Not all automatic truck washes are the same; some are designed for space and consistency and others built for a more customizable clean. It can be difficult to choose the right type for your business.

Despite what most people might think, the answer isn’t as simple as picking the most affordable option. You need to consider the size of your base of operations, the type of vehicles you are cleaning, your location, and general maintenance.

In this guide, we’ll show you the main kinds of automatic truck washes and help you decide which one you should choose.

The Different Kinds of Automated Truck Washes

There are primarily two different kinds of automated truck washes, each can either have brushes or a touchless option. These are:

  • Gantry Systems

  • Drive-thru Systems

Gantry Truck Wash

Gantry washes are perfect for small spaces due to their compact size, and they offer a very consistent clean on all your trucks. In a typical gantry wash, your truck parks in a chemical application rack where it gets sprayed from top to bottom, including your undercarriage. Then it's often scrubbed using conventional brush cleaners and rinsed clean of any excess dirt and grime. Gantry washes are set up so the washing equipment moves and the vehicle stays in one spot. And since they always wash at the same speed, their main benefit is that they give a consistent wash.

However, gantry washes can be more challenging to use for vehicles with irregular shapes. Non-typical trailers such as tankers, ribbed-sided, or flatbed trailers may not be fully cleaned or may end up damaged if they have an inconsistent shape. 

Additionally, gantry washes tend to have more maintenance costs, and they are much slower than drive-thru systems. A standard gantry wash usually takes about 10 minutes to complete, which limits the number of trucks that can be washed in a day. Another characteristic of some gantry washes is a higher risk for the driver because they may have to exit their vehicle to activate the wash or simply clean any areas that were missed by the machines.


Drive-Thru Truck Wash

Drive-thru washes operate just as the name implies. The equipment is anchored to the ground and the truck moves through them to be washed. They are often more efficient and safer to operate. 

Drive-thru washes can often be installed in the same location where most gantry washes are placed, but some limitations exist due to size. It’s important to have enough space between the arches to make sure the chemicals have enough dwell time to work properly. 

Many drive-thru wash systems can also be upgraded by adding brushes, blow dryers, spot-free rinse systems, wax application, sanitizer application, and water reclamation to fit your needs. Typically, a drive thru wash system will have lower maintenance costs due to the fewer moving parts.

Depending on how the wash is customized, it’s typically much quicker than a gantry wash system. A simple drive thru system can clean a 70' tractor-trailer in almost 2 minutes flat, allowing your driver to get back on the road faster. This way drivers don't have to sacrifice their road time waiting in line to get their vehicles washed. It is also safer for the drivers since they do not have to exit the vehicle at any point.


Both gantry systems and drive thru systems can be built in different ways with two main options: using friction and brushes to clean or with a touchless wash that uses the chemicals to do much of the cleaning.


Friction / Brush Washes

Many automatic truck washes, both gantry and drive thru, are a "friction wash" that use large spinning brushes to help remove stubborn dirt and thick mud. Using brushes typically allows for a lower amount of chemical usage, but dirt and debris can get stuck in the bristles causing scratches and blemishes on your paint. 

Many times, a brush wash is used because the clients feel it offers a better clean due to the visual of physically seeing the brushes working. However, depending on the type of material used on the brushes and what kind of grit or dirt removed from the vehicle, friction washes can actually damage paint and branding decals over time.

Similar to gantry washes, the programming and available movement of the brushes, irregular shaped vehicles could have problems and may miss spots, or even damage the vehicle - sometimes a mirror can even get torn off!  


Touchless Washes

The main alternative to a conventional brush wash is a touchless wash system. 

Instead of using brushes to physically remove the dirt, touchless washes use science to remove grime! The combination of a low pH presoak with a high pH detergent is a highly effective 2-Step process that can remove dirt, brighten metal, and remove the contaminants that make up road film.

The low pH level in the pre-soak neutralizes the negative charges in the road film and targets both oxidation and minerals. The high pH level of the alkaline soap is what will target the remaining positive charges and attack the grease, oils, and other carbon-based grime on your trucks. 

Touchless wash designs can typically clean all road legal vehicles regardless of shape or size, allowing you to effectively clean fleets that have many different types of vehicles. A bus, garbage truck, gravel hauler, and even personal cars can all be cleaned using the same wash system.

Which type of Automated Truck Wash Should You Choose?

If you’re having trouble deciding which automated truck wash you should use, we highly recommend reaching out to the manufacturer to compare different options. 

In the meantime, here’s a quick look at the two systems:

  • Gantry System -
    • Works well in a small space
    • Works best with a fleet that is all the same size
    • Offers a consistent clean 
  • Drive-thru System -
    • Easily customizable
    • Works well in a larger bay
    • Works particularly well with mixed fleets or irregular shaped vehicles
    • A very quick wash

If you still have questions or want to know how much it typically costs for an automated wash, here is some additional blogs to help:

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