs. But for the equipment, plumbing, electricians, and installation together, prices range from $180K to $400K depending upon options and variables based on your location and fleet needs. 

10. What is the Average Cost of Chemicals for a Wash?  

This is dependent on the type of wash, the types of chemicals used, how dirty the vehicles are, and how often each vehicle is cleaned. 

Typically, an automated wash uses about $5 - $7 worth of chemicals per vehicle.

Should You Invest in an Automated Truck Wash?

This is entirely dependent on your operation. Are you a mobile washer? Or are you a fleet owner wanting to clean your vehicles? Do you have five vehicles or 500? Does the investment make sense for your business financially? What are the right chemicals for your situation? 

We know you probably have a lot of questions and we understand that an automated wash system isn’t the right choice for every private fleet.

So before you go ahead and invest in an automated truck wash, you want to make sure you do it right. Give one of our automated truck wash advisors a call and we’ll work with you to come up with the best solution for your business.